You could not have written the script any better with the Drivers Championship having gone down to the wire and to the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi last year.
I can’t remember the last time four drivers were still in contention to win the Drivers title on the final race weekend. But still it was a great season in 2010 and this year might be closer than you think.
No doubt the pressure will be on Red Bull to build on what they achieved last season. Winning both the Drivers and the Constructors will have been the icing on the cake for Christian Horner and his team.
But the likes of Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes will be extra determined to beat Red Bull this year. Here is my team by team guide for 2011.
The 2010 double winning champions Red Bull are for sure the team to beat this year. Last year was a pretty eventful year for the Austrian team on and off the track.
The RB6’s pace was simply supreme last season and qualifying was totally dominated by Red Bull. 15 poles last year speaks for itself really. The only frustration from a Red Bull point of view is the fact that at times they were not able to convert pole positions into wins.
Sebastian Vettel became Formula One’s youngest ever World Champion and the German has a very bright future in the sport. When Vettel was out at the front on his own, no one could catch him. He certainly proved that at Abu Dhabi.
On occasions last season Vettel was at fault for some high-profile accidents for example, at the Turkish Grand Prix he went into his team-mate Mark Webber and at the Belgian Grand Prix he crashed into Jenson Button. These are the things Vettel needs to cut out but lets not forget he is only 23 and everybody makes mistakes.
The former Toro Rosso driver will be the driver everyone wants to beat and there were races last season which proved he is a dauntless competitor. Vettel without doubt is one of the most talented drivers in the Formula One paddock and don’t be surprised if he continues to win Drivers Championships.
Despite not being crowned World Champion, Webber should be proud of what he achieved in 2010. He certainly gave his team-mate a run for his money and like Vettel, Webber proved no one can catch him when he is out at the front.
The Aussie will have been gutted not to have taken the Drivers title in Abu Dhabi and the fact his team-mate took the Drivers crown will have been difficult for Webber to take. I just fear last season was Webber’s last chance to become World Champion and that he will never get a better opportunity.
However if Webber can get the better of the 2010 World Champion at the beginning of the 2011 season, who knows what the Aussie can achieve. Webber has not qualified ahead of Vettel since Monza last year so it is vital the ex-Williams driver gets the better of his team-mate as often as he can.
Pre-season testing has gone well for Red Bull and both drivers have continued where they left off. If the team continue to win consecutive races like they did last year, then its difficult for me to see beyond Red Bull winning both Championships.
But only time will tell whether there will be more in-team politics this year and if this will have an affect on both Vettel and Webber.
2011 is a big year for McLaren and Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh will be hoping this is the year the team can win their first constructors title for 13 years.
The MP4-26 was one of the last cars to be launched this year and pre-season testing has not exactly been all plain sailing for McLaren. There have been technical issues and both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button have already expressed their concerns of the new car.
McLaren along with Ferrari are likely to be Red Bull’s main competitors and if Lewis and Jenson start 2011 with flying colours then both drivers could be in the final shake up come the final Grand Prix of the season in Brazil.
Two British drivers in a British team at the start of the 2010 season, what more could the British Formula One fans have asked for? It was the dream team.
Unlike at Red Bull, there were no in-team politics at McLaren last year and Lewis and Jenson had a competitive but congruent relationship. There were those who did predict there would be fireworks between both drivers but this was not the case.
Although he will have been disappointed not to have secured back to back Drivers Championships, Jenson had a solid first season at McLaren. The Frome star certainly gave Lewis something to think about in the early part of the season and victories in Australia and China proved Hamilton was not going to have it all his own way.
The 2009 World Champion has come of age in recent years and has become a lot more relaxed since winning the Drivers title with Brawn GP. Jenson has always had the talent to be a World Champion and he showed us his potential in his first full season with Williams.
I was one of those people who thought Lewis would take Jenson to the cleaners when the ex-Honda driver joined McLaren. But Button proved me and many others wrong so fair play to him.
2011 will see Hamilton competing in his fifth season in Formula One and don’t expect him to change anything.
If Lewis sees an opportunity to overtake someone, he will go for it and he will also try to top every session whether that’s Free Practice or Q1 or Q2 in qualifying. The 26 year-olds personal problems last season will have had an affect on his performances. But there is no denying, Hamilton is a raw talent and will always give 110% no matter what.
Providing they are given the right car to battle with Red Bull and Ferrari on a regular basis, Lewis and Jenson will be right up there. If McLaren can win some races in the early part of the season, they can put some early pressure on Red Bull and Ferrari and mount a serious challenge for both Drivers and Constructors titles.
Ferrari are like marmite aren’t they? You either love them or you either hate them. Same could be said for Fernando Alonso.
