Today four more teams revealed their new cars for the 2011 season and formal testing began in Valencia. It is a three day test, the first of four such tests before the start of the season on March 13 in Bahrain.
All of the tests are important to evaluate the car, get it reliable by ironing out any glitches and start to push the development path. Another major part of the workload will be understanding how to get the Pirelli tyres working and mastering the new technology on the cars like the KERS and the adjustable rear wing.
But the really crucial test – and probably the most telling – will be the final one in Bahrain as it will be at this test that we will see the major new bodywork packages, front wings and so on. This is when the teams will really show their hand for the first time and we will see what specification they are likely to start the season with.
Most teams have allowed themselves that extra development time and with the first race also taking place at Bahrain, it’s the ideal place to bring the final pre-season update.
One area of possible concern to Red Bull is the return of KERS. Red Bull didn’t use KERS in 2009 as the system available to them was never sufficiently effective to counteract the additional weight and re-engineering.
Newey said of the KERS today, “We are here to try hard to try and develop it through the pre-season so that we are confident that it does give us performance. I think one of the things that came clearly in 2009 was that the start-line performance of KERS was important. This year I think no doubt with McLaren and Ferrari and Mercedes having KERS and being extremely competitive, then we need to get it to work if for no other reason than simply performance off the line.”
And of course, in common with all the teams, there will be a gain for the engineering team which is able to get the Pirelli tyres working the quickest. This will not just be about getting the qualifying performance out of them but also getting them to last in long runs in race conditions.
Michael Schumacher can never have wanted a new car to be good more than he does with the MGP W02. Last year’s comeback was marred by a car which didn’t allow him to express himself and to make sense of the comeback he needs this car to work. He seemed upbeat in his assessment of its potential today, “We have said it several times already but again, we are really building up something big together. I am very confident that this season we will be standing on the podium much more regularly;
ideally in the middle!”
Nico Rosberg also wants more from this car and isn’t afraid to say it, “Our targets are aggressive, ” he said. “We want to be competing at the front and challenging for race wins.”
Team principal Ross Brawn also sounded more like he did in the old Ferrari days, “The concept development for the MGP W02 started early and we have set challenging targets for the design, combined with a robust plan to ensure that the pace of development can continue throughout the long 2011 season. We want to be setting the standard right from the start but if we are not, we will respond very strongly to get ourselves into the game, ” he said.
The new car from Williams was revealed in an interim colour scheme, a full 2011 livery will follow, but this is a car Rubens Barrichello has had a great deal of input into, to try to overcome Williams’ recent characteristic of starting the season in a relatively uncompetitive condition and having to catch up through development.
Part of that, Rubens believed, was down to good old drivability and this is an area he has invested a lot of time in. At the same time he and the team feel that the car design is “aggressive” very much this season’s buzz word at the moment. It follows a developing trend of cars with a high nose, interesting airbox and engine cover shape and sculpted sidepods.
Williams continues with the Cosworth engine and is running KERS for the first time, although not the innovative flywheel KERS system they were working on in 2009 and which has now been evolved more for commercial purposes.
Williams has aspirations to fight at the front with the top five cars, rather than continue last year’s battle with Force India for a place in the top ten qualifiers.
The Italian squad had the first laugh in 2008 when it won a race before its sister team, Red Bull, had managed the feat. But last year, as the level of technology transfer fell away and Toro Rosso engineers were forced to design and develop their own car the RBR left them for dead. To be fair to the team, there was a lot to take on last year with a wind tunnel to be incorporated and a whole new way of working.
This year, by their own admission, they have to be more progressive and competitive. The car is once again powered by the Ferrari engine and has the Ferrari KERS system.
Toro Rosso is the team most vulnerable to being overtaken by last year’s new teams, Lotus and Virgin in particular and keeping them at arms’ length has to be the first objective, although getting one car into the top ten shootout in qualifying would be the ultimate ambition. The team describes the 2011 car as “radically different” from its predecessor and less conservative.
“The main objective is to resist the increase in performance that these teams will have,” said engineer Laurent Mekies. “So we are hoping to raise our level in such a way that we keep clear of them. And the next target is to fight with the teams were fighting at the end of last season, sometimes Sauber, sometimes Williams, sometimes Force India.”
Sebastian Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari start the season as the drivers but there is a very real sense that they are vulnerable and need to perform and that if not, perhaps one of them could be replaced by Daniel Ricciardo during the season.
Toro Rosso has shown several times in the past that it is not afraid to switch drivers during the season; it is after all an incubator of driving talent first and foremost.
“I have big expectations to be honest, ” said Buemi, “As I have quite a lot of experience now: I know all the circuits, I know how Formula One works and we also have quite a lot of experience in terms of building up the car. So, if all goes well and hopefully it will, we should be able to score many points and finish in the top eight of the Constructors’ championship.”
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