Inside line: F1 info from pitlane
With team composition suddenly underpinned by a raft of nationalism and huge uncertainty concerning tyre wear and strategy for the coming F1 season, the scene is sit for outstanding racing. Or not?
Veteran driver Nick Heidfeld’s appointment by Mercedes Grand Prix as reserve driver to Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg means the German team has an all-German line-up for the 2010 season.
Heidfeld (32) began his F1 career with Prost in 2000, and has since participated in 167 races, driving for Sauber (2001-2003), Jordan (2004), Williams (2005) and BMW Sauber (2006-2009). He enjoyed his best season in 2007 when he finished the championship in fifth position. To date he has achieved 12 podium finishes.
The bearded German’s appointment continues the patriotic trend which saw McLaren appoint two Britons in reigning champion, Jenson Button, and his title predecessor, Lewis Hamilton. Ferrari’s in on the act too, it has two Italian-speaking Latins, namely Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa. Renault recent announced Russia’s Vitaly Petrov as team-mate to Pole Robert Kubica.
Heidfeld, who left BMW Sauber at the end of last season when the German manufacturer abruptly exited the sport, had been variously linked with race drives at his former team (once again owned by Peter Sauber), Renault, newcomer Lotus and with Mercedes GP before Michael Schumacher's comeback was confirmed.
There are two race seats still available for the season, one each with debutants Campos and USF1. F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone recently expressed doubts that the teams would be ready for the season opener in Bahrain on 14 March though.
More fuel, less tyre
In addition to passing the new points’ structure, Monday’s meeting of the F1 Commission in Paris considered introducing compulsory two-stop strategies in 2010 in order to ‘spice the show’ – despite refuelling being banned by the sporting regulations.
While Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost told journalists during his team’s car unveiling in Valencia that no decisions had yet been taken, Mercedes GP team’s Ross Brawn admitted to being ‘a bit concerned about how race strategies will work out’.
According to both team bosses the matter will be reconsidered once further evaluation of tyre wear had been undertaken.
Tyre wear will be of particular importance due to the newly-introduced 25mm narrower front tyres, which are expected to come in for punishment due to the 2010 F1 cars carrying more mass, as they’ll be fully-tanked cars – rolling to go at the startline carrying up to 180 kilograms of fuel, approximately double that amount fuelling last year’s cars.
‘The teams feel we should see how the racing goes, and if we find we're not putting on the show we want, we'll have to reconsider,’ the former Ferrari and Brawn strategic genius, who won seven championships with Michael Schumacher and last year’s title with Jenson Button, said during media debriefs at the Spanish circuit. ‘We don't know enough yet to anticipate how the racing will be,’ he said before adding further discussion was necessary.
A press release issued by the sport’s governing body, the FIA, after the meeting stated cryptically: ‘In order to introduce a further element of strategy, cars having participated in Q3 must start the race on the same set of tyres with which their grid time was set. Further measures for 2010 are also being examined.’
How many teams will take to the grid for the season opener in Bahrain? That is the question taxing Bernie Ecclestone at present.
The American dream - deferred?
While no doubts surround Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes, Williams, Sauber, Renault, Toro Rosso – all of whom were up and running in Valencia – or Force India (online unveiling 9 February) and Red Bull Racing (launch date 10 February during the scheduled Jerez tests), considerable doubts surround two of the four newcomers.
Although Virgin Racing launched its car, designed without recourse to wind tunnels after the team elected to rely totally on computational fluid dynamics for aerodynamic calculations, in London on Wednesday, and the reincarnated Lotus operation unveils on 12 February in the British capital, Campos-META 1 and USF1 have yet to announce their plans.
The former team, which recently signed Bruno Senna (nephew of the late Ayrton) and the American outfit, said to have bagged Argentine Jose Maria Lopez, have yet to announce their launch and testing programmes. Reports reaching Wheels24 increasingly suggest all is not financially and operationally well in their camps.
In fact, both are said to have requested three-race grace periods, enabling them to start the season in China on 18 April rather than in Bahrain on 14 March.
Grand prix winners Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen will drive for Lotus, while ex-Toyota driver Timo Glock and GP2 star Lucas di Grassi head Virgin’s challenge.