Formula One – 2012 Season Preview


With Caterham F1 due to launch their 2012 car in less than 48 hours, Kimi Raikkonen out on track in the 2011 Lotus Renault yesterday and Williams F1 sneaking a peak of their 2012 chassis whilst at Sky’s swanky new F1 studios today, the 2012 season is already well underway.

But before we steam ahead with our predictions for F1 2012, let’s take a quick look back at the season which ended just a few months ago.

2011 was a year where motor sport witnessed both triumph and tragedy. For Formula One however, it must surely be remembered as the year that the superlatives returned: Records were broken, overtaking became prolific, skirmishes intensified and the spectacle was lavish. This was vintage stuff.

The eXtra Factors

So what made 2011 so special? Firstly there was the introduction of DRS (Drag Reduction System). As the title suggests, DRS is a way of reducing the drag effect of a race car and as a consequence, increasing the top speed (thereby enabling overtaking opportunities). Driver, industry and fan opinion on its merits are mixed and emotive. Certainly, its implementation and effect at different circuits was varied but with a full season behind them, the FIA will have learned much and we must hope that they use their data wisely in making it work positively in the future.

What I do like is the benefit DRS affords drivers when they’re coming to lap slower traffic, and this doesn’t only apply to the lead cars but to the midfield as well. Some of the best racing that we saw in 2011 was for the marginal points places and to free this from the compromise of lapping has been a major plus. In an ideal world, DRS wouldn’t be required and cars would rely on mechanical grip but Formula One is about advancement and not nostalgia and in a world where aero rules, for the moment, I’ll vote for DRS, providing that it is an aid to overtaking and not a facilitator of it.

The return to Formula One by Pirelli as sole tyre provider was another significant influence on the outcome of races. Generally speaking, Pirelli played a blinder; they showed that they weren’t afraid to challenge convention and saw how they could help to create overtaking opportunities. Admittedly, there were occasions when their hard tyre appeared too conservative, probably as a consequence of it being tested on “green” circuits in a car (Toyota) that delivers less grip, but they absolutely understood the need to force teams to explore their strategies and things can only get better.

KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) also continued to play an important role in overtake “assists” and is a key F1 technology that can be carried through to road car programmes. When engine regulations change in 2014, the additional horsepower, (especially under acceleration) generated from waste energy will be even more crucial and constructors will be working hard to enhance the performance, the reliability of harvesting and storage solutions.

The final elements to 2011’s star quality were the drivers themselves. We saw five former champions racing against three former GP2 champions, a further 3 former GP2 runners-up and four former GP winners. This was a grid bristling with talent and bruised with egos. We witnessed moments of genius and moments of madness; passes where passes have never been made before and emotions high, on the track and off it.

Looking ahead to 2012..

The key issue in any new season is how individual cars have been designed to take advantage of regulations. For the coming year, there are two significant changes that designer’s have to contend with; (i) the position of the exhaust exit, and (ii) engine mapping. Both are related and both became contentious during 2011 when it was observed that principally Red Bull, then others, were using mapping to generate additional down-force by creating hot exhaust gases, even when a driver is “off-throttle” (i.e. on corner approach and to apex).

By directing these gases around the diffuser, engineers were able to restrict normal air-flow and so give significantly more grip when the driver demands it most. The FIA have now made it clear that in their view, the only role of the exhaust is to expel gases and as such, it will now have to be sited in an elevated position where it can no longer be an aid. Additionally, mapping will be carefully controlled so that if a driver is off the throttle, again, no benefit can be gained.

A key aim of all teams (under the current regulations) is to maximise front-end grip whilst channelling air to the diffuser to do the same at the rear. Noses will be higher this year, side-pods more stream-lined and brake design pivotal.

Squeezing Out Sparks

Whilst some elements of design address compliance, others are required to push boundaries: In 2011, this was Red Bull territory. Not only did they perfect rear end grip but, as was evidenced at Silverstone, they also created a unique front wing which offered significantly more downforce than their rivals could generate. As McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh quite frankly admitted, “We would like to understand it, because if you can do what they are doing legally then we would like to do it . . . And if they are doing that in a clever and legitimate way then we need to do it in that clever and legitimate way.”

