2011 Season Preview: Driver, Team and Championship Predictions
The 2010 season turned out to be the most exciting Formula 1 campaign ever, and until the last race, four drivers were in contention for the Drivers' Championship. In the end, Sebastian Vettel not only won his first title, but also became the youngest ever Formula 1 champion.
It was a very tough season, and Vettel was trailing his teammate, Mark Webber, and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso for most of the year, but in the end, Vettel's toughness and determination led to him conquering the F1 world for his maiden title.
Vettel also became the second German to win the title, while compatriot Michael Schumacher made a stunning comeback, but had one of his worst seasons ever.
The 2011 season has not yet begun, but there has already been a very serious accident to Robert Kubica, who will be out for more than a year after his rallying escapades ended in disaster. The crash not only put him out, but also created a problem for his team.
Renault has since replaced him with former BMW teammate Nick Heidfeld, who had a rebirth of sorts after failing to land a seat for 2010.
The first race of the season will be the Australian GP. This is due to the unrest in Bahrain, which eventually led to the postponement of the Bahrain GP.
We still do not know if the Bahrain GP is going to take place, and if this race is cancelled, it will leave us with only 19 races for the season, with the Indian GP making its debut.
All teams that raced during the 2010 season will be starting this year too, and though there were some minor name changes at the top, the bulk of the driver movement came from the midfield teams.
The highly talented rookie, Nico Hülkenberg, was dropped by the Williams team, but he has managed to join Force India as its reserve driver.
The racing career of veteran Pedro de la Rosa seems to have ended after Sauber dropped him midway through last season. The team replaced him with Nick Heidfeld, but has also signed up talented Mexican Sergio Pérez, who was also the GP2 runner-up.
GP2-winner Pastor Maldonado was signed by Williams, and though he is allegedly not a pay-driver, Maldonado is heavily backed by the Venezuelan government.
2011 will also see the return of former Jordanian driver Narain Karthikeyan, who will join HRT. His countryman, Karun Chandhok, failed to secure a seat for the coming season.
Other drivers who exited after last season include: Christian Klien, Sakon Yamamoto, Bruno Senna and Lucas di Grassi.
This season will also see the debut of the highly rated reigning DTM champion, Paul di Resta, who actually was Vettel’s teammate during the 2006 Formula Three Euroseries season, and actually managed to win the title by beating Vettel.
As always, there were the technical changes that come with the new season. The two biggest changes from last year were that KERS made a comeback, while Pirelli returned to F1 after 20 years. With the exit of Bridgestone altogether, Pirelli will be the new sole tire supplier.
RBR impressed everyone last season by winning both championships, but unlike its rivals, RBR backed both the drivers. In the end, despite the catastrophic Turkish GP, Vettel won and it turned out to be a good plan for the team.
Despite having the best car on the grid, the team did not race to its potential. At one stage, Ferrari even had a chance to steal the title, but did not due to a glaring strategic error.
This season, RBR seems to have the best car, and with Vettel winning the title in 2010, he will go into 2011 stronger, while Webber will once again try to win the title in what could be his last season in the sport.
The Alonso-led Ferrari team nearly won the Drivers' Championship in 2010, but Felipe Massa’s form last season prevented it from challenging for the Constructors' Championship. Though the team seems to have a solid car for the coming season, it needs more from Massa if it is going for both championships.
This season is highly crucial for Massa. If he fails once again, he may be out of a seat for 2012 or could just become another designated No. 2 driver for the team.
That said, Alonso showed great maturity last season, and if he continues to show that, he will be a very serious threat for Vettel’s championship.
Having two world champions as teammates never seems to work, but McLaren somehow manages to pull it off.
Lewis Hamilton was in contention until the last race, but he made a lot of errors and failed to win the championship. Jenson Button, who everyone expected to be outclassed by Hamilton, did not retain the championship, but performed well and gained the respect of many.
2011 will be a tough year for the team, and if we are to go by testing alone, McLaren just does not have a good enough car to fight for the championship.
The fabled silver arrow team was revived last season after Mercedes purchased the Brawn GP team, and even convinced Michael Schumacher to make a comeback.
But, the 2011 season became one that both will want to forget.
