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Part 2: The teams previewed and ranked
Thursday 15th March 2012, 17:58 by Ryan Wood and Daniel Chalmers
LAT Photographic / Williams
In part two of our team preview and ranking feature, we take a look at the lower half of the grid, from Sauber to Marussia.
If you haven't yet read the first part which looks at the leading pack, check it out here.
Daniel: Next we come to Sauber who often seem to start well in a season and then fade away. For me Sauber are a real dark horse this year despite little discussion about them.
Ryan: Sauber are a difficult one to place. On one hand they start well but lack development and have lost James Key which is a real blow and could further harm their mid-season development. I expect them to be challenging Force India in the first few races before falling back into the grasps of Toro Rosso who have also looked very consistent.
Daniel: They have got the facilities to match a top team particularly in the wind tunnel department. When BMW took over the team extra funds brought dramatic improvement instantly. They need Carlos Slim to invest more money as the potential to be a top team is there. However in testing they did a very strong qualifying simulation on the soft tyres whilst other midfield teams were on the super-softs. I also think their long runs look really good too. Looking after their tyres was already a strength anyway and it looks like they have improved one lap pace too.
Ryan: Investment is something they need desperately if they're going to make further improvements. The cars lack of sponsors is always a concern. Testing has gone well for them, their qualifying sim was impressive with it being some 7 tenths faster than their qualifying pace at the same circuit in 2011, which is positive.
Daniel: If I was an investor with money to blow on sponsoring a team I would be knocking on their door. Everything that makes a team great is there and waiting. Maybe if they were based in the UK they would be able to attract an even strong team to work for them.
Even if they have their traditional slip later on the season I am still expecting this to be a very strong year for the team. I also think Sergio Perez will emerge as a real star. Just a hunch, after some great promise last year.
Daniel: Next we come to Toro Rosso who have certainly made headlines over the winter with their driver changes. However considering it's not long since they have become a proper constructor you can't help but be impressed with their performances.
Ryan: They've hit the ground running since they became an independent constructor, and people often forget that happened in late 2009. Yes, they have previous experience having run Red Bull chassis's, but really they've been on their own for just three years, so they've certainly impressed. My only concern with the team, is that its sole purpose is to find young talent for Red Bull. Whilst this is great for the younger drivers, it's a shame for Jaime and Sebastien who lost their seats despite obvious talent. They'll always have an inexperienced line-up, so moving forward is difficult for them. Do you think they'd benefit from a more experienced driver teamed with a rookie?
Daniel: I think there is a lot of talent in this team. There is Minardi DNA so many of these guys are grafters. If there wasn't this focus on driver talent I think Toro Rosso could make huge strides and make great progress. The problem with rookie drivers is that mistakes will be made and they will be learning. Because that midfield pack is so tight the points lost because of that could mean a difference of two or three positions in the constructors. For stability I agree with you that one of last year's drivers should have been kept. Alguersuari was starting to deliver some great drives and then he gets the axe. Very sad in my eyes.
Ryan: Some continuity is always good for a team. In my opinion, Alguersuari and Ricciardo would have made a great pairing, with Vergne in a third role with Friday drivers before moving in to a full-time drive in 2013. Alguersuari deserved another season. But Helmut Marko wasn't happy, and unfortunately they have to take heed of his advice because of the situation they're in and it’s why they exist. They will lose points because of the line-up, and that will cost them a possible sixth or seventh in the Constructors' championship, because the car is good.
Daniel: The car is definitely good, and I am sure on some race tracks this season they are capable of being at the front of the midfield. Last year they even proved they had a good development rate so I am sure they will be a factor all year long. For the drivers I worry they sometimes bring their drivers in before they are ready. Ricciardo has some F1 experience with HRT, but Vergne's F1 experience is very limited. I feel strongly that Red Bull shouldn't skip any of their rookies past GP2 as it’s such a good learning process for young drivers. Think it would have been great for Jaime too, rather than putting him straight at the deep end at Hungary in 2009 without that experience.
Daniel: Let’s move onto Williams now. Can they improve this season or will it be another season of misery for this once great team?
Ryan: Williams can't afford to have another season like they did last year. They know this, and they've made some quite critical changes. Coughlan, Gillan and Somerville have all joined the team for 2012. They're all great at their respective jobs and I think we'll see their efforts realised with a big mid-field push. I'm not sure they'll be heading the mid-field, but they'll be in the mix. Once again my only concern is their driver line-up. Do we rate Pastor Maldonado? He had some good drives last year in a poor car and often beat Barrichello, but he had some very poor ones too. Then of course we have Senna, again an inexperienced line-up.
Daniel: I think Maldonado isn't as bad as people have made him out to be. He has the pace. If he can remove that tendency to be wild then he can have a good season. Senna has the potential and deserves a proper chance. He could be very good. The problem is putting both drivers together. It needed to be one or the other alongside Rubens or Sutil. Not both Pastor and Bruno. Both deserve their seat but shouldn't both have the drive. It certainly could hold the team back and cost them points.
However as it’s not as if there is that much experience in the midfield this year so maybe that might level things out. I think the problem for Williams now is there is just so much depth on the grid. Getting to the front of the midfield is going to be tough before they can even think about starting to challenge the top teams again. However, if you find a few tenths worth of development in the midfield you can jump to the front of it so Williams do have a chance of achieving that I think.
