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F1: 2012 Dark Horses – Podium or Pasture?

by on February 13, 2012

 

It is often somewhat mistakenly understood that the F1 title is a three horse race.  Pretty much everyone seems to believe that Either RedBull, McLaren or Ferrari will be challenging and/or winning the titles.

What if we are collectively wrong this season?  Is it at all possible that someone will pull the proverbial wool over our eyes as did Brawn GP in 2009?  Everyone thought that Ross Brawn and his boys were show-boating trying to get some sponsorship attention by putting in some blistering laps…boy were we surprised!

The usual suspects;

RedBull return as reigning champions, virtually unmatched last season.  Very few changes to the winning formula as most if not all key individuals that comprised the dream team return for another kick at the can. Webber is hungry and driven to keep his seat and challenge his team mate for F1 supremacy.  Vettel shows no signs of slowing down his seemingly effortless charges to the top.  Newey hasn’t suddenly forgotten how to design a winner/contender, although he will have been challenged somewhat by the new regulations.  The new regulations preventing the use of exhaust gases to generate downforce will throw a spanner in the mix for RedBull as this fourth generation car was designed with the diffuser influencing aero in a way others have been unable to replicate.  Development rate at RedBull are arguably behind those of McLaren and Ferrari, but out of the gate, they seem to have a leg up recently.

McLaren are perhaps unmatched in in-season development.  They have one of the best if not THE best driver pairing with former F1 champs Hamilton and Button.  Hamilton struggled with some personal demons last season off-track and a feisty Brazilian on-track last season.  He was in the steward’s dog house many times, but it seems he is back to normal now with a new manager in his corner.  Button is as cool as ever. Coming off a good season with some solid performances and ready to take the fight to all to prove he’s got what it takes to be champ again.

Ferrari worry many people.  First and foremost, the Tifosi are worried that the radical approach Ferrari have taken with the F2012 is not showing the promise they expected.  Secondly, rival teams are worried that Ferrari may not be showing their true hand and that they may have found the grip they lacked last season with their new front pull-rod suspension configuration.  The new rules and the new Pirelli tyres may be seen as a possible advantage point for the Italian outfit.

Dark Horses Unknown;

Lotus (Renault) promises to be a solid performer.  They have shown some serious pace in the first tests in Jerez last week.  Even though we have all been told not to make much out of the time sheets, the bottom line is that Grosjean clocked the fastest time of all.  Kimi Raikkonen returns to F1 with the team and has shown he hasn’t lost a step as he clocked impressive times in the Lotus.  With the reactive ride height system banned, Lotus doesn’t seem to be phased.  Count them in as a possible spoiler.

As spoilers go, Mercedes has yet to show its 2012 face, but has had no problems showing some serious pace.  Both Schumacher and Rosberg ended their respective time in the W02 cockpits with the days fastest times and overall fastest times for the test sessions in Jerez albeit with last year’s car.  We must be reminded that Schumacher and Brawn together achieved great things, history can repeat itself.  With Mercedes money and resources backing this team, and with the obvious pressures of having engine costumers beat them soundly every GP weekend, look for them to surprise rivals.

Many F1 fans would love to see the names Williams and Senna together making some noise.  Force India should not be discounted, neither should Sauber.  While they may not be walking away with any titles this year, they could certainly be the difference if they take away points if it ends up being a tight title race.

This is what we know; 

  • RedBull may be most affected by the rule changes but have Newey to even things up. During the Jerez tests, they put in consistent runs on suspected heavy fuel loads with relative ease.
  • McLaren have the prettiest car so far, but looks don’t win championships in F1.  Perhaps one of the best technical teams in the sport, however.  Both drivers were able to put in solid lap times under load and the car seemed both smooth and fast.
  • Ferrari may stand most to gain by the rules and tyres, but may have taken the biggest risks. While Alonso did finish second overall, there is still much work to do as pointed out by both drivers and Pat Fry.  Potential does not equate success on track.
  • Lotus seems quick out of the box and have a motivated Kimi behind the wheel. Of the 2012 cars, it lapped Jerez quicker than the rest. Running Renault engines which are rumoured to be more efficient will offer an advantage in the later stages of the races.

TWITTER: Follow @GOGGS_ON_F1 and @F1_DidUKnow

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