• 2011 season

ESPNF1's team-by-team season preview

ESPNF1 Staff
March 21, 2011

Red Bull


 
Car RB7
Drivers Sebastian Vettel (GER) 9/4, Mark Webber (AUS) 15/2
Team Principal Christian Horner
Technical Director Adrian Newey
Title Odds 11/10
After taking both the drivers' and constructors' titles last season, Red Bull starts 2011 as the undisputed favourites. Every team in the paddock used the RB7's testing times as a yardstick during the pre-season, although the team held back from showing its ultimate pace on low fuel and super-soft tyres. The only fly in the ointment could be the relationship between Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. Both insist they are starting afresh this season, but that won't stop them being fiercely competitive both on and off the track.

ESPN prediction All the signs from pre-season testing suggest it will be the fastest car on the grid at Melbourne, and also one of the most reliable - not something that could be said of the RB6 last year. The car has been incredibly consistent over long runs suggesting it is also easy on its tyres, another crucial factor this year.

McLaren


 
Car MP4-26
Drivers Lewis Hamilton (GBR) 15/2, Jenson Button (GBR) 16/1
Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh
Technical Director Paddy Lowe
Title Odds 11/2
It's not often that McLaren builds a dog of a car, so it would be foolish to write the MP4-26 off before it has even turned a wheel in anger. But it is safe to say that pre-season testing has not gone to plan, with reliability issues from day one in Jerez and no signs that the car will be troubling Red Bull and Ferrari for pole in Australia. But over the past ten years McLaren has only produced two cars that failed to qualify in the top ten at the first race and both went on to win races. The main concern going into the start of the season is whether the car will last a race distance.

ESPN prediction The team is notoriously good at playing catch-up and, as long as it stays in the hunt by scoring points early on, it will still be a contender for the championship. Back at its Woking base it has the best tyre-modelling software in F1 - even more crucial this year with the new rubber - and in test driver Pedro de la Rosa a wealth of Pirelli knowledge on tap. All the ingredients are in place for a fight back through the field.

Ferrari


 
Car 150th Italia
Drivers Fernando Alonso (ESP) 13/5, Felipe Massa (BRA) 18/1
Team Principal Stefano Domenicali
Technical Director Aldo Costa
Title Odds 12/5
Ferrari took Fernando Alonso's defeat at the final round of the championship very seriously last year. Over the winter it shook up its management structure and redoubled its efforts, and so far the results have been good. The car has completed more mileage than any other and judging by its lap times has the pace to be in the top two. Perhaps the biggest question is whether Massa can return as a force and tackle Alonso.

ESPN prediction Ferrari is the most likely to challenge Red Bull at the front of the grid in the early rounds and is certainly a contender for race victories. The car has shown signs that it is a little hard on its tyres over longer runs, but with Alonso at the wheel Ferrari has a master tactician in the cockpit.

Mercedes


 
CarMGP-W02
Drivers Michael Schumacher (GER) 12/1, Nico Rosberg (GER) 12/1
Team Principal Ross Brawn
Technical Director Bob Bell
Title Odds 7/1
After a sluggish start to pre-season testing at Valencia and Jerez, Mercedes took a huge upgrade package on its final trip to Barcelona. The new exhaust, floor and front wing appeared to do the trick, with Schumacher topping the testing times. There were also no signs of the cooling problems that restricted the team's early running.

ESPN prediction By the end of testing Mercedes was being placed in the same bracket as Red Bull and Ferrari in terms of performance. The times certainly suggest it will be near the top, but whether it is ready to challenge for wins remains to be seen.

Renault


 
Car R31
Drivers Nick Heidfeld (GER) 33/1, Vitaly Petrov (RUS) 200/1
Team Principal Eric Boullier
Technical Director James Allison
Title Odds 28/1
Rolled out an inventive and "brave" new car at the first test, but promptly lost Robert Kubica for the season when a rally accident in Italy almost cost him his life. Nick Heidfeld was chosen to lead the team instead, alongside the retained Vitaly Petrov who finished last year on a high with a strong drive to hold off Fernando Alonso and deny him the title in Abu Dhabi.

ESPN prediction The new R31 may have been a risk but the front-exiting exhausts appeared to be the real deal during testing and should help to put Renault in the frame for podiums. Losing lead driver Kubica is a big blow after he lead the development of the car over the winter and much will depend on Heidfeld's ability to take over in that role.

Williams


 
Car FW33
Drivers Rubens Barrichello (BRA) 80/1, Pastor Maldonado (VEN) 400/1
Team Principal Frank Williams
Technical Director Patrick Head
Title Odds 75/1
The rear of the car drew admiring glances in testing thanks to the grid's smallest gearbox and its tight packaging. KERS issues caused some concerns over the winter but the team is confident it will have a reliable system. Barrichello continues but is joined by a rookie for the second year running; the team opting for Maldonado and his sponsorship money over Nico Hulkenberg, who took a brilliant pole position in Brazil last year.

