In the second part of our preview of the F1 season’s challenging teams, we profile the whos, the whys and the wherefores of the other six outfits gunning for glory in Australia on March 27.
And don’t forget to read up on the first six teams we’ve profiled in F1: The Battle for the Championship, part 1
Toro Rosso-Ferrari STR6
The radical STR6 is likely to win Toro the title of ‘most improved team’, if it manages to maintain the pace it’s shown in testing. Given the size of the team, it’s genuinely surprising. Most people in the paddock were expecting Toro to be looking anxiously over their shoulder at Team Lotus, rather than aiming for the odd podium – but that’s not what the evidence suggests, and while drivers Sébastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari have been carefully non-committal, both look very happy.
Most Important Person? Daniel Ricciardo. If the young Aussie keeps excelling during Friday morning practice, both Buemi and Alguersuari will be magnificently focussed and aggressive for the rest of the weekend, while Dan makes the tea.
Up or down? Up. Ben Butler and the team have gone for a radical design that seems to have paid off. Toro have looked quick all through testing.
There’s a generation of fans out there with no idea that Williams once bestrode Formula One like a colossus. For F1’s old school, the changes the sport is going through can’t happen fast enough. In the meantime, it’s all about survival, hence the decision to dispense with the talented Nico Hulkenberg and instead partner Rubens Barrichello with the Venezuelan oil money that comes with a free Pastor Maldonado.
Most Important Person? Rubens Barrichello. It’s going to be a year of unknowns and Rubens is very, very good at dialling in a car. He’s also very, very quick when he’s feeling the love – and Williams will have boosted his confidence to stratospheric levels when they dumped Nico Hulkenberg.
Up or down? Down. Williams have been jumped by both Sauber and Toro Rosso if testing is painting a realistic picture. Maldonado is doing OK, but he isn’t getting the most out of the car yet.
Force India-Mercedes VJM04
Force India launched late and then singularly failed to set the world alight. They also found themselves with a surprising surfeit of contracted drivers. Rookie Scot Paul di Resta will be partnering Adrian Sutil with Tonio Liuzzi having to be shown the door. The assumption is that Force India had been expecting Sutil to move up to a better team but, perhaps worryingly, no one came in for him.
Most Important Person? Vijay Mallya. As with any sporting franchise owned by a billionaire, the danger to Force India is in the day when Mallya loses interest. But with the inaugural Indian Grand Prix just around the corner, that isn’t likely to be this year.
Up or down? Down. Sutil is good, though accident-prone, and Di Resta is untested at this level, but more important is how well the team will adapt to a change in rules without the input of former technical director James Key. It’s likely to be a tricky year.
Team Lotus-Renault T128 (aka Green Lotus)
Lotus did a good job last year. They looked and acted like a professional F1 team, hired race-winning drivers in Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen rather than portable ATMs which led to them seeing a decent return on the investment by finishing 10th. This year the car will be vastly improved mainly because it hasn’t needed to be designed in 20 minutes on the back of a napkin, but the lack of KERS will hold it back. But Lotus are thinking long term, and are realistic enough to know success doesn’t happen overnight.
Most Valuable Asset? Mike Gascoyne. We could have picked either driver but the Rottweiler just shades it. Lotus’s chief technical officer knows how to design a decent car on a budget and seems to be enjoying himself in the centre of all things.
Up or down? Neither. The T128 will be a big leap forward, but without KERS it’s difficult to see Team Lotus having the grunt to get past any of the established midfield over the long haul. On the upside, they look good enough to nick the odd point, which is progress.
Virgin Racing-Cosworth MVR-02
When writing out a list of F1 teams, Virgin is always the one that gets forgotten. So far in testing they’ve bought up the rear, though mostly as a result of HRT not bothering to show up at all. The new car looks tidy without doing anything particularly interesting and Timo Glock will be joined by Jerome D’Ambrosio, who has been a steady runner in GP2 for the last couple of years. Careful research suggests he is Belgian.
Most Valuable Asset? Timo Glock. Timo has grown into an excellent F1 driver, probably much too good for Virgin. He consistently gets the best out of the car and continually brings it home in or around the quickest possible time. He can’t really do much more than that.
Up or down? Up. They’ll likely swap places with HRT, but only because the Spanish outfit are in disarray.
It’s difficult to judge Hispania on testing as they haven’t done any with the new car, though both Narain Karthikeyan and Tonio Liuzzi drove the old one. It was assumed that a testing season based in Spain would be an advantage to the only team based in Spain, but their reasons for not running in Barcelona were all about having vital parts detained by customs.
Most Valuable Asset? Colin Kolles. It’s tempting to go for Geoff Willis, but Kolles edges it thanks to his ability to wheel and deal while keeping creditors at bay. The team always looks on the brink of disaster, but somehow Kolles keeps it in business.
Up or down? Down. Somehow Hispania contrived to finish 2010 ahead of Virgin, thanks to trailing home last in a race that had a high rate of attrition. They’ll struggle to repeat that feat.