Ryan: I hope so; it's sad seeing them at the back, from the glory days to the stragglers battling with the new teams. It's not where Williams belong at all.
Daniel: I think it’s no coincidence that as the roles and involvement of Patrick Head and Frank Williams has lessened that the team's fortunes have gone downhill. There were the two guys that made it all happen and I rate Head as one of the legends of the sport right up there with the likes of Newey and Brawn.
Ryan: Quite, but you have to make way for the new guys. Head isn't far off 70 and Frank's already there. They've been involved in F1 for some 40 years, it's a passion, yes, but the sport has adapted so much and its right they're taking a step back, but it would be sad to totally lose their presence.
Ryan: Talking of the new guys, can we still class Caterham, HRT and Marussia as the new teams? This is their third year in the sport and it’s about time they began to mount a challenge on the points
Daniel: I think they are now the newish teams. Yes, they really need start to pressing on now and getting some results. Caterham have the best chance. They have some good people on board with a lot of F1 experience and are now established.
They will gain from KERS which will give them half a second which the teams in front won't find as they already have it. The ban of the blown diffuser will help too. I think they are now the closest to the midfield they have ever been. I see them scoring points.
Marussia and HRT seem to be in a worse position than were when they first entered the sport particularly with the lack of track time we have seen from both cars. They were both so far behind Caterham in 2011 that it will be near impossible to have been able to close that gap (despite some positive changes at Marussia and HRT) over the winter. I think they will both be a long way adrift of that main pack which I believe now includes Caterham. But I think both could improve a lot in the second half of the season but not enough to have any real impact.
Ryan: Caterham have impressed. They've been ready with a new car for the first test, unlike both HRT and Marussia which failed to make all three. The Renault engine and KERS should see them progressing and possibly challenging whoever may be ahead of them in terms of pace. I can see them scoring points, not often, but at least once during the record 20 race season.
Ryan: Especially this season. A lot of drivers are out on contract, but I don't see much change at the top. Somewhere we have seen a lot of change however is at HRT. This year they've retained Narain Karthikeyan, which is an odd decision after dumping him mid-season for Ricciardo (paid for by Red Bull). We also have the return of Pedro de la Rosa, an experienced line-up which I think is a great decision by HRT to help them develop the car.
Daniel: Having an experienced driver line-up is certainly a good move by the team and gives them some hope. De La Rosa isn't the quickest driver in the world by any means but he will add a lot of knowledge to the team. Surprised Narain is there again but I don't think he is a slow driver. I thought he performed brilliantly in India and matched Ricciardo's pace. So with this experience and the funds that Narain can bring I think it's a good choice by the team. I think the biggest issue for HRT is a lack of stability. There have been a few key departures on the technical side plus moving premises during the winter isn't idea,l but you would hope it will be beneficial in the long term.
Ryan: I think the team may be focusing on becoming 'Spanish' a little too much. Whilst it’s good to get an identity and backing from a country for the long term stability, as well as basing yourself centrally, to do it during the off-season and in fact during the season with the move to Madrid not yet complete, is a little odd. The racing and development needs their full attention. For me, HRT will bring up the rear.
Daniel: I tend to agree that Marussia will probably overtake them but I too admit that I do admire the team in many ways, for battling against the odds and not giving up. F1 needs these kind of teams in my opinion. As long they are within 107% of the fastest car then they have every right to be in F1.
Ryan: Absolutely, I think the effort it takes to develop a new car and race it 20 times a year is often underestimated by some fans, and as long as they're on the grid and quick enough, they've completed step 1 - though it has been close on occasion. I just yearn for the days when one of them breaks through and surprises us. Caterham have come close to doing that and once again they'll be heading the newcomers.
Daniel: I think the grid is just so tight these days. That makes it very difficult for the new teams. When you look at the pace of the new teams during their time in F1 so far they would be midfield runners in previous seasons. 10 seconds used to cover the grid, not the 1.5 to 2.0 seconds that we see covering the established teams these days in F1. It's very hard to start a team from scratch and get within that margin.
Daniel: So Marussia have made changes including the tie-up with McLaren, using a wind tunnel and Pat Symonds had ramped up his involvement somewhat. Do you think they have any chance at of closing the gap to the midfield. Like I said I doubt they can as the gap is huge but you hope for some signs of improvement at least
Ryan: The key is definitely the use of wind tunnel development now, CFD wasn't giving the team the right direction, i'ts a tool which needs to be paired with a tunnel. I expect gains, they need to get closer to Caterham, but I think the former Team Lotus outfit will have made such a step in performance, that any gain made by Marussia won't be enough to bridge that gap. Pat Symonds remains in an advisory role, how highly do you rate his input?
Daniel: I rate him very highly and he has been involved with championship winning cars. However he isn't a miracle worker and won't be able to turn things around over night. Although I would imagine the team would be a lot worse off without him. I think the team needs to be a bit more aggressive with their car, rather than just focus on reliability like they did last year. Have to say I feel for Timo Glock. A talented driver who deserves a much better car.
Ryan: I was surprised Glock signed a multi-year deal with the team to be honest. He's a good driver, and a real asset to Marussia so they'll be keen to retain him. I do feel that they will continue to struggle, however I believe they'll beat HRT for the first time.
Daniel: I agree, I was very surprised Glock committed himself to a multi-year contract, and that he renewed his contract so soon when there was still plenty of action to be had in the driver market.