This time last year, Jordan Grand Prix was scrambling to prepare for the first race of the season. Only a few weeks had passed since the team's takeover by the Midland Group and questions abounded: Would the team have enough time to prepare for...
This time last year, Jordan Grand Prix was scrambling to prepare for the first race of the season. Only a few weeks had passed since the team's takeover by the Midland Group and questions abounded: Would the team have enough time to prepare for the first race? How would the mismatched chassis/engine package perform? Did the two rookie drivers have the skills to compete in F1? The uncertainty in the paddock was palpable.
This time around, the process is much more orderly, much more effective. With a bespoke chassis built around a Toyota V8, the team has entered a new era of development. As the winter test programme with the new M16 draws to an end, MF1 Racing clearly finds itself in much better shape than it was at the end of February 2005.
Part of that improvement comes from the presence of two drivers who gained priceless experience during their rookie seasons, and will therefore be able to push hard from the word 'go'. That's in sharp contrast to last season, when the team was in the difficult position of having two F1 newcomers in Tiago Monteiro and Narain Karthikeyan, both of whom inevitably faced steep learning curves.
Tiago is, of course, back for his second season, while his new team mate, Christijan Albers, had previously earned his stripes with Minardi. Both men impressed during their respective debuts, and the knowledge they have accumulated can only help the team progress.
"We're starting with two drivers who have both got a year under their belts, as opposed to two drivers that haven't driven in F1 before," says Sporting Director Adrian Burgess. "That's a real bonus, compared with this time last year. The drivers won't have to go through that learning process, and they've got a year's worth of experience to draw from. Obviously, it's not as much as most other drivers, but it's a good step up from being a total rookie."
Burgess first worked with Tiago at Carlin Motorsport in the Formula Nissan World Series in 2004, and got to know him well during their time together.
"Last year, he did exactly what I thought he would do, having seen him earn Rookie of the Year honours in the World Series. He works very well with the team and the engineers. He's a real professional, one of the hardest working drivers that I've worked with. I've seen people like Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard when I was at McLaren, and in terms of effort, he's right up there.
"He likes to get some miles under his belt before he goes all out, while Narain got in the car and went quick straight away, because that was his style. But you also knew that as soon as it came to the first race, over a full hour and a half, (Narain) couldn't drive every single lap like a qualifying lap! He'd have occasional lapses in concentration, whereas Tiago wouldn't. Gradually, during the year, the pair crossed over in terms of performance. Tiago uses the data, understands the data very well, and he learned from Narain at a fairly good rate. At the end of the year, he was obviously a match for him."
Albers, on the other hand, is new to the team, but seems to have managed to acclimate himself to the car and staff in a very short time.
"We gave Christijan a fair amount of mileage in December at the tests, to get him used to us and for us to get used to him. He's quick, he's got some good natural talent, and he works very hard, as well. I think there will be a good little battle going on with those two, that's for sure! They are both extremely competitive, in and out of the car, and they'll push each other forward.
"Of course, it would have been nice if he'd been driving for McLaren (last season), and could bring us all that information! But to be fair, the Minardi wasn't that far behind our car last season. He's also used to the way smaller teams have to work, and he knows that we don't have 150 engineers like at McLaren, because that would be about two-thirds of our workforce. So he understands the way teams like ours operate, and he's at home in that environment. I've spent some time with him over the winter, and he's a nice lad. He's fit in very well already."
The race team won't be wearing yellow shirts this year, but apart from that, it will look very similar. There will be a lot of familiar faces, many of whom won races in the Jordan days. That valuable experience should provide additional continuity as the team continues to grow.
"We've only had minor changes, really. We lost a race engineer, so Christijan has a new guy, and I'm confident he will be very good. However, Tiago has the same engineer for the third year on the trot -- Bradley Joyce. He was with him at Carlin for the World Series in 2004, and stayed with him last year.
"Between those two, there's a bit of continuity. And because they've got a year under their belt in F1, they will be more effective and proactive than they were last year, so that will be good for us. Tiago knows the mechanics, and he's got familiar faces in the same places, and that always helps the drivers. It makes the job easier for him, and he's settled in nicely already."