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!"

Indeed, the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir is now less than a month away, and tensions and expectations are rising. For a variety of reasons, the last two years in F1 have witnessed some of the greatest extremes of jubilation and despair, wholly unanticipated success and gut-wrenching failure and conflict and controversy in the sport's six-decade history - and with the arrival of Pirelli, the return of KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) and the introduction of the moveable rear wing, Humphrey suggests 2011 could just complete the hat-trick. And he is thrilled to be right at the heart of it with the BBC.

"I think there's so much to look forward to," enthused the 32-year-old. "I remember when I got this job and Steve Rider - who presented before me - took me out for dinner and said 'you're never going to have a season as good as the one we've just had'. Then we went and had Jenson Button and Brawn - a brilliant story - and last year we had five guys going for the title and the youngest-ever world champion, another brilliant story.

"This year, we're going to have tyres that are going to be struggling because Pirelli naturally are going to be learning a lot - and my point with that would be, let's not have a go at them because it will make for brilliant racing, and I hope they don't get negative publicity if the cars are making four or five stops in the first few races, which they may well be. I think it's great for racing - look what happened in Canada last year, it's what we all want to see.

"I don't know how I feel really about the KERS button and the moveable rear wing. When you look back on great overtaking manoeuvres, you don't say, 'well, that wasn't really a proper overtake because Senna's tyres were shot' or 'that wasn't really a great overtake because Mansell was carrying more speed because he missed the chicane at the previous corner' or something like that - you just look at it and you go, 'bloody hell, F1 used to be exciting!'

"I think for people like my mum who just want to see exciting racing, with KERS and the wing, they'll see great racing; if you're a technical expert and you want to know how it's working and why, then you'll enjoy that; and if you're a lover of drivers and you love a driver that makes the most of everything, you'll love that. That's exactly what Senna did - he would love these tools at his disposal.

"I think it's exciting, I think we're in for another great season and our aim is to take people even more into the heart of it. I'm always being told off by the producer for going into a garage and touching the car, touching the nose, touching the seatbelts or whatever. We have a lot of meetings where they say 'you've got to stop doing that, or you're going to be in trouble' - but if you stop doing that, I think you lose the essence of what makes our coverage so good, which is that real accessibility."

The F1 2011 World Championship campaign will rev into life in the desert kingdom of Bahrain on 13 March. The BBC will broadcast all of the action both on and off-track season-long via comprehensive coverage across TV, HD, radio, online, red button and mobile.



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