Less than two weeks to go until cars grid at Albert Park! Melbourne will see 22 Formula One cars line up for the first race of 2002. Winter testing has seen a few ups and downs and there will no doubt be a few more to come in the months to come....
Less than two weeks to go until cars grid at Albert Park! Melbourne will see 22 Formula One cars line up for the first race of 2002. Winter testing has seen a few ups and downs and there will no doubt be a few more to come in the months to come. As with all pre-season countdowns, more questions than answers seem to crop up. Let's look at the teams one by one and see what we can predict based on what we've seen so far.
The favourite to "do the double" of winning the drivers' and constructors' titles is, of course, Ferrari. Last season the team was fast, reliable and evidently the hardest to beat. Although there have been recent concerns about the F2002, it's likely the red cars will be in similar circumstances this year. Michael Schumacher is aiming for his fifth world title and Rubens Barrichello is hoping for a few more wins to add to his tally. Not much can be said about Schumacher that hasn't already been said a thousand times over -- he's a four-time world champion, which is pretty much self-explanatory. While it's widely assumed Schumacher will stay at Ferrari for the remainder of his racing days, Barrichello is on unstable ground. His contract is up at the end of this year and rumours have been circulating that Ferrari is looking for young talent to add to their stable.
McLaren has been needing a good shakeup, and with Ron Dennis taking a chance on Kimi Raikkonen and Michelin tyres the team heads into 2002 looking optimistic. Last year was lacklustre -- the cars were unreliable and struggled to keep pace with Ferrari while fending off the advances of Williams. With Hakkinen now on the sidelines, David Coulthard hopes for the full support of the team so he can win the title he should be capable of but has yet to achieve. Raikkonen wants to prove the critics wrong for the second time in a row. Last year no-one thought he would amount to much but he did, and this year they say the move to McLaren is too much too soon. The pressures of working with a top team do not seem to have fazed Raikkonen at all so far, as he put two lap records under his belt in testing.
The Williams team could well upset Ferrari's and McLaren's domination of the points. In 2001 the team emerged revitalised and very fast indeed: despite appalling reliability Williams had an excellent overall package of tyres, engine and drivers. Provided the cars stop blowing engines, they should be in with a real chance this year. Ralf Schumacher has come into his own as a driver, with three GP wins last year and no doubt more to come although he is still slightly cautious. Juan Pablo Montoya claimed his maiden victory at Monza in spite of being on the receiving end of more engine failures than seems reasonable, and was looking very good by the end of the year. Both are capable of being a threat to Schumacher senior.
Sauber is an unknown quantity. While last year Sauber was pretty much ignored as a challenger, the team amazed everyone by winding up fourth in the constructors' standings, and winter testing has seen the new C21 regularly near the top of the time sheets. This year could well see more of the same; Nick Heidfeld is undoubtedly fast while rookie Felipe Massa is so fast he's been told to slow down! Massa's inexperience could hamper him but Heidfeld has matured as a driver. Both of them should be in the points regularly if the cars hold up.
Jordan struggled last year with unreliability, and sacking Heinz Harald Frentzen mid-season did not do a lot for continuity. Usually around the top of the midfield, the Jordans slipped a bit last year and need to work hard to fend off the likes of Sauber and BAR. Giancarlo Fisichella spent four years mouldering away at Benetton without great results, but he does have the potential to be a winner -- and he's good with a mediocre car, wringing results out of last year's Benetton that not many others could. If Jordan gives him a better-than-mediocre car he should get on the podium. Takuma Sato is one of 2002's rookies: former BAR test driver and 2001 British F3 champion, he's been fast in testing but his capabilities are still unknown.
BAR recently shed boss Craig Pollock and bought in David Richards to take over the ailing team. While BAR has done nothing particularly wrong, the team hasn't done much right either, wandering aimlessly in the midfield. The potential is there to be good but the team seems unable to put it in action, something Richards may or may not be able to fix. Jacques Villeneuve took F1 by storm in 1997 and has done practically nothing since. Obviously fast and talented, he can't seem to work with a poor car and his time at BAR has seen him deteriorate despite a couple of lucky podiums last season. He's reportedly optimistic about the BAR004 so perhaps this year might see things looking up. Olivier Panis, while not the most exciting driver on track, is dependable and fairly speedy and looked confident last year.
Renault did not have a great deal of success in its last outing as a team but took constructors' titles as an engine supplier. Benetton, whom Renault took over, was poor last year: the car was well off the pace although it improved towards the end of the season. Jarno Trulli is a whiz in qualifying but his race results don't usually match up. Last year he was let down by unreliability at Jordan and some folks have written him off as a racer but he's fast and not ready to give up. Jenson Button is not about to give up either after the knocking he had at Benetton last year. He's a good driver and last season may have been bad for him but it certainly did a lot for his learning curve. It remains to be seen if Renault can provide a car that lets either of them prove their worth -- and they both need to, as Renault has the much-lauded Fernando Alonso waiting in the wings.
Arrows spent a lot of time dithering over drivers through the winter and has had little in the way of testing compared to other teams. Another team that seems to have lost its way, Walkinshaw's Warriors appeared to go backwards last year after a promising start. Still, reliability is good and the A23 looks good. Heinz Harald Frentzen spent much of last year being talked about but for all the wrong reasons. After he was sacked by Jordan he moved to Prost and promptly hurled the car further up the grid in qualifying than either Jean Alesi or Luciano Burti -- he's fast and determined, but erratic. Some stability with a new team should help him focus. Enrique Bernoldi is unproven as a driver. He reasonably matched Jos Verstappen last year but with Arrows being off the pace it's hard to tell what he's capable of. He is tenacious, as holding off David Coulthard's McLaren for so long at Monaco last year showed.
Jaguar has had a less-than-successful time in F1 so far and its problems with the R3 have not given the team a great start this year. Management and driver shuffles still go on, which can't be good for morale. Boss Niki Lauda seems intent on making it work one way or another but Jaguar will be under much scrutiny this year. Eddie Irvine may have a motor on his mouth to match his car but he's very hardworking and determined. He needs to be, because Lauda has already proved he will not tolerate failure. Irvine shone at Ferrari with Schumacher out of action but is having a hard time producing results at Jaguar. Pedro de la Rosa has shown himself to be a match for Irvine and was amazingly fast in practice last year, although race results were not often encouraging for either of them.
While the butt of many jokes, last year Minardi did show noticeable improvement. It may have been negligible compared to other teams but it was there. Paul Stoddart is pouring a vast amount of money and effort into the team and is starting to get results. Fernando Alonso did amazing things with what was basically a hopeless car, while neither Tarso Marques or Alex Yoong were around long enough to judge one way or another. This year Yoong is partnered by the young Australian Mark Webber, who is attracting a lot of attention but has yet to prove his worth competitively. Minardi is optimistic about the new PS02 although it remained off the pace in testing.
Team Toyota is the biggest question mark of 2002. With vast amounts of cash to throw at developing its F1 team the company certainly has the resources to do well. But this does not automatically guarantee success. No-one seems remotely able to guess where Toyota might be on track; everything has been suggested, from backmarkers to head of the midfield. Toyota itself thinks it can fight it out with the midfielders although the cars seemed off the pace in testing. Mika Salo has been in and out of F1 for years without making a big impression but he's not had much in the way of consistent drives, skipping from team to team and race to race in a haphazard manner. Allan McNish has the dubious honour of being the oldest rookie in the field -- he spent some time as a test driver and had success driving sports cars but both have yet to show what they can do in F1.
So there you have it, some answers but more questions. Maybe we'll be able to fill in some more after Melbourne. Or maybe all we'll get is more questions.