Optimism in the air as F1 launch week approaches

Jan.30 (Reuters) Expect a fresh wave of optimism, with teams and drivers gamely talking up their prospects before the bitter chill of reality changes the body language, when Formula One’s launch season picks up speed this week.

Caterham CT01
Caterham CT01 has already shown itself

McLaren, Ferrari and Force India will be following early starters Caterham in taking the wraps off their new cars in the coming days.

Others, including double world champion Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull, will do likewise at the weekend and on Monday ahead of the first pre-season test starting at Jerez in southern Spain on Tuesday.

Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes and Marussia (the renamed Virgin Racing) will not be among them after deciding to delay their launches until the second test in Barcelona when struggling HRT are also hoping to have something to show off.

Red Bull, winners of both titles for the past two seasons, will again be the team to beat but they will not be taking anything for granted.

Experience shows that bold statements, and even some comparatively unassuming assertions, made at winter launches have a habit of coming back to haunt those who make them.

Lotus Renault GP R31 Launch
Lotus Renault launch in Valencia last year

This time last year, in Valencia, Renault were looking forward to winning races with Poland’s Robert Kubica. At the same launch, Brazilian Bruno Senna was announced as the third driver.

“If any of the other drivers happen to be poisoned or break a leg or something like that, then they may not know who’s to blame but they know who is going to replace them,” grinned Senna, who will be racing for Williams this year.

Within days, Kubica was fighting for his life after crashing in a minor rally in Italy. He has not raced since, Renault did not win a race and Senna was called up only after the team resorted first to Germany’s Nick Heidfeld as stand-in.

McLaren, who show off their new car at their Woking factory on Wednesday, presented their 2011 MP4-26 in Berlin with a temporary exhaust system snaking from a plastic engine block.

“We have a positive outlook on the season ahead, I’m looking forward to Bahrain and starting the season strongly because that’s a must,” declared 2009 champion Jenson Button.

Bahraini Shiites attend the funeral of Mahmud Mekki, 23, who was killed the day before during violent police raid on anti-regime protesters, in the village of Sitra, east of Manama on February 18, 2011. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Bahrain GP did not happen

Bahrain did not happen, postponed and then called off due to civil unrest, while McLaren’s hopes of winning fresh out of the box joined the grand prix on the early-season scrapheap.

Within weeks the language had changed, even if Lewis Hamilton told reporters after his first run in the car that it felt “like a good step over the MP4-25”. By March, McLaren recognised they were playing catch-up and had been forced to make ‘dramatic changes’.

Schumacher, in the second year of his comeback, set his sights on winning again while Williams technical director Sam Michael saw his team’s smallest-ever gearbox as a potential game changer to take them closer to the leaders.

Team Lotus, now Caterham, felt their first points were achievable. In fact, chief operating officer Keith Saunt spoke of chalking up between 30 and 40 of them and challenging for seventh place overall.

Fast forward to November and seven-times champion Schumacher ended the year without standing on the podium while Williams had their worst campaign and scored just five points. Team Lotus were 10th overall and had again drawn a blank.

There may be more than a few false dawns this year as well, but in January every team is a potential winner and hope is as thick on the ground as snow on an Alpine pasture.

“This year…I am confident that we will become a danger to many of the midfield teams,” Caterham’s Malaysian owner and team principal Tony Fernandes declared last Thursday.

“And yes, I want us to achieve a point somewhere in 2012. Maybe two if we are very lucky.”

Below is a schedule of F1 team new car launch dates for your calendar:

DateTeamLaunch Venue
26 January
1 February
3 Februay
3 February
5 February
6 February
6 February
6 February
7 February
21 February
Force India
Red Bull
Toro Rosso
Mercedes GP
F1 Racing magazine
Woking & Online

Unknown: HRT and Marussia