Continuing my last post from yesterday on the Top 4 teams in the 2011 Preseason, we’ll now take a look at the so called “midfielders”. These are the teams just within a breath of the top, but just don’t have the extra gumption to take them over the hump… yet. Many of the teams have brought new creations and inventions along with rethought ideas from the past. We’ll take a look at the Lotus Renault, Williams, Sauber Ferrari, Force India, and Scuderia Toro Rosso in today’s review.
Lotus Renault have been busy in the off-season, starting with the dispute in the naming of the team itself. I won’t go into much detail because it will make me want to rip my own head off, but Team Lotus and Lotus Renault are going to court for rights to the Lotus name in Formula 1. Stupid. I know. In any case, the Lotus Renault R31 chassis has gone through quite the face-lift from its predecessor. The car features the nostalgic black and gold of old from the John Player Special days that Mario Andretti and Ayrton Senna made famous. The chassis itself has a few tricks up it’s sleeve though, with what looks to be a front exit exhaust channeling exhaust air from the front of the car all the way back to the rear diffuser. The test times have not yet shown how effective the blown air has been, but again, its only testing and we’re not even sure the team will actually run the exhaust in this configuration for the races.
Robert Kubica’s recent rally crash has hampered the teams chances of scoring some good points this year, but Renault have gone the route of outsourcing a team leader in Nick Heidfeld, Kubica’s old teammate at BMW Sauber. Heidfeld often ran well against Kubica in equal equipment so it will be intriguing to see what he can do to help the team forward. We here at SG all wish Bob a speedy recovery.
The Williams team look to be on a bit of a resurrection with Rubens Barrichello leading the team to a nice hefty haul of points last year. The departure of Nico Hulkenburg in exchange for Pastor Maldonado wasn’t a big shocker but shows a sign of the times and how motorsport nowadays seems to be run mostly by money and less on merit. In any case, the team looks to shake things up at the front with a deceptive rear suspension package that features a uniquely tiny gearbox on their FW33 challenger. The beam wing and rear suspension are joined together while the driveshafts take a sharp angle back up to the wheels. It’s a bit of a risk but it looks to be working well enough with the relative pace the team have shown this pre-season. The packaging of the rear end looks to be the smallest of all the teams with a definite emphasis on regaining that everlonging downforce at the happy end of the car. Their KERS on the other hand has been a bit rough, often causing the team delays during running and cutting short their precious track time. Despite the issues, Williams are looking good and going into the season, are my favorite of the midfielders. Aside from…
…Sauber Ferrari. The team were lucky enough to acquire BMW’s windtunnel and CFD centers along with the know how of James Key. The team were quite unlucky last year though as the C29 chassis was not designed around the Ferrari engine they ran in 2010 but was meant for the BMW powerplant that the C28 had. By the end of the year, the team had figured out how to get some reliability out of the car and now start fresh with the C30 and two young, aggressive drivers. Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez, whose entry was made via the departure of Pedro De La Rosa, will be sure to dazzle as they use their rambunctiousness and kamikaze (no racial Kamui…) style attacks on the front pack. The C30 chassis doesn’t feature a mass of technical highlights or outstanding ideas, but similar to the Ferrari 150* and Force India, the team looks to be using clean, simple aero ideas for their car. It does feature a low blown exhaust and Ferrari’s tightly packaged rear end (giggle) and KERS. Key’s technical vision should help the team forward and looks to have done so in testing, with Perez having one of the fastest laps of the pre-season test in Barcelona. Time will tell, but I like where the team is headed. It doesn’t hurt that the car is easy on the eyes, too.
Force India has done a bit of driver shuffling as well. With what was arguably the best remaining spot not really left open for a driver in the balance, the team decided to release Vitantonio Liuzzi to make way for the DTM champion Paul di Resta, cousin to IndyCar champeen, Dario Franchitti. The FI VJM04 looks to be an easy evolution of last year’s car but has been a been disappointing so far. I had high hopes that the team would make another step forward as they had been trending in the past few years, but the loss of key technical personnel has hampered those hopes. Undercut sidepods, a recurring theme this year, are featured on the VJM04, along with a hideous looking nose. Yay. They’ve also taken the Mercedes W01’s airbox inlet and slapped it on, using the blade style roll hoop to separate the area. Their only saving grace looks to be Di Resta’s speed. I believe him to be faster than Sutil and am looking forward to seeing the progress he makes this year in what may be a dog of a car. Another positive? Mercedes power and KERS technology. Should help? Maybe? Ehh…
And finally, Scuderia Toro Rosso. Ah, STR. Having brought up the likes of Liuzzi, Speed, Vettel, and… well that’s about it really isn’t it? No matter, the team’s STR6 chassis looks to be pretty good as it features a whole raft of new details and interesting bits (where you at Force India?). A double floor, huge front wing, complex rear diffuser, low blown exhaust… seems to have all the makings of a good car. I like the bold direction the team have decided to take. The double floor looks to be a pretty good idea. Essentially the car has extremely raised side pods that allow air coming from the front of the car over the floor in the midsection directly to the rear diffuser and beam wing. The high pressure air over the top of the floor and low pressure underneath should create a nice hefty amount of downforce that the team may have been missing, and it shows in their pace during testing. Jaime Alguersuari and Sebestian Buemi are in the drivers seats for now, but both only have a half year contract signed with the team. With Daniel Ricciardo right behind, if either driver fails to produce, they can expect to be gone sooner rather than later. The car looks stunning, but will the teams results follow suit?
Force India’s definitely got their work cut out for them. The other four teams have looked pretty good in testing and have made rather large strides forward. They’ll have Team Lotus breathing down their necks with Virgin and HRT possibly following suit (maybe not HRT so much, but they are surprising with their car this year…). We’ll take a look at the noobs in the next installment.