McLaren weren’t the only ones keen to imitate their rivals; Ferrari too could see a way to recover at least some of their lost ground. But for all their will, as we witnessed in India, the excessive flex and showering sparks from Massa’s end-plates demonstrated just how far ahead of the game Adrian Newey and his team are, and how far others have to travel simply to catch-up.

More from Pirelli

Removing the predictability of grip levels worked well for the spectacle of Formula One last year and so we can expect a similar approach from Pirelli for 2012, though with more defined performance attributes between individual compounds.

In all likelihood, many of the concerns over tyre durability should be answered by the removal of the off-throttle effect. If you consider the wear that drivers such as Hamilton, Vettel and Schumacher experienced, compared to, say, Kovalainen, Perez and Barrichello, those teams that were running a competent blown diffuser programme were, to an extent, compromised by excessive tyre attrition. So whatever 2011’s front-runners lost in aero-grip, they can expect to gain at least some element back through more consistent handling.

Ultimately, success in 2012 could depend most upon whoever understands how to find the optimum balance between grip and tyre wear. This will require teams to adopt a flexible approach to set-up and to think hard about the approach that they take during the Friday Free Practice sessions.

The Runners and the Riders

The almost unrivalled dominance of Sebastian Vettel, taking all but one of the first eight poles of the season was not lost on the other teams. If they had been surprised by his crowning in 2010, 2011 saw them awe-struck by his delivery. But the likes of McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes are not in Formula One to finish second and whilst it was important to maintain their effort, it was obvious that focus had to shift to 2012. Only time will tell if they have played themselves back into contention but one thing is for sure, the new season of Formula One will be anything other than boring.

Red Bull

Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber

This is going to be a challenging year for Red Bull. Some will say that when you’re at the top, there really is only one way to go, but Formula One is never so straight forward. For all their excellence, there have been rare moments of vulnerability, so it is how they apply themselves to addressing these, together with the changing regulations that will define whether or not the chasing pack can close-in, or whether the best will actually get better.

Of course, the team has one very unique advantage; they have Sebastian Vettel. The young German is still only 24, yet he is already a double world champion and be in no-doubt, by the time he reaches 25, he intends to be well on his way to his hat-trick. Such is Vettel’s passion that in November 2010, immediately following his inaugural championship win, he didn’t jet overseas like most fellow drivers, he stayed-on in Abu Dhabi in order to talk to Pirelli so that he could best understand their new tyres: He wants to win. You only need to listen to his delight after each pole and each victory to know that the taste of success is one he relishes.

The most remarkable thing about Vettel is how ordinary he makes other drivers look. Admittedly in Canada, he did allow Jenson Button to pressure him into an uncharacteristic error, but something tells me that there is a yet untapped reserve and that perhaps the best is yet to come.

But this is where Red Bull’s fairy tale ends. Mark Webber is a haunted soul. On the morning of 14th November 2010, the genial Australian woke with the world at his feet and a World Championship for the taking. By the same evening, he had been crushed. Webber is a great talent, the pass he made on Alonso at Spa must rank amongst the bravest and greatest ever, yet put him alongside his team mate and he fades into obscurity.

It’s all credit to Christian Horner that he has retained faith with his “number 2” but will Aussie Grit be a contender in 2012? I think not. He has enjoyed the best car on the grid but spent as much time this past season fighting for fourth place as he did on the podium. This isn’t the DNA of a champion. Webber knows this and so does Horner.

Verdict: Vettel will be the man to beat but Red Bull may well lose their constructor’s title if McLaren raise their game. Webber will have moments but he knows that he’s on his way out.


Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton

Despite the occasional glimpse of real pace, a solitary win for each driver from the first eight rounds (measured against six for Vettel) told us that 2011 would not be McLaren’s year. To their credit, one of the over-riding strengths of the Woking outfit is their ability to react and respond and whilst some of their effort was lost whilst Lewis battled his demons, from the mid-season race at Germany’s Nurburgring, they impressively scored ten successive podiums.

