The 2012 Formula One seasons starts on March 16 in Melbourne, Australia.
This time next week, free practice will have already have been completed.
How are the teams looking ahead of the new season? Here we look at the back of the grid: HRT and Marussia.
The perception of HRT is that they are firmly stuck at the back of the grid. This is wrong. The team is ahead of Marussia (the team previously known as Virgin) and finished 11th in the constructors’ championship in 2010 and 2011.
The team’s problem appears to be with its identity.
HRT is trying to be a Spanish national team and is trying to set up a base in Spain. The reality is that the car is built in Germany and many of the suppliers are from the UK. Having the team spread so widely across Europe is never going to be an advantage.
However, it must be assumed that the management, now led by former grand prix driver Luis Pérez-Sala, are working towards that end.
The car got some on-track running on the Monday after the final test of the year, where both Narain Karthikeyan and Pedro de la Rosa got to sample the new machine. Whether it truly is a step forward from their 2011 car is unclear, but they narrowly failed to qualify in Australia last year and so making the grid would be a strong start.
On no other occasion in 2011 did the team to fail to qualify for a race, and by round four they were mixing with the Virgin’s in qualifying. At the last round of the year, in Brazil, they outqualified both of the red and black cars.
There is certainly some technical ability within the personnel HRT has hired over the past few years. Losing the likes of Geoff Willis was a blow and was perhaps unnecessary, but the team’s progress last year suggests there is a core of talent somewhere.
The drivers are journeymen. They can pull out the odd performance, but they are generally just a safe pair of hands. For a team in HRT’s position, it’s understandable that they’ve gone for this recruitment policy. They need to bag a 12th- or a 13th-place finish to get ahead of Marussia in the constructors’ championship for the third year on the bounce.
Karthikeyan brings a substantial sum of cash to the team via Tata. So why not hire a young driver to drive the other car? HRT could develop him and then sell him on to a bigger team.
When Virgin entered Formula 1 in 2010, they thought they knew what they were getting involved in. They thought a cost cap was going to come into effect. When it didn’t, they had to change their plans and it has taken a number of years for the team to adjust to their new terrain.
The first two cars were designed using computational fluid dynamics, effectively a very powerful computer that aimed to remove the need to put components into an expensive wind tunnel. It was a good idea but it didn’t pay off. Wirth Research, the company behind the CFD philosophy, has moved on to other projects and Virgin has reduced its involvement significantly.
The team has started afresh and has hired a large number of people in an effort to catch up with the rest of the pack. They rent wind tunnel time from McLaren and look to be on the right path.
Unfortunately, the new 2012 car suffered from an inability to pass the FIA crash tests, which meant it was unable to take part in the pre-season test sessions. This lack of running will inevitably damage the team’s ability to be competitive in the first few races, and qualification in Australia looks to be a challenge.
Timo Glock is with the team for a third year and one has to wonder why. A driver who showed some promise with Toyota has been unable to do anything with the two cars the team has given him so far. Perhaps the German likes the thrill of being in Formula 1, but it’s telling that nobody talks about him in the way they discuss Heikki Kovalainen's performances at Caterham.
Whether Glock will hang around for a fourth year remains to be seen, but the chances of him moving to a better team further up the grid don’t look good.
Charles Pic is the third talented driver to fill the second Marussia seat. In 2010 it was Lucas di Grassi and last year it was Jerome d’Ambrosio. Both were unceremoniously dumped at the end of the year and one has to question Pic’s decision to join Marussia. He may already be regretting it when he considers that heading to Melbourne, he hasn’t even tested the car.
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