Had Alonso been crowned the 2010 World Champion, no doubt everyone will have looked back at what happened at Hockenheim. At that point it was also confirmed Alonso was the No.1 driver for the team with Felipe Massa playing the supporting role.
I felt really sorry for Massa that day and unfortunately he has not been able to rediscover his fine form in 2008.
2010 was a season of two halves for Ferrari. The Italian team struggled in the first half of the season despite winning the first race in Bahrain and people were already writing them off. From the British Grand Prix onwards, Ferrari were back to their old self and Alonso was supreme at Monza, Singapore and Korea.
No doubt Ferrari will have been hurting after what happened in Abu Dhabi and they will want to make a flying start to 2011. Pre-season testing has gone well and both Alonso and Massa seem to be happy with the F150.
After what happened in 2007, Alonso is clearly not a favourite with the British fans. But the Spaniard is one of the best if not the best driver currently in Formula One.
The double World Champion will be extra determined to take the drivers crown this year after a misplaced strategy call to cover Webber in Abu Dhabi allowed Vettel to take the title. Alonso will have been gutted not to have taken the drivers championship after leading the standings heading into the final race weekend of 2010.
Small mistakes like jumping the start in China, crashing in Monaco and being caught out by the Safety Car in Valencia and Silverstone cost Alonso the title. Its just amazing how small mistakes can affect both the drivers and constructors championships.
2011 is a massive year for Felipe Massa. The Brazilian returned to the sport last year after his crash at the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2009. It was not the dream comeback for Massa but their have been promising signs in pre-season testing that he is starting to get back to his best.
What happened at Hockenheim will have had a massive affect on Massa and his face on the podium that day said it all. Inside he will have been absolutely livid and I would totally understand why.
People will see Felipe as the supporting driver to Alonso like he was alongside Michael Schumacher. But if Massa can gain an early advantage over his team-mate by finishing ahead of him in qualifying and in the races, that will do his confidence the world of good.
Ferrari alongside McLaren will be Red Bull’s main rivals and Team Principal Stefano Domenicalli will be hoping his team can secure a 16th Drivers title and a 17th Constructors Championship in 2011.
After a lacklustre 2010, Mercedes are under pressure to deliver the goods this year. It was not the best of returns to Formula One last season for Michael Schumacher but Nico Rosberg had a decent first season with Mercedes.
The W01 last year did have problems ranging from tyre warm-up issues as well as weight distribution. But both Schumacher and Rosberg will be hoping the W02 is the car to challenge Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari.
Schumacher had been out of the sport for three years and it was evident at the beginning of the 2010 season that the German was suffering from a lack of testing. However the seven times World Champion’s pace did start picking up in the second half of the season so Michael can build on that this year.
I did question Michael’s decision to come out of retirement. Don’t get me wrong Michael will always be remembered as a legend in Formula One history but why did he want to come back? Did he genuinely believe he could win an eighth drivers title or did he come back because he simply loved racing in Formula One.
But we will see how Michael performs this year and if he is given the right car, Schumi could have a say in who wins the drivers title. But firstly he needs to beat his team-mate who totally dominated him in 2010.
Nico Rosberg had a stunning first season for Mercedes. Despite the W01 not being good enough to compete with the big boys consistently, Rosberg was able to get the best out of the car and the former Williams driver finished on the podium on three occasions. I don’t think Rosberg was given enough credit for what he achieved last year compared to the likes of Kubica, Alonso and Vettel.
Rosberg is only 25 and is a World Champion in the waiting. Adding to his three podiums in 2010, Nico outqualified his team-mate 15-4 and beat Schumacher convincingly. I was also one of those who thought Michael would get the better of Nico.
But Rosberg certainly stepped up to the plate and if the W02 is considerably better than last years car, then he may well be celebrating his first win in Formula One come the end of the year.
Lotus Renault GP
Things were looking good for Renault as Robert Kubica topped the timing sheets on the final day of the pre-season test in Valencia. But three days later the Pole suffered a horrific crash at the Ronde di Andora rally and is likely to miss the whole season. Losing Kubica is not only a blow to Renault but for the Formula One paddock.
I wish Robert a full speedy recovery and hope he is back on the Formula One grid soon. Kubica once again had a stellar season last year and was competing with Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren regularly. Had the ex-BMW driver not suffered a life-threatening crash in the rally, I would have backed Kubica to give Vettel, Alonso, Webber, Button and Hamilton a run for their money and be in contention for the Drivers crown.
Nick Heidfeld has been confirmed at Kubica’s replacement and its fair to say he will have big boots to fill. Heidfeld has experience in his favour and this could be valuable to the Renault team.