Of interest to many during the coming year will be the role played by the newly appointed Sam Michael (who joined at the end of last season from Williams). The position of Sporting Director often carries little influence in either design or strategy, tending more to be a support role, both to drivers and to the Race Director (in the interpretation of rules).

McLaren know that if they are to beat Red Bull, the new MP4-27 will need to explore the boundaries of the regulations, both with regard to the design of the front wing and how exhaust gases can be vented to disrupt the effect of others using DRS. Despite occasional glitches with KERS, their mechanical package is pretty robust, it’s the aero that requires the edge. The loss of John Iley to Caterham might therefore be timely and it’s just possible that Michael’s waned star may soon see new life.

The position with driver contracts says much about what we saw in 2011, and what we can expect from both Jenson and Lewis in the year ahead. By signing an extension to his deal (keeping him at McLaren until 2014), Button can now focus on his job in hand (regaining his world championship crown). Alongside Vettel and Alonso, he is absolutely at the pinnacle of his sport and would have been the obvious target for both Red Bull and Ferrari in their search for replacements for their second drives. His race in Canada was not only perhaps his best ever, it was a defining moment. Can he now ascend further and challenge for the title? Yes he can.

I wish I could say the same of Lewis. He’s playing a risky game; one in which Martin Whitmarsh has the stronger hand. We know that he’s an exceptional talent, but he is also flawed; a maverick, often naive, sometimes dangerous. Give him a great car and he will win. Give him anything less and he will over-drive and under-perform.

Most telling though has been the frequency with which he has ruled himself out of contention by his own poor judgement. He has repeatedly made moves, lunges even, where the opportunity to complete a passing move simply does not exist. This isn’t karting. For Lewis to become the multiple champion that we all know he is capable of, he needs to clear his mind. Sign that contract extension Lewis; it may be the only one of value you get.

Verdict: If both drivers can score as they ought to, the constructor’s title may soon have a new home. Jenson should be a real title contender but if Lewis doesn’t start to use his brain, the best he can hope for will be 4th and a career in the USA. However, taking points off each might just see both team mates resigned to the “also-rans”.


Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa

An incorrect wind tunnel calibration meant that Ferrari had faces redder than their cars in 2011. Initially, much faith had been placed in The 150º Italia, but as was so publicly demonstrated at the start of the season, it was simply not up to the job. The only saving grace was that Fernando Alonso was.

Not so long ago, Maranello had a drought of 16 years without a constructor’s title; even longer for the coveted driver’s prize. Luca Montezemolo has made it quite clear that this is not to be repeated. The evidence of their intent has been there since Silverstone when Alonso took a surprising but well deserved victory. With a lack of testing, both during and pre-season, Ferrari have been keen to try development parts for the 2012 car during the Friday free practice sessions and despite the media glare and finger-pointing, this effort can now be expected to bring the prancing horse back into contention.

if he fails to deliver the support required for Alonso’s title push, 2012 could end-up being shorter than he hopes

Both cars were consistently good off the line in ’11. Who can forget Alonso’s stunning start in front of the Tifosi at Monza? If this level of traction can be mated to an effective handling package, the Spanish former champion has shown that he is capable of delivering the rest.

Alonso was simply outstanding this year and his team has much to thank him for. The same, regrettably, cannot be said of Massa. Like Webber, Massa is the almost man; when he was good, he was very good, but in 2011, he was only ever average. Humbled by his team-mate, and regular sparring-partner to Hamilton, the often vacant or bewildered expressions on the Brazilian’s face said more than words ever could.

The unquestionable statistic now hanging over Massa is a 2011 season’s best finish of 5th. He will not want this to be his epitaph. If his career can be ended with a return to the top-step, he may just survive the year but if he fails to deliver the support required for Alonso’s title push, 2012 could end-up being shorter than he hopes.

Verdict: Alonso will push Vettel and Button hard for the championship but Massa may not have the strength to help deliver the constructor’s title. Expect an early retirement.

