Following last year's defeat to Red Bull Racing, Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes need to really raise their game in F1 2011 if they are to avoid the ignominy of being embarrassingly beaten for a second successive campaign by a team that basically 'exists to sell cans of drink', muses BBC F1
anchorman Jake Humphrey – as he warns the sport's traditional grandees that 'there are no excuses'.
Last season was one of the most enthralling, unpredictable and nail-biting in recent F1 memory, with a five-way title scrap – and four drivers taking the fight right the way down to the Abu Dhabi finale – edge-of-the-seat on-track action and twists-and-turns and enough off-track politics, scandal and fall-outs to keep Eastenders
scriptwriters in business for the next decade.
There was some very public needle at Red Bull between Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber – with the team assuring that all has now settled down and that harmony has been restored, even if few honestly believe them – and it will be fascinating to see how that relationship develops, or deteriorates, over the forthcoming campaign.
At McLaren, Lewis Hamilton could find himself with a challenge on his hands indeed should the switch to Pirelli tyres suit team-mate Jenson Button as well as many expect it to – and as for Ferrari, well, Felipe Massa will simply be eager to prove that he is more than merely Fernando Alonso's lapdog and convenient support act. And all the while as each of the three teams is endeavouring to gain the upper hand over the other two. Fans, Humphrey agrees, are in for a cracker.
“I think the biggest story is that of those three teams, the fizzy drinks company was the best last year,” he opined, speaking during a special pre-season BBC F1
'Meet the Team' session at Television Centre. “How are you going to feel if you're Ferrari or McLaren and you exist to race, because really, Red Bull exist to sell cans of drink... I think that is really going to up the ante for both Ferrari and McLaren – they need to come out firing on all cylinders. It can't be another year where they say, 'well, we developed quicker than everybody else' – it needs to be, 'look how quick we were out-of-the-box'. I think really, for Ferrari and McLaren, there are no excuses.
“McLaren have got the two British world champions – the drivers they want – and I think Jenson and Lewis has been a better experiment than they could ever have wished for. Lewis is learning loads from Jenson's calmness under pressure, and Jenson is learning loads from Lewis suddenly finding three tenths in qualifying. Jenson needs to improve his qualifying performances, and I think McLaren will be there-or-thereabouts.
“At Ferrari, how do you co-exist alongside Fernando Alonso and beat him? I don't have the answer to that, but I think Felipe Massa will be trying his damndest to make sure he can do that. If you don't win the title at Ferrari, things are amiss because that's the kind of pressure they're under. I think the way they lost the drivers' title at the end of last year leaves a lot of pressure still on everybody in the team.
“Red Bull – what pressure? The pressure's off. You turn up in F1, and five years after forming Red Bull Racing you've won both titles, with the youngest-ever world champion. I would just light the blue-touch paper between Mark and Seb and say 'it worked last year, boys...go and have another little row, will you, at a few races'. What problems did it cause? They were both in the title hunt until the very end. It was perfect – it inspired them both.
“I think Mark needs
to go into a race with someone to fight against or something to push against to inspire him, and I think Sebastian loves that psychological battle. You could argue that he out-thought and out-drove at 23 years of age, a guy with vastly more experience than him, and that is a huge testament to his mental strength. All three of those teams have got a really exciting dynamic – so bring it on, I say!”