Heidfeld may not necessarily win any races but I personally feel the German will do a decent job at Renault. He proved at BMW Sauber that he can compete with the big boys and who knows both him and Vitaly Petrov could be challenging for regular podium finishes.
With Kubica now likely to miss the whole of the 2011 season, Petrov will be under more pressure to score points consistently.
There were flashes of brilliance shown by the Russian last year but there were also times where his inexperience showed. His superb sixth place finish in Abu Dhabi might just have been a career saving result.
Petrov was confirmed for another two seasons with Renault before Christmas so now it is down to the Russian to repay the faith shown by Team Principal Eric Boullier. Poor results could lead to Petrov being the first casualty of 2011. However the R31 has been very quick in pre-season testing so Petrov and Heidfeld could spring one or two surprises this year.
It will be interesting to see how well Williams do this year and it’s a shame they have not been competing at the front end of the grid in recent years. The likes of Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and Nigel Mansell were some of those who drove for this great team and it just makes you wonder why Williams have gone backwards.
The team just about finished sixth in the Constructors ahead of Force India and this season could be another year of struggle for Williams. Letting a talented driver like Nico Hulkenburg go was a huge mistake in my opinion but only time will tell whether this was the right decision or not.
At the age of 38, Rubens Barrichello is still going strong and the Brazilian will be making his 304th start in Australia. Barrichello has shown no signs of retiring and he has without doubt been a credit to Formula One.
The first half of the season was a struggle for Williams but in the second half they managed to overhaul the points gap between themselves and Force India. From Valencia onwards, Barrichello put in some canny performances and it was no surprise he was signed on to drive for the team this year.
Nico Hulkenburg has been replaced by the current GP2 champion Pastor Maldonado. The Venezuelan will need to prove he is worthy of a seat and that Williams made the right choice in employing him.
I still feel getting rid of Hulkenburg was the wrong decision but nowadays money will often do the talking. Even though he will be a rookie, Maldonado will be under pressure and if he fails to deliver then perhaps Williams will regret letting Hulkenburg go.
Force India were pipped to sixth in the Constructors by Williams in 2010 but the Silverstone based-team have come on leaps and bounds since they first entered the sport in 2008.
In a short amount of time, Force India have gone from the back of the grid to the midfield and there were times last season where the team showed us they can compete with the big boys on any given day.
With the Indian Grand Prix coming up in October, this will be a perfect opportunity for the team to market themselves and show the Indian crowd that Force India are a force to be reckoned with in Formula One.
2011 will be Adrian Sutil’s fourth season with Force India and during the time he has been there, I feel Sutil has improved significantly. He has become a more mature driver and he was not involved in many incidents last year.
Like Nico Rosberg, I don’t think Adrian was given enough credit for what he achieved in 2010. Yes Force India will not be in the headlines often compared to Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren, but bearing in mind the team are in the midfield I thought Sutil did a solid job. The German was able to get the best out of the VJM03 and he may provide us with some surprises this year.
The British fans will have another driver to cheer this season. The 2010 DTM champion Paul di Resta was confirmed as Sutil’s team-mate for 2011 earlier this year.
Di Resta was the team’s test driver last year with Vitantonio Liuzzi playing second fiddle to Adrian. Despite Liuzzi having a contract with Force India this year, di Resta has replaced the Italian and this will be the Scot’s first full season in Formula One.
The 24 year-old needs to be given time and you cannot expect him to perform miracles overnight. But I’m sure di Resta will show us what he is capable of and I have every confidence he will do well.
Nico Hulkenburg will be Force India’s reserve driver this year. The German will be disappointed not to have a race seat this season. But this could turn out to be a loss for Williams but a gain for Force India.
Hulkenburg is a star for the future and if he puts in strong performances in the Free Practice sessions he may well have a race seat for 2012.
It is exciting times at Sauber and with two exciting young drivers on board, 2011 could turn out to be a decent season for Peter Sauber’s team.
Thankfully, Sauber are now financially stable thanks to investment from Mexican telecom company Telmex. They can at least focus a lot more with matters on the track rather than off it.
The first half of 2010 was a real struggle for Sauber and it was only at the Turkish Grand Prix where the team scored their first points of the season. Nonetheless post-Turkey, the team made huge progress and were finishing races ahead of Williams, Force India and Toro Rosso.
Kamui Kobayashi is a driver who is not afraid of giving it a right go and he proved his credentials with Toyota in 2009 at the Brazilian and Abu Dhabi Grand Prix’s. Despite a shaky start in 2010, the Japanese star pulled off some memorable results including a seventh place finish in Valencia (even managed to overtake Alonso) and a sixth place finish at Silverstone.