Mercedes AMG

Nico Rosberg, Michael Schumacher

Ross Brawn has gained a lifetime’s experience in his short tenure at Mercedes. It’s not that he wasn’t already one of the most capable men in Formula One when his own Brawn GP was bought by the Stuttgart giants; his education came in the German way of management by committee. Two years on and Brawn’s influence in the Silver Arrow project now, and at last, looks set to appear.

By everybody’s admission, the 2011 MGP W02, fell short in many ways, and a solitary 4th place for Michael Schumacher is far from what this team is resourced to be capable of. Now, there is new life and a new approach. The conservative design that has blighted their two seasons together has been ditched in favour of a return to solid engineering, on a more adaptable platform. Brawn is nobody’s fool.

He knows that the top three teams are each expected to make further progress and that a simple evolution of their current package will not suffice. Already in the young driver tests in Abu Dhabi with the talented Sam Bird at the wheel, Mercedes performed evaluations on a number of new components, together with a modified exhaust position. In short, whereas 2011 saw the team concede that 4th place in the constructor’s championship was all they could achieve, they will continue with development right throughout 2012 in an attempt to finally become genuine contenders.

Nico now understands that he is not there to simply partner Michael Schumacher; he is there to take the team forward

On the driver front, Nico Rosberg has committed himself to the Silver Arrows until at least 2013, and this is important for both driver and team. Nico now understands that he is not there to simply partner Michael Schumacher; he is there to take the team forward. If Brawn can deliver a car with better balance and less tyre wear, Rosberg could easily find himself taking his very fast Mercedes to at least the podium.

Michael Schumacher remains an enigma. He is clearly enjoying his racing again and his relationship with Brawn is critical to the Englishman getting what he believes he needs to bring about success. However, at times, he can be lazy. He can stumble into and out of a corner and it will be interesting to see how he reacts to his young team mate gaining the ascendency.

My view is that he knows that he is one of the greatest drivers who has ever lived and I hope he will be content with that. If he is, he too could focus on podium finishes; if he isn’t, there will be contact and the bright red helmet might also soon be retired.

Verdict: Hard work and a few fortunate results should see Mercedes close the gap and get their first podiums of the new era. Rosberg will battle hard to join the leading pack and by mid season ought to be searching for win. As for Michael, who knows?!


Kimi Raikkonen, Romain Grosjean

If this were any other team, I’d be excited. Kimi is never going to boring on-track, and Grosjean has developed into a world class talent, but this is Lotus; or is it Genii? Or Proton? Or? We simply don’t know. What we do know is that this is not the Lotus of the great Colin Chapman. Ferrari will always be Ferrari, but Lotus? There’s something just not right.

2011 started very well for the newly re-liveried black and gold cars. Petrov scored a podium in Australia followed immediately after by Heidfeld in Malaysia. Eric Boullier could have been forgiven for thinking that maybe the enforced absence of Robert Kubica could be overcome. How wrong this would be. Heidfeld, who knows more about F1 than Dany Bahar has sharp suits, was discarded in favour of Bruno Senna; the revolutionary forward blowing exhaust produced more handling issues than it solved and Petrov found that even a large sack of Roubles couldn’t distract his team principal from glancing admiringly at Grosjean, a driver Boullier also happens to manage.

The writing was on the wall and that is the best thing that can be said of this past season.

Looking ahead, the Raikkonen / Grosjean combination could be potent. Both know how to win and both will have a lot of support from Renault. Raikkonen has been out of F1 for two seasons though and might take time to adapt to both team and car. Grosjean also last raced in F1 in 2009 but should have no such problems. As a Lotus Renault test and demonstration driver, and as Fernando Alonso’s ex team mate, he knows exactly what to expect and how to deliver.

Ultimately, much will depend on three simple factors – (1) How effective their new Active Ride Height System is (a system designed to react to the effect of braking in order to preserve ride height and maintain stable aero). (2) How conservative the Enstone-based outfit are with the rest of their design and (3) Whether the imminently expected sale of Proton results in the funding being pulled from Group Lotus (as the Malaysian’s $m’s are pivotal to Genii and Bahar’s long term ambitions).

