Formula One? What’s that again?
It’s been nearly three weeks since the 12 teams and 24 drivers competing in the F1 World Championship have lined up on the grid for a race – and, as far as their fans are concerned, things can’t get going soon enough.
But they probably aren’t quite as we left them. After four flyaway races in Bahrain, Australia, Malaysia and China, the series starts its European rounds with teams having taken a long, hard look at their performance – and that of their competitors.
The Spanish Grand Prix, the first European race, is the one where teams start running major upgrades in a bid to steal a march on other teams. Rules are checked and re-checked, innovations are copied and adapted.
Ferrari and McLaren are both bringing new packages to Barcelona and both are publicly confident that they will be able to top the all-important qualifying standings as a result. Of course, that’s a slightly larger claim by McLaren than by Ferrari at the moment.
Back at base in Milton Keynes Red Bull will doubtless have been scratching its collective head over the knotty issue of reliability. If Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel had been driving cars with less of a propensity to break down at the side of the track then they would undoubtedly be higher than eighth and fifth in the drivers standings.
The team would also be doing better than its current fifth place in the constructors’ championship – and it’s not as if this problem has come out of the blue, reliability has been taking points off this squad for literally years. If they ever seriously mean to be champions this leak has to be sealed once and for all.
One team that can be guaranteed to have thought up a few neat workarounds to early-season problems is Mercedes GP under the canny leadership of Ross Brawn. For this Brackley-based squad the flyaway part of the season has been like the proverbial curate’s egg – good in parts.
Nico Rosberg is driving a blinder and has got himself to second in the drivers’ standings with a consistently competitive performance. Michael Schumacher, by contrast, is having unexpected difficulty with the car.
It will be particularly interesting to see whether any refinements dreamed up by Brawn will favour one driver or the other, and also how Schumi will cope now he’s back on European soil.
In the midfield Force India has to make good on team principal Vijay Mallya’s lavish prediction that it should be able to finish fifth in the constructors’ championship – but a resurgent Renault led by Robert Kubica is likely to be a sizeable obstacle in its way.
Williams is having a dog of a season so far, to the disappointment of its many fans, who will be hoping it has spent the breathing space provided by the last three weeks wisely. Similarly, BMW Sauber and Toro Rosso have both been knocked off course by the circumstances they find themselves in.
One faced a late race to the grid following the withdrawal of its previous owner and the other is struggling to stand alone after being forced to cut its close ties with its parent team. Both will probably be lucky to salvage much from 2010 over and above keeping themselves ahead of the backmarkers.
Among the new teams Virgin has a fast car but is still struggling to get its ducks in a line regarding fundamental issues like the size of its fuel tank.
Hispania has succumbed to the temptation to fiddle about with its driver lineup, but probably in a good way – introducing the experienced Christian Klien in a reserve role to try to come to a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of its car and drivers.
Lotus excited with its early form but then suffered a series of setbacks. Its veteran driver Jarno Trulli says he regards the start of the European season as a new beginning.
Button honoured with Champions’ Avenue membership
Jenson Button has been inducted into the Circuit de Catalunya’s Champions’ Avenue display in the run-in to the Spanish Grand Prix with his championship-winning achievement now recorded on a bronze plaque in the central spectator area.
He joins drivers including fellow Formula 1 world champions Nigel Mansell, Lewis Hamilton and Ayrton Senna as well as Australian motorcycling legend Mick Doohan.
He said of the honour: “Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya feels very much like a second home to me: during my career, I’ve spent a huge amount of time both racing and testing here. And last year’s victory in the Spanish Grand Prix was one of the highlights of my championship battle.
“To be recognised as world champion is always very special. It’s something that you tend to overlook when you’re working so hard to prepare for the next race or the year ahead. So it always feels worthwhile to stop and take stock for a moment: and that’s what today’s all about. This means a lot to me.”