Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The State of Play after Round 4 (Part 1)

A 3 week break may not be welcomed by F1 fans but it will certainly be appreciated by the teams, many of whom have not been home since before Bahrain and after the disruption caused by the volcanic ash cloud. The Spanish Grand Prix has become a traditional key moment in the season where we see teams upgrade their cars and try and move up the order. So who's looking good and who is in danger? Let's analyse...

Red Bull - The RB6 has generally been the fastest car so far this season. 6 front row starts have only been converted into 2 podiums however, and Red Bull may rue not taking advantage of this pace later in the season. Reliabilty failures and poor decision making on the pitwall have cost the team many points. In clean air, the car is brilliant but the lack of straightline speed has made it difficult for Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber to race in the pack. Introducing a F-Duct could help this, but with the chassis now homologated it is tricky to implement to the same extent as McLaren have done. The team put a lot of resources into the 2009 campaign and they'll push hard again but the pressure will be on. Perhaps a dull Barcelona weekend is what they require.

McLaren - Fresh from a 1-2 in Shanghai, McLaren will be thrilled to be topping both championships. Martin Whitmarsh is demanding more from his troops at Woking but to have been slightly off the pace and have acheived the results they have will be encouraging. The resources Mclaren have should mean that they will, like last season, be strong in the development race. Of course in 2009 McLaren were quite a bit behind and thus had more potential to gain but nevertheless i'm explaining the team to at least be in the mix for pole at Barcelona. The F-Duct is providing a key advantage in allowing Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button to overtake and this could perhaps help down the long straight at the Circuit de Catalunya. Lewis Hamilton was strong in China but overdid the tyres on his outlap in Q3 and this hindered him in taking on the Red Bull's so he will hope for a solution to this in the coming rounds.

Ferrari - The prancing horse has had a mixed start to the season, with the high of a 1-2 in Bahrain with the lows of engine failures and Q1 elimination in Malaysia. Fernando Alonso has been having eventful races but seem content for the time being to at least be a geniune championship contender again. Felipe Massa has been outpaced at times but has a decent start considering his past record at tracks like Melbourne and Shanghai. Ferrari are apparently having to put the most fuel in at the start of the races so tend to come better pacewise towards the end of races and this coupled with Alonso's tyre preservation will be a big element in how successful a season it will be for the Scuderia. As well as upgrades, Ferrari will be analysing closely the engine problems that have been plaguing them and this will be vital because too many retirements will kill off any championship chances.

Mercedes - This is the team that intrigues me the most. Ross Brawn seem to play things very shrewdly in 2009, keeping enough of an advantage to get both championships but diverting resources to the 2010 car. However when the new car was launched it certainly followed the Red Bull trend, most visually with the dip in the front nose. Michael Schumacher has had a low key return whilst Nico Rosberg has impressed with 2 podiums but the raw pace is not there and changes are afoot. The wheelbase is being increased whilst the weight distribution is being recalculated. A big factor in this is the narrower front tyres for 2010. This means less front end mechancial grip and means understeer is more likely and this has been a particular problem for Schumacher. The main executives at Mercedes expect results and Brawn will want to deliver soon or else it could be a case of changing focus to 2011. The next few races will be fascinating seeing the Silver Arrows progress

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