Verdict: The two drivers will battle to be better than their car. Grosjean’s Gallic flair might just usurp Kimi and see him destined for greater things. Fireworks won’t only be seen in November.

Sahara Force India

Paul di Resta, Nico Hulkenberg

Vijay Mallya has done well to guide his team to a position where they are genuinely established as regular points scorers. Much needed additional backing from industrialist and sports promoter Subrata Roy should now give the old Jordan squad the ability to challenge for podium places, especially with the exceptional driver line-up of Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg. Di Resta, it should not be forgotten, was Vettel’s Euro F3 team mate in 2006; it was the young Scot came out on top!

Hulkenberg is also a former Euro F3, and GP2 champion. His debut season in F1 in 2010 saw him land a brilliant pole for Williams in Brazil but all of this was in vain as the struggling Grove squad opted to replace him for Maldonado’s petro dollars.

Force India are often under-rated but they have an exceptionally talented young design team, supported by a broad depth of engineering skill. If Mallya can keep everybody in place, and continue to work well with his Mercedes engine partners, don’t be surprised if they’re winning races by 2013.

Verdict: If the two young chargers can keep their heads, they can take the race to Mercedes. Mallya will need to work hard not to lose his drivers or design team by the end of the season.


Kamui Kobayashi, Sergio Perez

Peter Sauber has a safe pair of hands. He welcomes talented young racers and provides a nurturing environment whilst they hone their skills.

With typical Swiss precision, his team will be one of the first to unveil their new car; they will undertake a competent test programme and they will no doubt produce some encouraging early results; this is what they do. They’re good at getting their cars and drivers ready but they lack the resources to manage on-going development. There is a roll-call of pedigree, all of whom have worn Sauber’s badge with pride, but none of whom have ever won with it: Alesi, Raikkonen, Herbert, Frentzen, Villeneuve (J), Massa . . . it’s an impressive list, but it says more about their struggle than anything else.

Kobayashi had a tremendous debut season in 2010 and expectations have been high since, but the young man who has never been afraid to overtake has found himself pitted against a formidable team mate in Perez. At times, they resemble a lesser version of Hamilton and Button, and as with the McLaren duo, Perez has stolen the upper hand.

I can’t see there being much change during 2012. The two young protégées will undoubtedly find themselves in the heart of some titanic midfield battles, chasing just the occasional point. But if Sauber can work with and develop Perez, then maybe some much needed additional funding from Carlos Slim might just help. If they lose Perez, then their future will be less certain.

Verdict: A much admired and respected team but it will be a difficult year. Kobayashi needs to raise his game; Perez needs to out-perform again.

Toro Rosso

Daniel Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne

There was little surprise that after a very mixed string of performances in 2011, both drivers were dropped. In all fairness to Dietrich Mateschitz, his Red Bull brand doesn’t support an extensive motorsport programme simply to take part; they’re looking for future world champions, and neither Alguersuari or Buemi fitted this description.

To an extent, Toro Rosso as a team are left to follow their own path, the most obvious difference (in comparison to Red Bull) being their use of the Ferrari power-plant. It’s a shame, though, that this is an outfit which is geared to feeding the senior squad. Drivers should harbour ambitions for their team and not only view them as a ladder. Nevertheless, as long as they continue with a clear policy of trying new talent, they’ll remain interesting.

Ricciardo was fortunate to have had his spell with HRT. The car was clearly uncompetitive but it was valuable track time and experience. This, together with several Friday FP1 appearances for Toro Rosso early in 2011 should give him a clear opportunity to impose himself on Vergne. This is his chance.

Vergne, I suspect, will have a somewhat different approach. I thought he was often out-raced by Robert Wickens in the Renault 3.5, as, surprisingly, was Ricciardo, but I expect the young Frenchman to significantly raise his game and stake his claim. If anyone has doubts about the urgency of his racing, take a look at this footage from the recent ERDF Masters Kart Challenge final, where Vergne is pitched against countryman Grosjean:-

Now if we get to see action like this, Sky are going to sell a lot of new subscriptions.

