Today was a busy day of launches in Valencia, with three teams pulling the wraps off their cars.
Lotus was the first, launching the car via an online web magazine called Lotus Pages. Mid morning it was the turn of the now heavily Mexican influenced Sauber team and soon after that of Renault, with a car the team themselves are describing as super aggressive.
Tomorrow Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Williams and Mercedes will launch, taking the total of new cars in circulation up to eight. We will then see McLaren on Friday, Virgin next Monday and Force India at the Jerez test. At some point the HRT car will also appear.
All the teams are commenting that there has been very little time since the end of last season and next winter will be even shorter, with the final race in November 27 meaning that the Young Drivers’ test will be in December! There is already a certain weariness and the season hasn’t started yet. The sport will have to be careful to guard against burn out of staff.
Team principal Tony Fernandes put aside for a moment the wrangle with Lotus cars over the use of the Lotus name in F1, talking of the Team Lotus project being about “daring to dream”. That is certainly something the team’s charismatic technical boss is allowing himself to do in his launch rhetoric,
“When you look at this car, it looks like a front running car in every area,” said chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne. “We said very clearly that we want to start challenging the established teams and I think that is very achievable. But that line has to continue to go up so we’ll have to target being up there with Toro Rosso, Sauber and Force India and then by the end of the season targetting Williams and Renault.”
The team is aiming to score between 40 and 50 points and score a seventh or eighth place finish in the Constructors’ Championship.
Sauber has had a good winter commercially and is hoping that the new found stability will allow the technical team to stretch their legs a little more. Technical director James Key identified the weaknesses in the way the team was using its formidable wing tunnel in Hinwil and this is the first Sauber car produced under his management. According to the team, “One of the overriding targets is to improve aerodynamic efficiency, low-speed cornering, mechanical grip and to gain more flexibility in suspension tuning.”
Peter Sauber observed that last year was, “The 41st year of our company history and one of the most difficult. But we managed to overcome these difficulties in the second half of the season. We implemented some well-considered structural changes. The appointment of James Key as Technical Director already bore fruit last season, and he is now in charge of development of the Sauber C30-Ferrari. At the same time, we have managed to secure our business foundation for the 2011 season. In these economically straitened times that is something we can be proud of too.”
The Renault team, now sponsored by Lotus Cars and no longer owned even in part by Renault is the most aggressive looking of the three new cars unveiled today. Under technical director James Allison, the design and aerodynamic departments have been pushing hard to close the gap to the leading three teams, Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren,
“Words like ‘aggressive’ and ‘innovative’ are very much in vogue in Formula 1 at the moment, but where the R31 is concerned we feel those adjectives are appropriate,” said Allison. “It’s true to say that the car has been designed in an ambitious manner and a quick glance at the layout will confirm that its entire concept differs considerably, not just from last year’s car, but from any car this team has ever produced.”
Team principal Eric Boullier said, “In 2010 we achieved a very high rate of development and the car that finished the season was two seconds per lap quicker than the car we had at the first race. All the hard work over the last twelve months has been focussed on delivering a big improvement for 2011, and that means we should be more competitive than last year. Will we be stronger than our competitors? Hard to say, but based on the efforts of everybody here, I feel we deserve it.
“Our driver line-up is still a mixture of talent, experience and youth. Robert is clearly one of our strongest assets and we know we can rely on his speed, commitment and dedication for the long term. As for Vitaly, he showed us at the end of last year that he understands what we expect of him in 2011 and he was ready to commit to this. With a year’s experience behind him, he will be able to approach the new season with more confidence and is ready to help the team raise its game. We took the risk of investing in him last year and I’m sure we will see the benefit of that this year.”
Renault has hired two reserve drivers, Romain Grosjean and Bruno Senna, whose uncle Ayrton drove the original Lotus Renault cars in the mid 1980s in the black and gold colours of John Player Special and who the team will no doubt deploy in that capacity for promotional events, “Black and gold looked beautiful back in the 1980s, when my uncle was racing, and they look just as stunning on a current car, ” said Senna. “Also, to be able to wear the same colours that my uncle used for a few years in his career feels very special.”
Lead driver Robert Kubica was a little off-message at one stage, when asked whether it was an honour to drive for Lotus he said, “I think Lotus is our sponsor. At least from what I know it is a sponsor,” he said when asked if he dreamt to drive for Lotus. So I could also say it is my dream to drive for Total. I think it would be different if Lotus owned the team and were fully involved into the team.”
Meanwhile team owner Gerard Lopez has confirmed that his Genii Capital now owns 100% of the team and that Lotus cars has an option to buy shares in two years time.