And of course not forgetting his fantastic performance in front of his home crowd at Suzuka. Like Rosberg, Vettel and Hamilton, Kobayashi is the future of Formula One and if he continues to do what he does best, then I’m sure he will be a favourite among many fans. Who knows even a World Champion?
Sergio Perez will be the first Mexican driver to compete in Formula One for 30 years and will be under pressure to perform for the team and the Mexican people. He will make mistakes along the way but its vital he learns from them.
Let’s not forget he is only 21 and similarly to di Resta, Perez needs to be given time. But with two talented young drivers on board and the team financially stable, the future looks bright at Sauber.
2010 was a difficult year for Toro Rosso and the Red Bull ‘B’ team have not been able to rediscover their sparkling form in the final third of the 2008 season.
Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari have a big 2011 ahead of them. If neither driver delivers then Daniel Ricciardo is waiting in the wings and he could be drafted in.
The Italian team have one of the smallest budgets in the Formula One paddock and it is vital Buemi and Alguersuari start scoring points when they can.
Personally, I feel Buemi is under more pressure than his less experienced team-mate and if the Swiss driver continues to struggle then Ricciardo could replace him.
He may only be 20 but I have been impressed with the way Alguersuari has adapted to Formula One. The Spaniard had a fair few battles last season including notable battles against Michael Schumacher.
Jaime will face less pressure than Buemi in my opinion and if he continues to beat his team-mate in both qualifying and in the races then it could be curtains for Buemi. But that is not to say Alguersuari’s race seat is safe. Both current drivers need to pick up points early in the season because this by far an important season for Toro Rosso and they do not want to be finishing behind Lotus, Virgin and Hispania.
I’m not even going to mention anything about the naming issues here so I’m just going to talk about the team’s prospects for this year.
Tony Fernandes will be hoping Lotus can now start getting amongst the midfield and compete with Williams, Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso. Mike Gascoyne is also optimistic about catching Renault by the end of 2011 but I personally feel this is a bridge too far.
Nonetheless there is no reason why Lotus cannot battle with the midfield teams and with Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen, they have got every chance of moving up the field.
It was always going to be difficult from the start but both Trulli and Kovalainen have already stated their desire to stay with team and that they knew what they going to be in for.
I have to admire Lotus’ determination and I wish them every possible success for 2011 and beyond. With two experienced drivers, Lotus will be confident of setting their sights of finishing races and 2011 higher up the grid.
Well where do you start with Hispania? Financial problems, struggling at the back of the gird, questions about their future in the sport. The last year has been a struggle for HRT but they are still here.
Getting to the first race in Bahrain was a huge achievement and finishing ahead of Virgin was an added bonus for the team in 2010. But I was not a fan of the driver changes that were made in the season.
Karun Chandhok did a really good job in my view and was very unlucky to have lost his seat. Bruno Senna failed to make an impression but it was always going to be difficult for Hispania. There were times where Senna was being outqualified by Sakon Yamamoto and Christian Klien which probably led to Senna’s exit.
But on a positive note, Narain Karthikeyan has been announced as a Hispania driver for this season. It was a shock decision I have to say, but the Indian will no doubt generate revenue for the Indian Grand Prix and he will be backed by billions of fans.
A second driver has yet to be confirmed although there has been speculation that Vitantonio Liuzzi could take up the last race seat available this year. Liuzzi was axed by Force India after he was replaced by Paul di Resta for this season.
It looks as if it is going to be another year of struggle for HRT and whether they can improve on last year remains a question. Surely things can only get better.
Russian supercar company Marussia are now Virgin Racing’s title sponsor and they also have a significant share in the team. This should give Virgin financial stability.
Last year was a disappointing year for Virgin and their first Formula One car had a fuel tank so small they could not finish any races which was pretty embarrassing. This is probably why they finished 12th out of 12 teams in the Constructors.
But with new investors on board and the new addition of Jerome d’Ambrosio, Virgin will be optimistic they have a future in Formula One.
Timo Glock is still with Virgin and experience for any new team is vital. Glock had his moments with Toyota until they pulled out the sport and he will be hoping to score some points this season along with his new team-mate.
d’Ambrosio impressed the Virgin team after running in the Free Practice sessions from Singapore till the end of the season last year. The Belgian replaces Lucas di Grassi and d’Ambrosio will be looking to challenge Timo Glock on a regular basis.
As for the team, the main target will be to score points and fight it out with Lotus and Hispania as well as with the likes of Toro Rosso and Sauber.
It promises to be a cracking 2011 season and I cannot wait for the season to get underway in Australia later this month.