Vettel’s Red Bull teammate Webber may have the best chance at knocking off the current champ, since he is the only other driver with a Newey designed jet fighter Red Bull car. Looking back at Webber’s 2010 season, it is easy to overlook some bad pit strategies and favorable treatment given to Vettel were huge factors in Mark’s eventual 3rd place finish for the year. Webber will be on the warpath if he perceives more bias towards Vettel from the Red Bull team or more pit boss miscues on Webber’s side of the pitstops. Mark has only 20 podiums and 6 victories in his 159 race career, so look for him to score at least 10 podiums this year. If he hopes to wrestle the title from Vettel, his path is simple: win the race. I think he will beat Vettel a few times this year, but enough to beat him out for the title? Not happening.
Fernando Alonso and Ferrari will also have Sebastian Vettel on their minds. Alonso, I’m quite sure, had the young German on his mind all off season, after letting the championship slip from his hands right into Vettel’s lap during the climatic 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The new Ferrari 150 Italia looks like an absolutely killer and sleek machine.
Here is a 360* tour of the new Ferrari, with some interviews with the engineers on the new specs.
So far the excellent practice results for the Scuderia are as swift as their new car looks, the Ferrari times for now are much nearer the dominant Red Bulls then the rest of the field.
McLaren remains the only team featuring two former champs in Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton. In 2010 it was Button who got out to the better start, only to be beaten by Hamilton for most of the rest of the season. The new McLaren car is also a fabulous looking car judging from their unique Berlin street build/reveal film on the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes home page.
Unfortunately, disaster is the best way to describe their testing results so far, as their times have been way below their own expectations. Hamilton was frank, “We can’t hide the fact that testing has been tougher than we expected: our test mileage hasn’t been as high as that of our rivals, nor have we had the outright pace of the fastest cars. Still, I have a good feeling with MP4-26: I like driving our car, I think it will look after its tyres quite well and I understand that we’ll be making further performance steps ahead of this opening race.”
His boss Martin Whitmarsh, laid out reason for hope for both the short and long term, while also acknowledging the MP4-26’s apparently slow pace at this early stage ,“However, it’s called testing for a reason – and testing MP4-26 beyond its limit has, in some ways, been highly instructive. In actual fact, we’ve gathered a huge amount of useful data about the car, its handling characteristics and its management of the tyres. So while we’ve further fine-tuned the package for Melbourne, we’ve once again set ourselves some extremely tough targets for this opening race weekend. So, do I think our testing pace is representative of the pace we’ll show in Australia? No. Do I think we head into the weekend as race favourites? Unfortunately, no.”
As for the living legend , 7 time champ Schumacher, while he has fond memories of many past victories in Australia, his car, at least at this point, does not have what it takes to compete with the Big Bad 3 teams right now. Michael thinks everything should be fine, if he can just race free and easy, “It is the atmosphere which makes Albert Park so special, and when you see all of the fans having fun, that just gives you a great feeling of how motorsport can be. I am lucky enough to have a lot of good memories from Melbourne: it’s a venue where I have won four times and those races will always be very special. I’m sure it will be a great weekend, and an exciting season-opener. I’m looking forward to getting to the paddock on Thursday.”
His Merecedes car at least looks mighty sweet this year. Here is a tour of the new MGP W02 with Michael himself.
It could be his team mate Nico Rosberg who makes his mark on the Mercedes team this year, but it still seems remote that Mercedes GP will challenge the Big 3 teams this year, even though they seem much improved.
This ends the first section of my Formula One preview, coming soon the second section of my –
2011 Formula One Preview: Rule Changes
2011 Formula One preview: 5 World Champs (+1)competing for a title: part 1