Thursday, 24 March 2011

2011 Preview: The Best Of The Rest

The penultimate part of our 2011 preview focuses on the the top three 'midfield' teams.

All of these teams are previous World Champions, albeit possibly under a different name. The teams will be aiming for podiums, and attempting to challenge the top three whenever possible, whilst trying to keep the teams behind them at bay.

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The first team to look at today is AT&T Williams. Finishing sixth in 2010 surely felt like - and was - a great result for the team, who fought a season long battle with Force India, eventually just pipping them to the post.
However, looking back at the teams illustrious history, which consists of nine World Championships and 113 race wins, sixth place might seem like an underacheivement.
What needs to be taken into consideration is that William are the only independent team left on the grid, and it is no secret that they do not have the financial clout to match some of their rivals.
Williams did manage to acheive a pole position last year, through Nico Hulkenberg's memorable lap in Brazil, but the young German was dropped for this season, in favour of a driver with more financial backing.

The number one driver for this season is once again veteran Brazilian, Rubens Barrichello. The most experienced driver on the field with over 300 Grand Prix to his name, Barrichello will provide the team with a wealth of technical information and constructive feedback on performance to help the team develop the car further.
After spending several seasons playing second fiddle to more successful team mates including Michael Schumacher and, more recently, Jenson Button, Barrichello will appreciate leading a team and will want to prove he still has what it takes to compete at the front of the field.

The teams second driver, the man with the Nico Hulkenberg-sized shoes to fill, is Pastor Maldonado. The young Venezuelan has looked quick so far in testing, but has made a few costly errors, with team boss Frank Williams saying that he is perhaps a little "too comfortable" with the car. Hopefully, Maldonado will have found the limit of his car and his own ability by the time the season begins.

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Next, we have Lotus Renault GP. Classified fifth last season, the Renault-powered team have two World Championships to their name, thanks to current Ferrari number one, Fernando Alonso.
However, the management team have been forced to make major changes in recent years following the departure of Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds in the wake of the race-fixing allegations levied at them by former driver Nelson Piquet Jr.
Most of the off-season news has revolved around the team, as number one driver and World Championship hopeful Robert Kubica was involved in a serious rally accident. Although the Pole thankfully seems to be making good progress in his recovery, there were plenty of rumours regarding his replacement.

It was eventually Nick Heidfeld who was selected as Kubica's replacement. The experienced German was out of contract for 2011, despite recording good results for Sauber at the end of 2010 after replacing Pedro de la Rosa.
Although Heidfeld has never won a race (despite acheiving several podiums), he is widely recognised as being a very consistent driver, setting the record for finishing the most consecutive Grands Prix (33).
Heidfeld will certainly have a point to prove this season in order to ensure he is offered a drive next year, and the car looks good enough to help him acheive that!

The team's second driver is once again Vitaly Petrov. The young Russian's financial backing was certainly a key factor in helping him to obtain a drive last year.
He struggled to adapt to the car at the beginning of the season, and crashed more times than his team would have liked. However, Petrov noticeably improved as the season progressed, scoring points on several occassions.
Alonso fans will probably best remember him for his faultless performance in Abu Dhabi, the final race of the season, where he calmly kept World Championship contenders Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber behind him for over half the race, which handed the World Championship title to Webber's team mate Sebastian Vettel.

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Finally, Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team. Finishing fourth in their debut season after acquiring the World Championship winning Brawn GP, this Mercedes-Benz-engined team are probably the most likely team, if any, to break into the top three.
Mercedes most valuable asset is arguably the genius of Team Principal Ross Brawn, and his strong relationship with star driver Schumacher.

The team's number one driver needs no introduction. Seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher's return to Formula One was surely the biggest talking point at the start of the 2010 season.
At first the veteran German seemed to struggle with the car and tyres, which had changed considerably in the relatively short time he had been away from the sport.
Never far from controversy, Schumacher received a great deal of criticism after squeezing his former team mate Rubens Barrichello towards the pit wall during the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Schumacher has already stated that he does not expect to be challenging for the World Championship this season, but he believes they may be able to fight for race wins.

In an unchanged line-up from last year, Nico Rosberg maintains the team's second seat. The German driver performed very consistently last year, and was never far behind the leading pack. He also quite comfortably outscored his World famous team mate last season, and will want to acheive the same again in 2011.
With significant updates having been introduced by the team during pre-season testing, it is fairly safe to say that they will continue to develop further updates as the season unfolds.

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2011 is expected to be a season where tactics will play a significant part in races, so it will be interesting whether the genius tacticians at Mercedes and Williams in particular can use this to their advantage.

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