Full Throttle: And so it begins...
To Valencia then, for the start of the winter testing where, this week most all of the prospective challengers for the Formula One crown are being unveiled with each team confident of success. Keen to generate as much hype for themselves and PR coverage for their sponsors, the world is inundated with quotes of a similar nature from all competitors proclaiming that this year is the one that will see them reach new heights. Of course, some will merely be blowing hot air - in a last minute bid to secure additional commercial partners while others will be confident they have done their homework and produced a title contender. The proof of the pudding will, as they say, be in the eating...
Time was when car launches were an extravagance to be marveled at/shunned (delete according to taste) yet in this time of cost cutting, teams are more concerned at the performance of their cars and I for one applaud that.
McLaren and Jordan were once the experts in generating maximum exposure for their respective sponsors via car launches reminiscent of a pop concert or ticker tape parade in New York. Why, I can still recall the sheer embarrassment etched on the faces of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard back in 1997 when, amid a crass dry ice and a light show, they were forced to share the stage with, wait for it, The Spice Girls.
It was, needless to say, a cringe worthy experience for all observers and the trend continued for some years all down the pitlane. Thankfully, Williams were the ever the exception and always maintained the same philosophy when it came to announcing their yearly challenger. Their time honoured 'here's the car, here's the drivers, now lets get to the track' launch is now common practice and Ferrari were the first last Friday, to unveil theirs; the F150.
Though elegant in design, of more importance to the team is that it is fast from the outset, wins regularly and takes Fernando Alonso to a championship it feels he deserved last year.
Last week, I declared my thoughts on Filipe Massa's chances of challenging Alonso to the Formula 1 title this coming season. While delighted the piece generated much interest and discussion, I am disappointed however, that no one managed to show it to Massa whose comments last Friday at the launch of the F150 confirmed he still believed he would receive equal treatment from his employers.
Ferrari gave the job of debuting their new car on Tuesday to Fernando Alonso (was there any doubt) and while the 'who goes first is first among team mates' doesn't carry much weight in the F1 paddock these days, with Ferrari it does. We have all been told the two men will receive equal treatment and while many will take Ferrari at their word, there is much to suggest the 29 year old Brazilian will be paying second fiddle to his more established teammate.
Down at Red Bull - where they play a fairer game and let their drivers actually race each other, defending champion Sebastian Vettel and team mate Mark Webber are confident they will be able to mount a successful title challenge in the new Adrian Newey designed, Renault powered RB7.
Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button will not get their hands on the new McLaren MP4/26 until tomorrow and are using an interim MP4/25. The delay is apparently due to allowing the design team more time to pen a challenger par excellence but this has lead to rumors that their may be problems and that all has not gone strictly according to plan.
The opposition though, should remember a similar occurrence at Imola in March 1988 when the team rolled up with their new car - the MP4/4, at the final pre-season test with Alain Prost and new signing Ayrton Senna. The paddock mused that the team were going to be in trouble and that Ferrari - who had been topping the timesheets regularly, were likely to be the fastest car. All thoughts of a nightmare year for McLaren were dispelled when the new car crossed the timing beam at the end of the first flying lap. The establishment was stunned to say the least and so began the most dominant season in the history of the sport when between them, the drivers registered fifteen wins out of a possible sixteen.
It is make or break for Michael Schumacher in 2011 as the 7-time champion aims to register a better season than he managed last year. Nico Rosberg, not to put too fine a point on it, out foxed his Mercedes GP partner and is confident of winning his first race this year. The car displays a strong livery but that will be of little importance if the car is as fast as a sloth. The pressure is on for 42-year old Schumacher to impress and justify the salary he commands while Rosberg will be keen to establish himself as the number one driver and to claim his long awaited debut victory.
Renault unveiled the R31 on Monday and declared themselves potential race winners in 2011 - complete with an innovative exhaust system which exits at the front of the side pods. Such placement of the exhaust system is designed to claw back some of the downforce lost from the banning of double diffusers and the team is confident it will prove to be successful. It is without question that such originality is the DNA of the sport and one never gets tired at the solutions designers dream up then unleash on the first day of pre-season testing.
The new Williams was unveiled on Tuesday with a short-term livery and one has to hope that its successor - when launched will contain more sponsors than there appears currently on the navy blue FW33. It is arguably the most aesthetically pleasing of all the cars released but there is much to suggest this once dominant team will go yet another season bereft of wins.
Britain's new F1 hero Paul di Resta seems to have settled in nicely at Force India and while the sacking of Tonio Luizzi left a slight bitterness in the mouth - another reminder that F1 is a harsh business, it is pleasing to see another countryman to Hamilton and Button lining up on the grid.
The Lotus row still rumbles on with both parties airing their beliefs that they are the true Lotus on a daily basis yet there appears to be no end in sight. It is to be hoped an out of court settlement will be found before the full trial begins in London's High Court on 21st March as it would do neither party any good to have this matter unresolved before the first race in 36 days time. Word is that F1's ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone has let both parties know he is far from happy and has told them what he wants. Usually, what Bernie wants, Bernie gets and there is much to suggest this soap opera will be terminated before we get to Bahrain.
New designs and interim cars, fresh liveries, new partnerships, new sponsors and new drivers - t's all bubbling away nicely and the stage is now set for another tumultuous season of grand prix racing.