Daily Archives: July 15, 2010

2010 Mid-season review: McLaren

Unlike Ferrari, McLaren had the raw pace to take pole positions last year. This year, they have kept their development rate impressively high, so much so that, since Turkey, the team have looked unstoppable. Red Bull’s early falters have granted McLaren the lead in both championships, but can they hang on?

Unless Red Bull can sort themselves out, it seems to be a battle between Button and Hamilton

Unless Red Bull can sort themselves out, it seems to be a battle between Button and Hamilton

On the face of it, it certainly appears so. Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton are probably the best line-up of drivers on the grid, despite their different driving styles. Button’s wins in Australia and China were both thanks to excellent tyre management and strategy, while Hamilton’s faster raw pace gave him the advantage in Turkey and Canada, despite being much harder on the tyres.

The team itself has provided a car that is now well capable of matching or beating the Red Bull, and with their F-duct device still working the best, no other car can touch them on the straights. The reliability of the car is also perfect, the only retirement so far this year was when an engineer left an engine cover on Button’s car in Monaco, causing the car to overheat.

Fantastically consistent finishes have also been McLaren’s specialty this year, with ever single race finish being in the points so far this year (except Hamilton in Spain, who retired 2 laps from the end, so he was therefore classified).  In fact, the worst finish by a McLaren driver so far has been 8th place, which happened only once.

However, main rivals Red Bull have also had every race finish in the points, although they have had 1 more retirement. With this, we can conclude that both teams have extremely reliable cars, with drivers who are unlikely to crash (Turkey excluded).

Therefore, the only difference between the two teams is their drivers. Red Bull have been rocked by rumours of favouring Sebastian Vettel over Mark Webber, and this could well cost them dearly in the championship battle if their drivers fall out, like Alonso and Hamilton did in 2007.

While McLaren have also had their moments, they have dealt with it much more efficiently. Take Turkey, for example, with the radio discussion between Lewis Hamilton and his engineer, regarding Button overtaking him. While there was confusion and rumours after the race, Martin Whitmarsh quickly cleared things up, and the drivers were only confused with each other rather than annoyed. Compare this to Red Bull, who spent the days after Turkey blaming Webber for no evidential reason, then doing a u-turn and saying both drivers were at fault, and claiming that both drivers had forgiven each other about it.

It took a massive 3 races for both drivers to “forgive each other” again for a different incident. On the other hand, before the British Grand Prix, people were speculating that Button and Hamilton would fall out at Silverstone, and would hand the advantage to Red Bull. No such thing happened, and they performed above the car’s potential to get 2nd and 4th.

This is the sort of thing that could well win McLaren the championship. Lewis Hamilton has claimed that McLaren are “over-performing” with their current package, and later implied that another upgrade to the car was coming soon. If this new package can deliver performance equal to the Red Bull car, then the championship will be in both Button’s and Hamilton’s hands. It’s just a matter of which driver can take the opportunity, and at the moment, it’s too close to call yet.

Speculation over Petrov’s seat amid rumours of replacement

Recently, rumours have linked both Sebastien Buemi and Kimi Raikkonen to the second Renault race seat for 2011, which is currently being used by Vitaly Petrov. Amid speculation that Vitaly could be forced to make way for either of these two drivers at the end of the season, team boss Eric Boullier has said that Petrov’s future is in his own hands.

Vitaly Petrov has been the best rookie so far, but still needs to improve

Vitaly Petrov has been the best rookie so far, but still needs to improve

While Robert Kubica has signed a new 2-year deal to stay on at Renault, Petrov’s is believed to expire at the end of the season, and many drivers, particularly Raikkonen, have been tipped to take the seat off the Russian. However, Boullier has stated that he is happy with Vitaly so far, calling him the best rookie in the paddock, although he says he still needs to improve:

"His future is in his hands. We have not been disappointed by 
him - he clearly is the best rookie in the paddock.

He did some very amazing jobs sometimes [but] he's clearly today 
lacking some consistency to get the points he deserves. We 
definitely need to have both cars scoring points, so that's 
obviously creating some rumours surrounding his race seat.

But we are totally committed to him. We are happy to have him 
on board and we will do everyhting we can to help him take the 
final step to where we want him to be."

