We’re now two tests into the F1 pre-season, and while making predictions from tests is a complete mug’s game, idle speculation is a massive part of the fun. So, here are some vague and ill-researched observations.
Ferrari and McLaren seem quick and certain to win races. Anything else would be a big shock. That’s where the easy stuff ends.
Red Bull haven’t shown much pace yet, but they’ve only attended one test. I couldn’t quite see the logic of chalking them up as title favourites before the car had turned a wheel, but it would be equally rash – well, very nearly as rash – to write them off now. The Toro Rosso is also an evolution of last year’s Red Bull and therefore seems likely to be decent enough – the real challenge for them may be development over the course of the season.
And of the other big names: Mercedes. Dull-looking car – was it Sniff Petrol who pointed out that you can’t call it “matt silver” and expect people not to realise it’s a GREY CAR? James Allen has reported a rumour that they’ve got the weight distribution slightly wrong and are a bit off front-running pace. Schumacher’s comeback will be a massive anticlimax if he doesn’t win at least one race, won’t it?
Pity Robert Kubica, whose new team looks slow and old team looks fast. Of BMW Sauber (why haven’t they applied to change the name?), two observations. The first is that this was a front-running(ish) team over the last few seasons: be the end of last year they’d made up a lot of ground with what had been a disappointing car, and they had the chance for a title challenge in 2008. It therefore shouldn’t be a surprise to see them going fast, in the upper half of the mid-field or higher. The caveat is that they seem to have no sponsors: they therefore have some incentive to showboat a bit, take fuel out of the car and set misleadingly fast lap times. Prost did it in 2001, giving the impression that a good car was a very good one – is Sauber’s impressive pace so far a bit of a trick?
Renault, meanwhile, haven’t finished at or near the top of any session that I’ve noticed. They seem to be setting respectable times, but nothing more. One has to fear they could be going through a ‘Honda in 2008’ phase, despite the snazzy new livery. Or they could be sandbagging… but from their showing so far they look like a team that will pick up points here and there over the season without threatening the podium.
Things started very badly for Virgin: a front wing failure and installation and set-up laps that left them ten seconds off the pace in their first few days. But more recently they’ve got to within two or three seconds of the pace: OK, they may well be flattering to deceive, but they seem to be setting up a respectable enough platform for a debut season.
What about Williams? Well, quite. Again, they don’t seem to be setting the world on fire, but there’s a lot of positive noise around them online. Impossible to read – it would be lovely to think Rubens could challenge for wins again this year, but there’s no evidence of that so far.
Lotus haven’t turned a wheel yet, and of the two other new teams the latest rumour seems to be that USF1 don’t have a car and neither has the funds. There is, however, a chassis built by Dallara for Campos Meta that supposedly could be raced – whether by Campos or by USF1, if they can buy it, remains to be seen. And then there are the ex-Toyota Stefan GP cars… will they ever be raced?
F1 is already delivering a classic year of pre-season intrigue – alas, with no refuelling I doubt it will offer a classic year of racing, so enjoy the suspense while there still is some!