• 2012 season preview

Season preview - The teams

ESPNF1 Staff
March 14, 2012

Red Bull

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Car RB8
Drivers Sebastian Vettel (GER) 10/11, Mark Webber (AUS) 16/1
Team Principal Christian Horner
Technical Director Adrian Newey
Title Odds 10/11
There's a sense of déjà vu when it comes to Red Bull this year. The team is again preparing to defend both the drivers' and constructors' championships that it won last year and it has retained the same driver line-up of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. Once more we have yet to see the true pace of the RB8, but the form that Vettel displayed in 2011 makes him firm favourite for a third consecutive title, and while Webber is expected to be closer, few expect him to beat the reigning world champion.

ESPN prediction Adrian Newey's latest creation really took shape during the final two days of the final test in Barcelona, and while there was no headline time set it was widely felt in the paddock that Red Bull will have the fastest car come Melbourne. Even limited running for Vettel on the final day did little to dispel those beliefs, as the team takes on a similar aura to that of Ferrari in the early 2000s.

McLaren

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Car MP4-27
Drivers Lewis Hamilton (GBR) 11/2, Jenson Button (GBR) 7/1
Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh
Technical Director Paddy Lowe
Title Odds 13/8
McLaren's pre-season could hardly have been any worse than last year, but it delivered a reliable car that is consistent over long runs. While Jenson Button managed few laps in the updated MP4-27 he said it was clear the car had improved, and Lewis Hamilton seems similarly pleased with the position the team is in. Like Red Bull, McLaren has yet to show its true hand, but it will be able to hit the ground running in 2012.

ESPN prediction The air of confidence at McLaren is difficult to read in to as the team is naturally more buoyant when it thinks of where it was at this stage 12 months ago. Button stepped up a level during 2011 though and Hamilton seems to have become much more settled over the winter, so if the team can match its development rate of last year it has the drivers in place to really threaten Vettel's crown.

Ferrari

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Car F2012
Drivers Fernando Alonso (ESP) 7/1, Felipe Massa (BRA) 100/1
Team Principal Stefano Domenicali
Technical Director Pat Fry
Title Odds 11/1
On the back of delivering a radical new car for 2012, there is no doubt that Ferrari is in crisis. The F2012 is unpredictable, hard on its tyres and proving difficult to develop. Ferrari has had to abandon its original exhaust layout which Pat Fry admitted is a better solution than the one it has reverted to, and the team still doesn't know how the car will react to certain changes. Add in a driver in Felipe Massa who looks devoid of any self belief and you're left with a number of long faces at Maranello.

ESPN prediction Ferrari's car looks quick on occasion and undoubtedly has potential. After looking impressive in pre-season last year, the team is right to play down expectations and admits it doesn't expect to challenge for a podium in Australia. The season is long, however, and if Ferrari can understand the new car quickly then race wins will be on the cards. Whether that comes too late to mount a title challenge is another matter.

Mercedes

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CarW03
Drivers Michael Schumacher (GER) 25/1, Nico Rosberg (GER) 28/1
Team Principal Ross Brawn
Technical Director Bob Bell
Title Odds 12/1
Despite there being only three pre-season tests this year Mercedes decided to delay the launch of its new car until after the first of those in order to maximise development time. The decision appears to have paid off, with the car running reliably during a filming day and a regained day of private testing before it even hit the track at the second test. The car is a step forward from 2011, but appears to struggle to look after its tyres once again.

ESPN prediction Both Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher seem convinced that the team has made progress, and to that end they are satisfied. The car looks like it will trouble the front runners on occasion this year, especially in qualifying, but the tyre concerns will probably ensure wins stay out of reach.

Lotus

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Car E20
Drivers Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) 20/1, Romain Grosjean (FRA) 80/1
Team Principal Eric Boullier
Technical Director James Allison
Title Odds 28/1
A refreshed Lotus appears to be entering the new season on a high despite missing the second test with a chassis problem. The car was quick at both the first and the third tests, and Kimi Raikkonen has hit the ground running. Romain Grosjean also had a strong pre-season, and it's a confident team that will take to the grid in Melbourne.

ESPN prediction After the R31 was so difficult to develop in 2011, the team has started anew with a solid all-round car and brand new driver line-up. Testing displayed pace from both the E20 and the drivers, and while Lotus insists it is only focusing on fourth in the constructors' championship, it has every chance of leapfrogging both Mercedes and Ferrari.

Force India

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Car VJM05
Drivers Nico Hulkenberg (GER) 250/1, Paul di Resta (GBR) 250/1
Team Principal Vijay Mallya
Technical Director Andrew Green
Title Odds 125/1
Force India has been making consistent progress throughout its relatively short Formula One existence, and the VJM05 looks to continue that trend. The car has looked strong in the hands of an exciting young driver line-up, though Paul di Resta was slightly cautious at the end of the final test having struggled to look after the 2012 tyres.

