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The First Race of the Season
The first race of the 2001 season is just around the corner and this season there are new regulations, 2 tyre suppliers and 7 drivers who did not compete in 2000 (with the exception of Luciano Burti who drove a single race for Jaguar in Austria)
The season is also starting a bit over a week early giving the teams even less time to get ready.
Testing occurred on many tracks and while a result in testing doesn't really indicate who is on the pace and who is not, we can safely conclude two things: 1) The cars are faster than last year and that is mainly due to the tyre competition and the aerodynamic designers who managed to recover a lot of the losses caused by the new technical regulations and 2) A number of teams appear to be very reliable while some others are very unreliable.
Ferrari: They appear fast and reliable however, they have been testing alone or alongside Sauber who are supplied with last year's Ferrari engine, so one cannot compare them with McLaren. Michael Schumacher smashed the Fiorano record while Rubens Barrichello smashed the Mugello record. The car certainly appears fast and have enjoyed very good reliability although they had a few bad days but not as many as McLaren.
Both Ferrari and McLaren are running Bridgestone tyres so one will not have an advantage over the other from that regard. Reliability 8.5/10 - Speed 9.5/10
Drivers: World Champion Michael Schumacher claims that he is as
hungry as ever to win but all World Champions say that. I have no doubt
that Schumacher can win his 4th title but once again this year, it won't
be easy with Rubens Barrichello gaining confidence at Ferrari and Mika
Hakkinen and David Coulthard both determined to win. Having said that, he
could still win it very early given McLaren's struggle with reliability
and his status as number 1 at Ferrari.
Rubens Barrichello talked too much last year and only managed to
win a single race while Michael won 9. To be fair though, it was his first
year at Ferrari. This year he once again claims equal status and wants to
challenge for the title.
McLaren: No finishes in Melbourne in the last 2 years and this statistic could hold for a 3rd year if testing is anything to go by. The team launched the car later than Ferrari and the other top teams and when they tested in public they had a high number of bad days!. Once again it looks like they will sort out their problems by the time they return to Europe after the first 3 races and that will be too late to compete for the championship. Reliability 5/10 - Speed 9.5/10
Drivers: Mika Hakkinen is determined to win back the title he
lost last year and he is certainly one of the drivers capable of
challenging Michael Schumacher but will his car cross the finish line ?
That is the question.
David Coulthard can beat both Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher
on a good day. If he manages to come up with a lot of good days then he is
in with a chance, otherwise he will go down the record books with the most
number of third place finishes.
Williams: By using Michelin tyres they took a chance that could reap huge benefits or put them behind BAR and Jordan. If the Michelin tyres prove superior to Bridgestone then expect them to challenge Ferrari and McLaren for the title even though their car is not as powerful. If they prove inferior then no matter how good the car is, they will not shape and could even drop outside the top 5.
The team's reliability record last year was very good but the car was not competitive compared to the top 2. This year they want to close the gap so reliability could be an issue. Reliability 8/10 - Speed 8.5/10
Drivers: Ralf Schumacher can continue his strong performance
provided that he is not shaken by his new team-mate and the ability of
Williams to deliver a fast and reliable car.
Juan Pablo Montoya claims that he wants to shake-up the established order and I certainly hope that he does. He has a proven record in CART but so did Zanardi who failed. On the other hand Villeneuve succeeded. Does this mean that Montoya's chances are 50/50. I would give him a higher success rate as long as he lets his driving do the talking.
A top 6 finish is possible in Melbourne.
Benetton: If Prost was the worst team of 2000 (literally they finished last behind Minardi), Benetton appear to be heading in that direction. I am not suggesting that they will not score any points but they could drop from 4th to 8th in the championship. Last year they were reliable but not fast, this year they are not reliable to a degree that we don't know how fast they could be. Expect them to improve later in the season. Reliability 3/10 - Speed 5/10 (not enough testing done)
Drivers: Giancarlo Fisichella is considered to be one of the
best drivers today although late during the 2000 season he appeared to
lose some of his flare. This year will be frustrating for him.
