Mar.12 (Reuters) A fantastic season lies in store for F1 fans, with six world champions on the grid, nothing to separate the teams in testing, several driver changes, and some team name changes as the longest season in F1 history beckons. Here is a quick guide to the 12 teams ahead of the season opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
Red Bull Racing – Sebastian Vettel (Germany), Mark Webber (Australia)
Vettel and his team will again be the ones to beat as they chase their third successive crowns, but they are unlikely to be as dominant as last year. Even so, expect a few tricks to be lurking under the skin of Adrian Newey’s latest car, even if testing in Spain has been far from trouble-free. Webber should be far more competitive than last year when he struggled to get to grips with the tyres and allowed Vettel to build a huge advantage early on. Only two drivers have ever won three titles in a row; Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher. Only Ferrari, McLaren and Williams have ever racked up three successive constructors’ championships.
Base: Milton Keynes, United Kingdom
Team principal: Christian Horner
Chief Technical Officer: Adrian Newey
Debut: 2005 Australian Grand Prix
Races competed: 126
Constructors’ Championships: 2 (2010, 2011)
Drivers’ Championships: 2 (2010, 2011)
Race victories: 27
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes – Jenson Button (Britain), Lewis Hamilton (Britain)
After turning around a difficult 2011 season, McLaren start the new campaign in far more bullish mood. The new MP4-27 already stands out as the best looking car on the grid and testing has gone well. The gap between them and Red Bull could be wafer thin. Both drivers sound confident, with Hamilton eager to put behind him the hardest year of his career and focus on winning races and keeping out of trouble. Button, 2011 runner-up, senses a real chance of a second title to add to his 2009 championship. The easy partnership between the two Britons could be tested to the limit this time around.
Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro – Fernando Alonso (Spain), Felipe Massa (Brazil)
F1 needs a strong Ferrari while Italy, without any home-grown drivers for the first time in more than 40 years, expects the Scuderia to deliver. The signs are not good. One of the ugliest cars ever to emerge from Maranello has been recalcitrant in testing and technical director Pat Fry has warned that the podium could be a step too far in the early races. Massa, whose days at the team look numbered, needs to show that he still has what it takes. Alonso, who took Ferrari’s only win of 2011, will be pushing as hard as ever but may have a frustrating wait for victories.
Mercedes AMG Petronas – Nico Rosberg (Germany), Michael Schumacher (Germany)
Mercedes are looking for a big step up on last year and the signs so far are encouraging. Of all the drivers, Rosberg completed the most kilometres in testing, and Schumacher, starting the third year of his comeback and still chasing his first win since 2006, has sounded upbeat. The Brackley-based team have invested heavily in technical staff and principal Ross Brawn is confident that the car is a significant improvement on last year’s. If so, Rosberg could be closer than ever to his first win and Schumacher his 92nd.
Base: Brackley, United Kingdom
Team principal: Ross Brawn
CEO: Nick Fry
Technical director: Bob Bell
Debut: 1954 French Grand Prix
Races competed: 50
Drivers’ Championships: 2 (1954, 1955)
Race victories: 9
Lotus F1 Team – Kimi Raikkonen (Finland), Romain Grosjean (France)
The former Renault team have an all-new lineup and a new name as well. Raikkonen was quickest on the first and the last days of testing, while Grosjean also topped the timesheets on two occasions. In between, they had to re-design suspension parts that cost them precious track time. The jury is still out on how quick they really are, even if on paper their prospects look bright. Raikkonen, the 2007 champion back after a two-year absence, seems the same as ever while Grosjean looks a far better prospect than he did as a stand-in when drew a blank in 2009.
Base: Enstone, United Kingdom
Team principal: Eric Boullier
Technical director: James Allison
Debut: 1977 British Grand Prix
Races competed: 304
Constructors’ Championships: 2 (2005 and 2006)
Drivers’ Championships: 2 (2005 and 2006)
Race victories: 35
Sahara Force India – Paul Di Resta (Britain), Nico Hulkenberg (Germany)
The British-based Indian team are ready to move up a gear and become a nuisance for more established rivals higher up the pit lane. Both drivers are highly promising youngsters hungry for success and the new car won plaudits when it was unveiled and has looked quick in testing. A team to watch as potential challengers to the top teams and probably the best of the mid-field pack.
Base: Silverstone, United Kingdom
Team principal: Vijay Mallya
COO: Otmar Szafnauer
Technical director: Andrew Green
Debut: 2008 Australian Grand Prix
Races competed: 73
Sauber F1 Team – Kamui Kobayashi (Japan), Sergio Perez (Mexico)
The departure of technical director James Key was seen as a pre-season blow but the Swiss team are solidly professional and have been going about their business in testing with typical precision. The car looks a tidy solution to the rule changes and has set some impressive times. Perez now has a year’s experience under his belt and will have grown in confidence while Kobayashi knows how to thrill. Sauber’s biggest challenge could be developing the car over the year due to tight budgets.
Base: Hinwil, Switzerland
Team principal: Peter Sauber
Technical director: James Key (until mid Winter 2011)
Debut: 1993 South African Grand Prix
Races competed: 326 (323 starts)
Race victories 1
Scuderia Toro Rosso – Daniel Ricciardo (Australia), Jean-Eric Vergne (France)
For the second year running, Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso start the season as a potential surprise package. The all-new lineup lacks experience but not talent and, based on testing times, the car is certainly quick. Both drivers also have plenty of motivation, with the possibility of a coveted Red Bull seat alongside Vettel if Webber moves on at the end of the year. In a tight midfield, the target is top seven at least.
Base: Faenza, Italy
Team principal: Franz Tost
Technical director: Giorgio Ascanelli
Debut: 2006 Bahrain Grand Prix
Races competed: 108
Race victories: 1
Williams F1 Team – Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela), Bruno Senna (Brazil)
After their worst ever F1 season gleaned just five points, Williams have reason to be more optimistic. They now have a Renault engine, new technical bosses and a car that seems easier on the tyres and has covered plenty of mileage, despite some technical problems. On the downside, the lineup is very raw without the expertise of departed veteran Rubens Barrichello.
Caterham F1 Team – Heikki Kovalainen (Finland), Vitaly Petrov (Russia)
This should be the year when Caterham, formerly Team Lotus, move up into the midfield and score their first point. Kovalainen, a race winner with McLaren, believes they can close the gap. The car will have KERS for the first time (a system similar to that used by champions Red Bull) and the title-winning Renault engine. Apart from useful sponsorship, Petrov also brings experience from an established team and stood on the podium only a year ago.
Base: Hingham, United Kingdom
Team principal: Tony Fernandes
CEO: Riad Asmat
Technical director: Mike Gascoyne
Debut: 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix
HRT F1 Team – Pedro De la Rosa (Spain), Narain Karthikeyan (India)
An untested car, limited resources and the oldest driver lineup in Formula One (average age 38) all signal a tough season ahead for the Spanish-based team, possibly tougher than last year. On the plus side, De la Rosa has bags of experience and HRT’s new owners know what they have got involved in. A first point would be little short of miraculous, though.
Base: Madrid, Spain
Team principal: Luis Pérez-Sala
Technical director: Jean-Claude Martens
Debut: 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix
Races competed: 37
Marussia F1 Team – Timo Glock (Germany), Charles Pic (France)
Also arriving in Melbourne with an untested car and one that had still to pass a final crash test less than two weeks before the start of the season. Glock is a steady pair of hands, Pic the least experienced man on the grid. Technical consultant Pat Symonds won titles with Renault but Marussia have to be creative with what may be the smallest budget of any team. Points possible only under freak conditions.