ESPN prediction Early optimism was dampened somewhat by reliability problems running a KERS-equipped car. The system will be key to race starts and Williams will need to master it if they are to get to the front of a very close midfield.

Force India


 
Car VJM04
Drivers Adrian Sutil (GER) 200/1, Paul di Resta (GBR) 250/1
Team Principal Vijay Mallya
Technical Director Andrew Green
Title Odds 125/1
After a strong start to 2010 Force India was unable to match the rate of development of the other midfield teams, eventually missing out on sixth in the constructors by one point to Williams. Di Resta replaces Tonio Liuzzi as Sutil's team-mate after one of the worst-kept secrets of the winter, and the pair will have Nico Hulkenberg keeping them on their toes.

ESPN prediction A solid but unspectacular pre-season could see Force India struggle as the teams around it make advances thanks to more progressive cars. Whether it can close that gap will be down to what level of funding Mallya can afford the team, otherwise it may be looking over its shoulder at Lotus.

Sauber


 
Car C30
Drivers Kamui Kobayashi (JAP) 200/1, Sergio Perez (MEX) 500/1
Team Principal Peter Sauber
Technical Director James Key
Title Odds 125/1
Good performances in the pre-season tests, especially most recently in Barcelona, have instilled hope that the investment in the new C30 will reap rewards, even if Key has admitted it remains a work in progress. Much the same can be said for rookie Perez, while Kobayashi's attacking style will continue to entertain fans

ESPN prediction A less-than-confident Force India is in Sauber's sights and if its car maintains its pre-season form, it might be looking to move ahead of Williams and squeeze into the top six

Toro Rosso


 
Car STR6
Drivers Sebastien Buemi (SUI) 400/1, Jaime Alguersuari (ESP) 300/1
Team Principal Franz Tost
Technical Director Giorgio Ascanelli
Title Odds 250/1
After the team admitted the 2010 car was an evolution of its previous offering, Toro Rosso has taken a more ambitious route in 2011 with an innovative double floor. The concept is similar to the 1992 Ferrari, but Toro Rosso will be hoping its latest iteration is a little easier to drive than the troublesome F92A proved to be. Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi remain as the first choice drivers, with Daniel Ricciardo the official reserve.

ESPN prediction Another team that aspires to head the midfield runners, and could well achieve its aim early in the season. It should be a strong contender for points, and while the drivers may have limited car-developing experience, the team will be hoping the growing presence of Ricciardo will boost their performances rather than create negative pressure.

Lotus


 
Car T128
Drivers Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) 750/1, Jarno Trulli (ITA) 750/1
Team Principal Tony Fernandes
Technical Director Mike Gascoyne
Title Odds 500/1
Has dominated the close-season news for the wrong reasons - the tedious naming battle with Proton - but the signs are the T128 is significantly better than last year's model. The lack of KERS means it will struggle to make the leap from back-of-the-field newcomer into the middle pack. But of the three 2010 new boys, Lotus has made the most progress, and that is reflected in the bookies' odds.

ESPN prediction If reliability issues can be resolved then Force India and Toro Rosso might be looking nervously over their shoulders

HRT


 
Car F111
Drivers Narain Karthikeyan (IND) 2000/1, Tonio Liuzzi (ITA) 1500/1
Team Principal Colin Kollis
Technical Director Geoff Willis
Title Odds 1500/1
Back for a second season after a winter of speculation it was out of cash, HRT only unveiled its F111 at the end of testing and so, as was the case in 2010, the car will run for the first time at the opening round of the season. The team insists it's faster than last year's model but it remains built around the 2010 chassis, so doubts linger. Karthikeyan is on board as he brought much-needed cash, although Liuzzi does provide the experience and knowledge the team will need to progress.

ESPN prediction HRT's season could develop into a private battle with Virgin, and that might be one it will win if Virgin's troubles are as bad as some believe.

Virgin


 
Car MVR-02
Drivers Jerome d'Ambrosio (BEL) 2000/1, Timo Glock (GER) 1500/1
Team Principal John Booth
Technical Director Nick Worth
Title Odds 1500/1
Continues to maintain wind tunnels are not needed but the results suggest otherwise. The new MVR-02 has shown little to suggest it will take the team on, although it is confident the hydraulic issues which blighted it in 2010 have been resolved. However, rumours Virgin has serious financial problems continue to circulate.

ESPN prediction Enough in store to keep it ahead of HRT at the rear of the grid, but Lotus has left it behind

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