Verdict: Toro Rosso will provide the two young drivers with plenty of opportunity to make their point and score points. Vergne starts at a slight disadvantage but should apply himself well and come out on top. Watch this space!


Pastor Maldonado, tba

No matter how hard you try to analyse and understand recent decisions at Williams, there can only be one very sad and inevitable conclusion; they have reached their end.

Sir Frank and Patrick Head are titans within the sport. They have been responsible for building one of the most successful and brilliant teams in modern motor racing history. But age and health have proved mighty opponents and the introduction of Adam Parr five years ago, leading to his appointment as Chairman in 2010, set Williams on a course that could only lead towards their abyss.

Failure to secure a competitive engine package after the abortive venture with Toyota saw Williams having to turn to Cosworth for 2010. I discussed this at the time with the then Cosworth head, Mark Gallagher, and he conceded that whilst it was good for the Northamptonshire operation to be supplying a major team (in addition to the three new entrants), this Cosworth V8 was one built with an underlying philosophy of providing reliability over ultimate performance.

Nevertheless, the team would still enjoy rare moments of glory; there was Ruben Barrichello’s heroic pass of Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes in Hungary and then the immense qualifying effort from Hulkenberg to secure pole in changing conditions in Brazil. This was the passion of Williams, but it was about all they could muster.

For 2011, Hulkenberg had to be replaced by GP2 Champion Pastor Maldonado. The Venezuelan is a competent driver with serious backing, well above what Hulkenberg could bring: This was a season blighted with departures and crises, and Williams sank yet deeper. Barrichello drove with his heart on his sleeve; we’ve come to expect nothing less, but even he often found himself fighting on a Saturday simply to make it past the Q1 hurdle.

Six retirements for Maldonado, matched by a series of lack lustre performances generated the rookie just a solitary point. The veteran Brazilian fared little better. He was often in the mix but never able to pose a serious threat. Four points is all he could muster, taking the Grove operation to just 9th place in the constructors’ championship, the worst in their 34 year history.

The threat to Williams is that 2012 could be even worse. On the positive side, they’ve switched engine partners to Renault but aspiring rivals Caterham made this leap a year earlier and will be challenging hard. Also of note is the arrival of new design chief, Mike Coughlan. Coughlan was a key element in McLaren’s resurgence during the “Schumacher Years” but his pivotal involvement in the McLaren / Ferrari spying scandal of 2007 saw his employment terminated.

And his arrival is not without controversy. It immediately heralded the departure of Sam Michael and there are many who feel that a second chance should not have been forthcoming. It will be interesting to see if his prolonged absence from the front-line has affected his ability to deliver.

Undoubtedly the most significant change though is the retirement of Patrick Head. If Frank Williams is the heart of the team, Head was certainly its soul. Without him, I suspect they will be lost and Sir Frank’s exit cannot be far behind.

On the driver front, Maldonado needs to exercise his ghosts. He can do better, and he will need too as Kovalainen could easily relegate him to backmarker status.

At the time of writing, the other seat remains vacant. Just about every driver who is out of contract, together with some well funded rookies are in the frame and an announcement is expected soon. One thing is already clear though, this is a role that requires hard cash and soft morals. Whoever lands it might, I suspect, also need to enjoy their own company.

Verdict: History can be savage and unless Sir Frank can find a manufacturer to take his team beyond 2014, they might just see themselves written into obscurity. We know he’s working hard on a funding package but money alone cannot heal the wounds. Maldonado and “friend” have their work cut out and will need to capitalise on the mistakes of others whilst not making any of their own.

Caterham F1

Heikki Kovalainen, Jarno Trulli?

With the ink finally dry on the Team Lotus vs Group Lotus saga, the newly titled Caterham outfit can finally get on with the business of making a name for themselves.

