New car launches signal the beginning of a nervous time for F1 teams

The week before pre-season testing begins and teams launch their new cars is one of the most nerve wracking of the year.

While Caterham, formally Team Lotus, launched their car last week the majority of squads will unwrap their 2012 challengers in the coming week atJerez. The Caterham has been universally received as being an “ugly” car due to its front wing which droops dramatically after the front wheels.

The Caterham is not what we have come to expect a Formula 1 car to look like. The new aerodynamic regulations governing the front wing of the car though will make this feature common to all cars in the coming year.

In fact when asked about the design of the new Caterham Gary Anderson, the former Jordan and Jaguar Technical Director, said:

“When I saw a 2012 F1 chassis for the first time a couple of months ago, I thought: ‘Oh God, I hope that are not all going to look like that!’ But it looks like they are. They [The FIA] could have lowered the height of the front bulkhead in the regulations to be the same as that of the nose, but there was resistance to that from some teams.”

Anderson’s comments have done little to ease the minds of fans disappointed by the appearance of the new Caterham and while many hoped that it was simply a case of one of the smaller teams being adventurous we are sure to see tomorrow, when McLaren launch their car, that in fact the bulbous and ugly front of 2012 cars will be uniform.

Of course once cars take to the track we will become used to seeing them and in little time fans will not comment on the ugliness of the car but rather the speed of it. The first test of the season, which commences in one week’s time will give us all our first indication of the battle lines for 2012.

The opening test of the year is always a nervous time for teams as it is the first time that the fruits of their labout will be tested on track. The simulation work done on laptops and in the wind tunnel counts for nothing once the car turns a wheel in anger. Teams need to have their data validated and even the most sophisticated machines do not take into account the subtleties of racing.

This point has been perfectly illustrated in recent years by McLaren and Ferrari. Both teams have struggled in testing as they try and understand their new cars but while McLaren has been able to recover from poor winter performance in two of the last three years Ferrari needed drastic action.

Last year the Maranello squad had a season long problem with their wind tunnel and simulator correlation to the race track. While teams such as McLaren spent vast sums of money on developing a complex driving simulator that allows their drivers to spend time developing new parts and keeping their race skills sharp Ferrari neglected to do this.

In the past Ferrari had a full test track, Fiorano, at their constant call the elimination of in-season testing has made it all but irrelevant to the Formula 1 team. Simulator work is now the only way for drivers to keep active in the cockpit between races. The Ferrari system was primitive compared to its rivals and the results were inconsistent with the actual findings on track.

Investment was needed and while money is not a problem at Ferrari any longer the time needed to invest was huge. After struggling in the opening races of last year Ferrari had a radical overhaul of their technical department and attempted to rectify the issues with their simulator.

The second half of 2011 gave the team a lot of confidence heading into the winter and with the new car launching on Friday it will be very interesting to see just how aggressive it is compared to the McLaren.

Ferrari’s management have all said that the new car will be dramatically different to previous Ferrari’s and an aggressive step forward by the team as they chase their first title since 2007. In January and February however it is very easy to write cheques with cheap talk but with testing just around the corner the time to cash those cheques is quickly approaching.

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