Since the rumours began, Sebastien Buemi has signed a new 1-year deal with Toro Rosso. While Kimi is still a possibility, there are many other drivers that Renault are believed to be looking at, although they are not yet known.

However, I would be very disappointed if Petrov were to be replaced, as his defensive driving has been excellent so far, with his battle with Alonso one of his best moments so far. Also, his driving in the wet in China was impressive, although he hasn’t scored a point since then.

At the end of the day, I would side with Boullier in the belief that he is the best driver on the grid, although I would also agree that improvements are needed if the team are to battle for 4th in the constructors’ championship.

Buemi and Alguersuari retained by Toro Rosso for 2011

Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost has confirmed that their drivers, Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi, will continue racing for the squad for the 2011 season. He also said that he expects improvements from both of the drivers as they gain experience, and as Toro Rosso challenge for 8th in the championship.

Both Buemi and Alguersuari have been kept by Toro Rosso for 2011

Both Buemi and Alguersuari have been kept by Toro Rosso for 2011

Tost said:

"I believe our drivers will be well prepared for 2011, which is why 
they are both confirmed for next year. It is also logical, because 
one key role of Scuderia Toro Rosso is to bring on young drivers 
from the Red Bull Young Driver programme and at the ages of 21 and 
20 respectively, both Seb and Jaime certainly still meet the right 
criteria.

Our drivers still lack F1 experience compared to the majority of 
their colleagues. Therefore, as they get more track time with every 
race, I expect to see an improvement in the final half of the season.
This is particularly relevant to Alguersuari, because from Hungary 
onwards, he will be able to rely on the knowledge he picked up after
making his debut there in 2009, knowing all the remaining tracks, with
the exception of Korea.

It is not just a case of their driving getting better, because it is 
also true that their understanding and engineering feedback improves, 
which is vital if we are to get the most out of our package."

He also explained how the team were going to continue developing this year’s car, while also creating their 2011 challenger:

"In terms of the car itself, we are introducing some updates over these 
next two races, starting with a new front wing in Hockenheim, then a new 
diffuser in Hungary. Other updates are in the pipeline and I am therefore
convinced that car performance will improve, starting with next weekend.

The design group has been split, with part of it already working on the 
2011 car, including starting wind tunnel work, which is a first, given 
that our Bicester wind tunnel was not fully validated this time last year 
and therefore was not able to contribute much to the basic design of the 
2010 car.

Another part of the design group is still working on developing new 
specifications for this year’s car. Of course, our resources are limited 
when compared to the teams ahead of us in the championship, but we have 
no plans to increase our manpower, as the F1 regulations are moving towards
capping the size of the workforce in the future and while our size might be
a disadvantage at the moment, it could become a positive factor in the future.

I expect a combination of car updates and improved performance from the 
drivers and indeed the whole team to bring us more points in what remains
of the season.

Why could we not do this earlier? It’s quite simply a matter of resources,
in that we are a small team and even in this high-tech age, without the 
people to generate and drive the technology forward, not just in terms of
production but also design and development, you cannot improve.

We have not fixed a cut-off date when development of the STR5 will stop 
and, while working on the STR6, if we come up with some solutions that we 
feel could benefit this year’s car and we have the resources and capacity 
to produce new parts, then we will introduce them on STR5. It would also 
mean we are effectively testing for 2011 this season."

Like last year, it’s a no brainer to keep both Buemi and Alguersuari. Neither of the two have enough experience in Formula 1 to be properly judged, although you could argue that Buemi has had his fair share of time. This also dispels any rumours of Sebastien being hired for Renault in 2011.

Alguersuari, on the other hand, has been in Formula 1 for slightly less than a year now, but still needs to up his game if he is to progress in Formula 1. Despite an impressive performance in Malaysia, he has only 3 points to his name so far, compared to Buemi’s 7.

While neither driver has been particularly poor or good, I would have expected Brendon Hartley or Daniel Ricciardo to have been considered for a drive for 2011 as well. However, there are rumours that Buemi and Alguersuari are being looked at for a Red Bull drive in 2012, particularly Buemi, so this could well open the door for either Ricciardo or Hartley at Toro Rosso.

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