Schumacher failed to even get onto the podiums, while his younger teammate, Nico Rosberg, got some credibility by outclassing the veteran consistently through the year. This was the same team that produced some awful cars during its previous incarnation as Honda, so do not expect a miracle for this season.
But, a few more podium places can be expected from this outfit.
The team has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, and despite being called Renault, the group has nothing to do with the car maker (apart from some technical partnership and engine supply).
The Lotus Cars-sponsored Renault did seem to have a car that could challenge for the title, but Robert Kubica’s accident has thrown the team into disorder.
However, in Nick Heidfeld, they do have a more-than-capable replacement, and this could be the season Heidfeld straightens the record.
Renault may emerge as the third-best team, provided Vitaly Petrov drives every race like the 2010 Abu Dhabi GP.
Williams has entered the stock market and claims it has enough funding for the upcoming season, but the decision to drop Nico Hülkenberg for Pastor Maldonado showed that all is not well for the team.
Despite winning the GP2 title, Maldonado would not have gotten the Williams seat without funding. The 2010 GP season (Maldonado's fourth) was not his best.
Rubens Barrichello will be with the team, and this could be his last hurrah. If the Brazilian fails to impress, he may just have to quit the sport after spending two decades in it.
The team that was the surprise of last season until the very end has two solid drivers in Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta. The reserve, Nico Hülkenberg, could be a future world champion.
The team lost some key technical personnel, and there are talks of financial problems, but if it does manage to get its act together, Force India has a chance to do even better than last year.
This will be a make-or-break season for Sutil, but if Di Resta does manage to impress, bigger things could be in store for the Scottish driver for 2012.
The team has the mercurial Kamui Kobayashi—with a decent car, he will be the most entertaining driver on the grid. Kobayashi has proved that he can go wheel to wheel with anyone on the grid, and he will not get intimidated by any names.
If Sauber has good enough cars, Kobayashi could consistently get to the podium. While his teammate, Sergio Pérez, may be a bit too young for the sport, he happens to have the backing of none other than Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world.
His money could help the team in beating rivals like Williams and Force India.
Toro Rosso's sister team, Red Bull, won the championships last season. STR, after having a decent start, just managed to finish ahead of only the new teams.
After testing, it seems as if STR may surprise some this year, and even if the team only manages to finish ahead of Williams, Sauber and Force India, it would be a great achievement for STR.
In Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari, the team has one of the youngest driver lineups in the grid. With highly rated Australian Daniel Ricciardo as a reserve, both of those drivers are under immense pressure to perform.
Like Renault, this team was once in the news for all the wrong reasons, but it has made some huge progress during the offseason, with a new Renault engine deal and also a technical partnership with Red Bull Technologies.
With these improvements, the team will be hunting for its first points and also will try to challenge the likes of STR and Force India. Team Lotus' retention of Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen showed that the team wants continuity.
Team Lotus could, by the end of the season, challenge some of the midfield teams.
Hispanic Racing is the only team during the 2010 season that did not have a single update from the start of the season. The team had as many as four drivers racing for it, and at one stage anyone with cash was offered the seat.
The 2011 car will not be any better, but Hispanic Racing has signed a technical partnership with Williams, and in Vitantonio Liuzzi, the team has a very decent driver. Narain Karthikeyan will bring in the money for the team, and if he can complete races, it would be huge for Hispanic Racing.
Marussia Virgin Racing
The only team that does not do testing by using wind tunnels—but rather uses CFD alone—performed well last season and just about challenged fellow newcomers HRT.
Timo Glock, by being part of this team, has sealed his F1 future, while Jérôme d'Ambrosio will join him to just make up for lack of numbers.
2011 Constructors' Championship Predictions
1. Red Bull Renault
5. McLaren Mercedes
6. Sauber Ferrari
7. Toro Rosso Ferrari
8. Williams Cosworth
9. Force India Mercedes
10. Team Lotus Renault
2011 Drivers' Championship Predictions
1. Sebastian Vettel
2. Fernando Alonso
3. Mark Webber
4. Felipe Massa
5. Nick Heidfeld
6. Michael Schumacher
7. Lewis Hamilton
8. Nico Rosberg
9. Kamui Kobayashi
10. Jenson Button
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