F1 launch season in full swing for McLaren, Ferrari, Force India and Sauber

Jenson Button Sergio Perez McLaren launch 2013The last couple of days has seen a spate of new car launches ahead of the new Formula 1 season with McLaren, Ferrari, Force India and Sauber all lifting the covers from their new challengers.

McLaren launched their new MP4-28 at their factory on Thursday with the car quite different to last year’s successful model. The team was plagued by unreliability at crucial times last year and while finding performance is obviously their primary goal with the new car their reliability in testing will give a crucial indication of what to expect from the team this season.

With no titles since 2008, Hamilton’s Drivers’ crown was also their first title since 1999, the team need to win again. Jenson Button will be the team leader and their likely title contender and team principal, Martin Whitmarsh, knows that Perez will need time to adapt to life at the sharp end of the grid:

Jenson Button Martin Whitmarsh Sergio Perez McLaren launch 2013“For 2013, of course, we go racing to win,” said Whitmarsh. “With Jenson and Checo, and this fantastic-looking new car, I believe we’re extremely well prepared for another competitive season. Jenson is driving better than ever – he’s the most experienced driver in Formula 1, but he makes every ounce of that experience count: he’s peerless in his ability to read a race and one of the very fastest drivers out there. He’s a consummate professional, too, and will revel in working hard to drive this team through the year.

“Checo joins us after a sensational 2012 season and he’s immediately proved that he’s intelligent, modest, hard-working and, make no mistake; very, very quick. Of course, there’ll be a learning curve to overcome as he gets used to our organisation, particularly during the hustle and bustle of the early-season race weekends, but he understands that we are placing no pressure on him.”

Lewis-Hamilton-leads-Jenson-Button-Barcelona-Race-2012Button, winner of last year’s season opening Australian Grand Prix, loved his role as a team leader at BAR/Honda/Brawn and he will relish the opportunity to once again lead a team. Last year McLaren enjoyed a performance advantage for much of the year but Button struggled at times with Hamilton more able to extract performance from the car.

At the car launch Button did not avoid admitting to his problems last year:

“We were extremely strong throughout the whole of the 2012 season, but, for one reason or another, we couldn’t quite pull it all together to challenge for the championships,” admitted the 2009 champion. “That’s something we want to address for 2013. I’ve seen just how closely everybody has been working together on this car, and I think we’ve got the basis for a very strong season.”

This season Button will have more pressure on his shoulders to ensure that he is constantly on the pace but as he showed in 2011 he has more than enough speed and talent to lead McLaren’s championship assault.

Fernando Alonso Felipe Massa Ferrari F318 launchMcLaren will face tough competition from Ferrari once again in 2013 and the Italian squad are confident that their new F138 will be able to hit the ground running in testing. The team struggled for much of last season with a car that was off the pace but in the second half of the year their performance was much improved.

With Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa retained for a fourth season together the team will once again start the year as a legitimate title contender. Their development of last year’s car was tremendous but it has to be remembered just how far off the pace they were in testing and for the first half of the season it was only a series of inspired Alonso drives that masked their inefficiencies.

As the year progressed however their true speed was made apparent when Massa started to account points and podiums. If the Brazilian can start the year with the same mindset they could be dark horses for the Constructors’ Championship.

Ferrari F138Team principal, Stefano Domenicali, will be one of the most scrutinised men in the paddock this season. Ferrari demand success and their title drought of six years has meant that the likeable Italian’s future was on shaky ground at times last season. Hitting the ground running is clearly Domenicalli’s target for next season so that any doubts about his suitability as team figurehead are quickly removed:

“The key objective that we must have is of immediately delivering a competitive car to our drivers,” team boss Stefano Domenicali acknowledged. “Unfortunately in recent years we have at the beginning of the winter not been able to be right on top of what we are doing. We have tried to look at our organisation to be much more effective in the preparations over the coming week.”

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Force India F1 VJM06 Launch - Silverstone, EnglandForce India launched their car at Silverstone, and gave it a shakedown at the track, with the new car clearly a development of last year’s model. The stability in regulations has meant that evolution and not revolution has been the key factor in most team’s development process. While the DNA of the car is similar to last year’s the team has made a lot of mechanical changes to the car. This was a point that Andrew Green, Force India’s Technical Director, stressed:

“It’s a brand new car from the ground-up – everything is new,” said Green. “We discussed carrying over big chunks of last year’s car, including the chassis, but decided not to. There were still some gains to be had with the chassis, so we elected to take the performance benefits. The biggest change that everybody is going to notice this year is the fairing on top of the nose to hide the ‘step’. It’s neutral as far as the car’s performance is concerned but tidies up the flow over the top of the chassis.”

It was a strange scene at Force India with the team still to confirm a teammate for Paul di Resta but the Scot is upbeat ahead of the new campaign:

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Force India F1 VJM06 Launch - Silverstone, England“Seeing the car built and complete for the first time is a special feeling,” said di Resta. “I’ve followed its progress in the tunnel and it looks very impressive – aggressive and fast. Now I’m just eager to get out there and see where we stand compared to our competitors. After the winter I feel refreshed and keen to get back to business.”

This year could be a defining year for di Resta. It is his third in F1 and having seen previous teammate Nico Hulkenberg move to Sauber after a strong return to the sport it is clear that the pressure will be on di Resta to prove that he deserves a more competitive drive in the future.

He has shown some impressive speed at times but over the last two years he has not done as much as others, such as Sergio Perez at McLaren, to show that he really deserves a front line drive.

Sauber C32 LaunchSauber also took the covers off their new car with an new driver lineup of Hulkenberg and Mexican rookie Esteban Gutierrez. There is also change on the pitwall with Monisha Kaltenborn’s first full campaign as Team Principal. Kaltenborn was handed the full time reigns by Peter Sauber ahead of last year’s Korean Grand Prix.

Last season was one of Sauber’s most competitive season’s ever with the Swiss team a genuine contender for race wins on occasion and a constant points scorer with Perez and Kamui Kobayashi. Building on that success will be difficult and Kaltenborn was keen to stress that it will be a building step towards greater success rather than a glass ceiling:

“2012 was a very successful year for us,” said Kaltenborn, “We not only moved up from seventh to sixth place in the constructors’ standings, but also improved our points total from 44 in 2011 to 126 last season. We have a strong platform in place now, on which we are aiming to build and continue our upward curve.”

Sauber C32 frontThe new car is visually quite different from last year’s model and the team’s Chief Designer, Matt Morris, described some of the key changes:

“The C31 was an extremely competitive car with many strengths,” explained Matt Morris, the Sauber F1 Team’s Chief Designer. “Our aim was to further improve these strengths and eliminate its few weaknesses. The sidepods of the C32 are notably slimmer than the Formula One norm up to now and are responsible for giving the new car a very distinctive look. “The airflow in this area has a major influence over everything that happens at the rear of the car,”

Sauber C32 profileHulkenberg will move to his third F1 team but the nomadic German has always shown his speed and he is clearly excited about his prospects at Sauber:

“We need to build on the solid basis of last year and reach some good results,” said the 25 year old. “But it is a whole new season: New game, new luck! We really have to wait and see what happens when we hit the track for the first time. And then we’ll take it from there. 

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