Jenson Button will not have a real chance of showing how good he is
compared to Fisichella until late in the season when the car becomes more
reliable. Once that happens, I would not be surprised if Button outraces
BAR: From 11th and last in 99 to 5th in 2000. Their aim is to finish 3rd in 2001 and winning a race. From a reliability point of view, they could win in Melbourne if both McLaren and Ferrari struggle with reliability. They had the most reliable car in testing. In South Africa, Villeneuve or Panis would put almost double the amount of laps compared to Williams on a single day. And with Honda claiming that they will deliver to BAR and Jordan a world class engine, BAR might finally be able to make that step and challenge Ferrari and McLaren. Reliability 9.5/10 - Speed 7.5/10
Drivers: Jacques Villeneuve was described by Honda's president
as precious to Honda as well as a very brave driver. He will give it his
best and with Panis pushing him expect fireworks.
Olivier Panis cannot wait to return to racing after a year off. He
continued the tradition he started at McLaren by setting very fast times
in testing even though he was in a BAR. He could surprise Villeneuve.
Jordan: They will want to beat BAR this season and prove to Honda that they are the better team even though Honda is heavily involved in the chassis side at BAR as well. If testing times is anything to go by, then they will be fast but reliability is a concern. They are nowhere near the level of reliability that BAR has. Reliability 6.5/10 - Speed 8/10
Drivers: Heinz Harald Frentzen is a consistent driver but lacks aggression.
Perhaps this year with Honda engines we would see that side of him.
Jarno Trulli will have to prove that he is a good driver. This year
he will have no excuse to finish with almost half the points that Frentzen
had. He could prove his worth but I am afraid that someone who claims to
be faster than Michael Schumacher and that he should drive a Ferrari because
he is Italian is more of a talker.
Arrows: The are using ex-Peugeot engines so no matter how fast they are in testing I don't expect them to well this season. The fact is that Peugeot had the most successful year in their debut year!, now that they have pulled out, will AsiaTech manage to improve the unit ? Unlikely. The car has not been very reliable either. 7th place in the championship will be hard to retain. Reliability 6/10 - Speed 7/10
Drivers: Jos Verstappen appears to be doing better each year so
he could do well but the car won't help him.
Enrique Bernoldi finished 16th in last year's F3000 championship
and Arrows claim that he is better than Pedro de la Rosa. I find that hard
Sauber: With 2 very young drivers I expect the team to struggle this year. They could be fast and reliable but both Nick Heidfeld and Kimi Raikkonen are not experienced. Sure Heidfeld has a year of experience but last year he didn't race that many laps in the Prost and he only managed to finish 5 races. Reliability 8/10 - Speed 8/10
Drivers: Nick Heidfeld is the senior driver in the team even
though he has just a year of experience in Formula 1. He wasn't given a
chance in the Prost last year but this year he has a chance.
Kimi Raikkonen has grabbed the headlines by being the most
inexperienced driver to enter Formula 1 and skipping F3 and F3000. You
would expect him to make mistakes in his first year but then Jenson Button
proved me wrong last year.
Jaguar: They have been very slow but reliable. The question is will they get faster without compromising reliability? I don't think so as the team is still new with several key members of the team just starting. This year will be another building year for the team. Reliability 8.5/10 - Speed 4/10
Drivers: Eddie Irvine continues to make headlines with his
negative comments on the car. Whether his car fails him or not, if he does
not deliver, Pedro de la Rosa is waiting.
Luciano Burti raced in Austria last year on a very short notice.
While he finished that race he was 11th and 2 laps behind. He lacks
experience and I'll be surprised if he challenges Irvine.
Minardi: Have shipped 2 cars in Melbourne, one didn't run at all in Europe. They have done an amazing job though of getting to Melbourne given the very short period of time since the team was bought by Paul Stoddart. They will rely on being reliable to finish races as they are no where near the level of any other team. They still could finish ahead of a team or two if they manage finish races. Reliability 8.5/10 (based on previous season as they only tested once in the new car) - Speed 3/10
Drivers: Fernando Alonso arrives in Formula 1 with high
expectations. He is only 19 though and could find it hard driving at the
back of the grid for a while.
Tarso Marques didn't have much success when he first drove for
Minardi in 96 nor did he have much success driving in CART. I don't see
why he should do well this time around.
Prost: Following a disastrous season in 2000, they could well get into the top 6 this year. In testing the car has been very reliable and very fast. Whether that was to attract sponsors remains to be seen but regardless, they are set to improve dramatically this season. Reliability 8.5/10 - Speed 8.5/10
Drivers: Jean Alesi could get back into the top 10 following a 3
year absence. His test times show that he is determined more than ever to
be competitive in his remaining races as a Formula 1 driver.
Gaston Mazzacane has never impressed me. I will be impressed if he
qualifies within a second of Jean Alesi.