ESPN prediction Building on the strong finish to 2011 will be key for Force India, and so far it seems to have done that. Di Resta and Hulkenberg will need to get the maximum out of the team in a tight midfield, because even though Lotus admits it is keeping an eye on Force India, if Vijay Mallya's finances dry up it could struggle to match the development rates elsewhere.

Sauber

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Car C31
Drivers Kamui Kobayashi (JAP) 750/1, Sergio Perez (MEX) 750/1
Team Principal Peter Sauber
Technical Director None
Title Odds 250/1
Losing technical director James Key right at the start of the first test was hardly ideal preparation, but the new C31 seems to have inherent pace. Jenson Button highlighted Sauber as one to watch after both Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez set quick times on soft tyres during testing, but we've seen the team fail to live up to a strong pre-season before.

ESPN prediction The car could be quick enough to get in to the top 10 during qualifying, but doubts remain whether it has the race pace to match. Without Key the team will be hoping its technical team can develop the car well enough to ensure regular points finishes.

Toro Rosso

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Car STR7
Drivers Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) 1000/1, Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA) 750/1
Team Principal Franz Tost
Technical Director Giorgio Ascanelli
Title Odds 500/1
All change at Toro Rosso in 2012 as Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi make way for Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne. The car was looking strong towards the end of 2011 and the STR7 retains the double floor, but the team doesn't appear to have made quite as much progress as the likes of Force India.

ESPN prediction As the midfield has tightened up, Toro Rosso might struggle to rise to the front of it. A driver pairing with 11 grands prix starts between them is a little like pressing the reset button, and the closest on-track battle on occasions this season could be between themselves as experience gives the other teams an early edge.

Williams

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Car FW34
Drivers Bruno Senna (BRA) 1000/1, Pastor Maldonado (VEN) 1500/1
Team Principal Frank Williams
Technical Director Mike Coughlan
Title Odds 350/1
Williams has stirred up romantic memories with its Renault partnership, and has a solid car to go with the new engine. Rubens Barrichello was unceremoniously ousted by the team in favour of the sponsorship of Bruno Senna, but both he and Pastor Maldonado know they have to perform with the promising young Finn Valtteri Bottas snapping at their heels.

ESPN prediction The team is taking a fresh outlook and looking long-term in search of progress. While the driver line-up is inexperienced at developing a car, both have shown flashes of potential and at the very least Williams should eclipse last year's points total.

Caterham

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Car CT01
Drivers Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) 1000/1, Vitaly Petrov (RUS) 1500/1
Team Principal Tony Fernandes
Technical Director Mike Gascoyne
Title Odds 1000/1
Having put the ugly naming battle with Lotus behind it, Caterham has its sights firmly fixed on the midfield. The addition of KERS and strengthened technical team has helped create a more competitive car which delivered some impressive headline laptimes especially during the final pre-season test, and in Heikki Kovalainen it has one of the best performing drivers of last year.

ESPN prediction It may remain slightly off the back of the midfield at the start of the season, but all of the ingredients are now in place and if Caterham matches last year's rate of improvement it will be right in the mix come the second half of the year.

HRT

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Car F112
Drivers Narain Karthikeyan (IND) 5000/1, Pedro de la Rosa (ESP) 5000/1
Team Principal Luis Perez-Sala
Acting Technical Director Jean-Claude Martens
Title Odds 5000/1
Progress has been made at HRT, but in a very roundabout way. The team is relocating to Madrid and as a result has lost a number of staff, but it managed to shake the new car down at Barcelona the day after pre-season testing ended, representing a step forward from its previous two seasons. If it can maximise track time during practice at Melbourne there shouldn't be a repeat of last year's failure to qualify.

ESPN prediction Again it looks like a straight fight with Marussia, but in Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan HRT has two safe pairs of hands that could prove crucial in the private battle.

Marussia

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Car MR01
Drivers Timo Glock (GER) 2500/1, Charles Pic (FRA) 2500/1
Team Principal John Booth
Technical Director Nikolai Fomenko
Title Odds 5000/1
Marussia looks to be going backwards after struggling to pass its final crash test with the MVR-03 and as a result missing all of the final test. In the end the only running it did was with the 2011 car at the second test, and while the new car has been shaken down it will be a while before the team is up to speed.

ESPN prediction Can't realistically look beyond beating HRT. The input of Pat Symonds could help the team maintain an edge and Timo Glock will deliver but Charles Pic has had no running in the new car and funds appear short. A tough season awaits.

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