Two seasons are now behind them and whilst, to be fair, they put clear distance between their beautifully liveried green & gold cars and the other Class of 2010 entrants (Marussia and HRT), 2011 saw them fall well short of their highly vocalised midfield aspirations, this despite a string of notable performances from the resurgent Heikki Kovalainen.

For 2012, owner Tony Fernandes has made it abundantly clear that things have got to change. He has worked hard to bring serious money and capable partners to the team and has continued to back his technical chief, Mike Gascoyne, with a contract extension until 2015 (though Gascoyne will be very aware of the fate handed to ex QPR boss Neil Warnock). But the ambitious plans for the newly formed Caterham Group can only be fuelled by progress on the track as well as off it.

With an engineering package of the latest Renault V8, mated to Red Bull’s gearbox, hydraulics and KERS, Gascoyne and former McLaren aero-man, John Iley have a strong foundation to launch their charge.

Trulli though, despite the protection of his contract, he may well find that instead of racing in Melbourne, he’s back in Italy, tending to his vines

When Gascoyne first established his fledgling Lotus team, he was keen to continue his relationship with Jarno Trulli, a driver who, like himself, had also seen service at Jordan, Renault and then Toyota. The Italian was often cited as potentially the fastest man over one-lap and his experience would be crucial to getting the most from the new cars. He joined McLaren refugee Heikki Kovalainen in what was seen as a strong and capable pairing but whilst the likeable Finn has matured and seen his status rise to the promise of his early years, Trulli has endured a sometimes woeful existence.

His errant criticism of the Lotus’s (as it was) handling and in particular the power steering system clearly marginalised him from Team Fernandes, and despite flattering attempts by both sides to diffuse any talk of a rift, Caterham CEO Riad Asmat has been spare with any talk of a glowing future.

If Caterham can focus on delivering Kovalainen a reliable car that exploits much of what we know their power and drive trains to be capable of, then there is no reason why the dream of a points-scoring position cannot become a reality. For Trulli though, despite the protection of his contract, he may well find that instead of racing in Melbourne, he’s back in Italy, tending to his vines.

Verdict: We’ve endured two years of subjective (some might say “passionate”) promise. Thankfully, Team Lotus is no more but Caterham must now achieve rather than aspire. Kovalainen has all the spirit and skill to do his job well and score points. If Trulli is wise, he’ll walk-away before he’s shown the door as Rossi and Senna are watching and waiting.


Timo Glock, Charles Pic?

Can someone please tell me what on earth Marussia are doing in Formula One? I know all about their B1 and B2 “super cars” but we’re talking about a long-term investment of millions of pounds to support a brand that still hasn’t delivered on an overdue and uninspired road car programme.

Virgin, as the Marussia team were known, wasted most of 2011 by scrapping the pioneering CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) design concept that had seen them work hand-in-hand with virtual reality specialists Wirth Research. Former Renault design chief Pat Symonds was brought in to evaluate technical operations and he concluded that the CFD only approach had failed to produce a viable car. Unfortunately, the review was commissioned far too late and wasn’t delivered until mid season.

The consequence of a vastly under-performing car was that drivers Timo Glock and Jerome d’Ambrosio struggled with reliability and pace, not only falling well behind fellow newcomers Team Lotus, but on occasions, the HRT of Daniel Ricciardo as well. Despite Glock’s superior credentials, d’Ambrosio (or “Custard”, as he was affectionately known by his crew) often matched his team mate’s pace but this couldn’t prevent the inevitable rumours of succession and as the season closed, he lost his seat to Frenchman Charles Pic.

With the termination of the Wirth deal, Symonds was required to find a new way forward and this led to a technical partnership with McLaren being established. Although too late to have any effect on 2011, Symonds and Team Principal John Booth are both highly optimistic that they can now start to regain lost ground. For the new season, cars will continue to use Cosworth’s power plant (without the much needed KERS) but they will, at least have the benefit of comprehensive wind tunnel testing.

Glock’s ability and understanding as a driver should help Marussia to make progress, though for 2012, this may only be against their own past performances. Pic, however, and to be honest, is a strange choice. If they needed funding, opting to run with Sutil or Petrov would have been more obvious. If it’s speed that counts, Sutil or Petrov would still have been a better bet!

