2011 Formula One season: team review

F1-Fanatic have finished writing up their reviews of each constructor’s season.  I thought I’d add some commentary to the linky love.

12. Virgin – Cosworth

I gotta say, I’m disappointed that Virgin’s CFD-centric approach to aero design didn’t pan out.  Clearly it was too ambitious, and purely computational aero design isn’t yet possible at Grand Prix levels.  I’m looking forward to the day when small chassis constructors — for club racing, if not at the professional level — can build sophisticated aero packages using tools like OpenFOAM, and I’d been hoping that Virgin would be successful enough to kick-start that process.  Ah well.

Timo Glock deserves better than he got this year.  Maybe an injection of cash when Virgin becomes Marussia will be enough to kick the team up to a low-midfield contender in a couple of years.  D’Ambrosio didn’t particularly impress me, but he didn’t have much of a chance to in the VR-02, either.

11. HRT – Cosworth

Liuzzi and Karthikeyan kind of make me facepalm.  “It’s the car!”, you might logically retort, but Ricciardo dropped into the HRT mid-season and adroitly surpassed whoever was in the other car.  Even so, it was Liuzzi’s 13th in Montreal that elevated them to 11th over Virgin, so I can’t complain too much about his driving.  At least there was some decent competition between HRT and Virgin, and competition’s what the sport is all about.

HRT are going all Spanish-nationalist next year, signing Pedro de la Rosa and getting mad cash from Thesan Capital.  It remains to be seen if they can improve their lot.

10. Lotus – Cosworth

After narrowly edging out Virgin and HRT last year, Lotus pulled well away from the other newbie teams in 2011 and by the end of the season were occasionally dicing with Williams, Sauber, and Renault for position.  That said, while they’re improving by leaps and bounds and coming closer to the midfield, they’re by no means there yet.  Trulli did a workmanlike job of bringing the car home, at least when he wasn’t bitching about the power steering, but Kovalainen was clearly top dog.  Perkele!

Lotus will become Caterham next year, so that Renault can become Lotus.  Seriously, guys?

9. Williams – Cosworth

Freshly equipped with bags of cash from Venezuela’s PDVSA, along with Venezuela’s darling driver Pastor Maldonado, Williams failed spectacularly this year.  In response, they fired a ton of people, and the alacrity with which the rest of the paddock snapped up folks like Sam Michael suggests that this might not have been the way to go.  I’m something of a Williams fanboy, so I’m holding out hope that they gave up on 2011 early on and spent most of the season focusing on 2012 — or, hell, on 2014 — but I’m having trouble typing that with a straight face.

8. Scuderia Toro Rosso – Ferrari

I’ll be honest: I’ve never particularly liked either Buemi or Alguersuari.  Their internecine battle this year led to some interesting racing, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care all that much about it.  STR were much more interesting in the second half of the season, when they started challenging Sauber, Force India, and Renault.  It’s fascinating that they’ve started to gain ground in the midfield at exactly the point when the FIA forced them to quit using rebadged Red Bull chassis and start building their own.

STR will have Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne driving for them next year.  Ricciardo’s on my list of “fun drivers to watch”, so I’ll probably give more of a shit about them in 2012.

7. Sauber – Ferrari

Sergio Perez is one hell of an impressive driver.  Sauber seemed to be banking on running one — or sometimes two — fewer pit stops than the rest of the field, and Perez made that work a lot better than Kobayashi.  (Alas, Kobayashi found his overtaking talents rather muted by this strategy, so we got fewer “zOMG Kamui!” moments this year than we did in 2010.)  Even so, they managed to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the midfield, which is no mean thing.  The driver lineup won’t change for next year, either, which is good.

6. Force India – Mercedes

Another team on the rise, Force India have built on their occasional successes in 2009 and their consistent improvement in 2010 to get to the point of challenging the class of the midfield for race position.  Di Resta did a damn fine job, and eventually so did Sutil (though not fine enough to avoid getting replaced by Hulkenberg next season).  I wish them the best of luck.

5. Renault

I’m not convinced that Renault had a poor season — they did particularly well at the start, and managed to finish ahead of all the teams they could reasonably expect to beat.  Still, their year didn’t go the way they’d intended.  Losing Kubica was a major blow, and neither Petrov nor Heidfeld nor Senna could really pick up the slack.  Nevertheless, Petrov managed to score a podium at the first race in Australia, and the R31 looked great in testing and in the early races with its inspired front-exiting exhausts.  Still, the team couldn’t develop the car at the same pace as everyone else, and by the end of the season Renault were counting themselves fortunate merely to finish in the points.

On the bright side, next year they can call themselves “Lotus”, so I guess that’s something.  They’ll get Kimi Raikkonen, too, which is kind of neat.

4. Mercedes

Rosberg’s still kicking ass, and Schumi’s not giving up as much to him this year as he did in 2010.  On the other hand, while the MGP-W02 was better than all the cars it should have beaten, it wasn’t any closer to the Ferrari (let alone the McLaren or the Red Bull) than last year’s model.  No podium finishes is a damning indictment of the team — mostly the car rather than the drivers.  Mercedes were quick at Montreal, Spa, and Monza, and while this might sound like damning with faint praise that’s not too far off from the foundation that Force India built in 2009.

3. Ferrari

To my mind, Fernando Alonso did with the 2011 Ferrari what Lewis Hamilton did with the 2009 McLaren: he drove the wheels off the thing, dragging it a lot further up the grid than it deserved to finish.  The car itself was a bit of a dog, being generally unable to make the harder tire compounds work and showing no noticeable countervailing advantages.  The team’s only victory came at Silverstone, during a single-race hot-blown diffuser ban.  Why they keep Massa around is beyond me.

2. McLaren – Mercedes

The Pirellis and their sensitivity to degradation obviously suited Button better than they did Hamilton, but it was a reasonably close contest between the two.  The MP4-26 was a fast car in the race, but not quite as capable as the RB7 in qualifying or in clean air.  Its radical sidepod arrangement seemed to work very well throughout the season, which made me happy: Formula One is at its best when the cars are dramatically different in design but well-balanced in performance.

1. Red Bull – Renault

Two words: Sebastian Fucking Vettel, okay?  So much for the idea that Webber — or anyone else — could keep up with him on a consistent basis.  The RB7 was the best car of the year, but not by the same margin as the RB6 except in the crucial area of reliability.  Having a car that didn’t break allowed Vettel to scoot off to an untouchable lead both in the races and in the championship.  Some people are taking Alonso’s win at Silverstone (while hot-blown diffusers were forbidden) to indicate that Ferrari will be competitive next year, but with Adrian Newey designing the RB8 I really wouldn’t count on it.


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