Verdict: Don’t expect miracles. The next two years will be full of frustration for Dinington’s finest. Cooperation from McLaren should work well, but will work better when the two share engine partners. Glock is capable but only if the car is too. Pic was contracted too early and might find that like Trulli, his services are no longer required.


Pedro de la Rosa, tba

With respect to HRT’s new owners (Thesan Capital), this was a venture doomed from the very moment Adrian Campos whispered to Enrique Rodríguez, “I have a cunning plan . . .” The desire to create and operate a Spanish national motor racing team may be applaud able, but that’s about it. Why have Renault, Honda, Mercedes and leading independents (such as Red Bull) all chosen to base their Formula One businesses in the UK?

The reason is simple; this is where the broad talent and support infrastructure is found. To attempt a new, stand-alone operation anywhere else, and without the backing of a major manufacturer is, regrettably, folly.

Since joining the F1 grid in 2010, HRT have lurched precariously from one under-resourced office to another, hence the welcome shown to Daniel Ricciardo last year in exchange for much needed Red Bull funding. But that was then and this is now. For 2012, veteran team chief and guiding hand Colin Kolles has gone and in comes ex Minardi racer, Luis Perez-Sala. In also comes McLaren’s long-serving test driver Pedro de la Rosa, leaving one seat remaining for someone with pockets deeper than their ambition.

Perez-Sala knows that time and Euros are both pitched against him. With all the upheaval of the move away from Kolles’ German-based operation, getting a car ready for the first of the season’s tests at Jerez in February will be a challenge, and the irony of the only Spanish team either missing this, or having to show with what is essentially their ’11 car will not be lost. Many of HRT’s engineering team have declined to move to Spain and so any gain that they have with their own new chassis will be lost by a lack of internal cohesion.

Until Thesan understand the need to broaden the team’s horizons (Mexico might be a good starting point), HRT can only fall further behind, possibly to the point of exclusion from race days (under the 107% rule). If this happens, then everything is at stake and their demise likely.

Verdict: The new owners need to focus on hard facts and forget about dreams. All credit to De la Rosa for flying his flag but the prospect of an early bath is high.

Reach for your Sky

If the battle for F1 supremacy is fierce on-track, it could be equally so in your living room as 2012 heralds a significant change in broadcast rights with the BBC seemingly opting to sell-out and shift the cost burden over to Sky. In what those responsible have described as a “ground-breaking deal”, Auntie will now cover only 10 of the season’s 20 races live, with the remaining 10 having to be shown in a cut-down, “Match of the Day” style highlights programme.

Sky will take over responsibility for featuring extensive live coverage of all rounds with their soon-to-launch dedicated Sky Sports F1 HD Channel. The broadcast of all races and qualifying sessions are promised to be live, uninterrupted, and at no additional charge to existing Sky Sports 1 & 2 and HD customers.

In a considerable coup for the pay-to-view provider, they’ve also secured the services of key members of the BBC’s F1 team, headed by ex-driver Martin Brundle and lauded former 5-Live front man David Croft. Anthony Davidson, Ted Kravitz and Natalie Pinkham are also heading Skywards and will undoubtedly combine to give excellent and added depth.

The BBC have opted to engage Ben Edwards for television and James Allen for radio commentaries. Both are incredibly knowledgeable and personable and should hold the fort well. Jake Humphrey will continue to host television output and whilst I’m delighted to see David Coulthard retaining his supporting role, I had hoped that the changes might herald au revoir to “our Eddie”; alas not. Gary Anderson, another ex Jordan man, has been recruited to provide detailed technical analysis and Lee McKenzie will remain in the pitlane.

So there we have it, 20 races, 19 countries, 12 teams, 24 drivers and 600 million people watching worldwide. Whatever happens to Formula One in 2012, one thing is for sure, it will be both fast and furious!

Images: Lotus Renault GP, Red Bull Racing (via Getty Images), Williams/LAT