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F1: Jerez tells us Red Bull will be the winner again

The 2012 Formula One season is a go with the first round of testing completed at Jerez in Spain. After a series of car launches of the 2012 challengers over the past week the teams finally got down to see whether the hard work they had put in over winter would bear fruit.

Regulation changes for this year have been the talking point so far, with many fans branding the cars ‘ugly’ due to the new nose. This is the result of a new rule that dictates lower noses to improve safety, but keep the height of the front chassis the same.

The other big change this year is the ban of last year’s controversial exhaust-blown diffusers. All the teams spend months on end designing their cars but will not know how competitive their car is until 17 March, the first race of 2012 in Melbourne.

The top teams launched their cars last week with all of them bearing the ugly noses except the McLaren Mercedes, since their chassis is lower than the other cars anyway. While every ‘racing pundit’ will have their own views how each car looks and whether they will be fast or not, in principle it is impossible to predict how they will perform on track.

At the end of the day the objective is to win the championship; so if it is done in an ugly car, so be it. It will also be crucial that the car works well with the Pirelli tyres as they play such a big role in the races. As you might remember Ferrari struggled to get heat into their tyres in many races last year which impacted their championship chances heavily. Over winter the teams have worked hard to get a better understanding of the Pirelli tyres.

Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany listens a journalist in the paddock in Jerez. Reuters

Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany listens a journalist in the paddock in Jerez. Reuters

The teams will have a total of 15 days of testing, 12 before the opener in Australia and three before the European leg of the season. With the first test in Jerez completed, the main aim of all the teams is to ensure reliability and understand set-ups while finding a platform to build on. It’s not about how fast the car is or how much on the limit the car can be, but rather making sure that everything works well and goes according to plan.

Additionally, there is no data to how much fuel each driver has on board to get a true understanding of the times. With many drivers moving teams, the test was also a chance for them to familiarise themselves with their new surroundings and team members.

Jerez showed us that straight out of the box the Red Bull seems the fastest car with the McLaren right behind them. The surprise package definitely looks like the Lotus Renault with former World Champion Kimi Raikkonen who appears to be the driving force behind the re-energised team. Leading contenders Red Bull and McLaren seem confident after the initial performance of their 2012 challengers.

The Red Bulls especially looked good on long runs even though they suffered mechanical problems on the last day. Lotus Renault finished the test with the fastest time of the 2012 cars but not much should be read into this. Last year the Williams F1 team finished fastest in the first test at Jerez only to finish a disappointing 9th in the Championship with only 5 points, their worst ever. Mercedes was the only front running team not to run their 2012 car as it will be ready only for the second test in Barcelona.

Ferrari seemed to be the team with the most to worry about as they struggled to find a base set-up and will have long sleepless nights till the next test in Barcelona as they try to maximise the potential of the car. Ferrari has gone for a radical new design, so it will take the team time to figure out things. One thing is for sure — at the next test in Barcelona we will find out whether Ferrari has provided Fernando Alonso a car to challenge the might of Red Bull.

The 2012 Formula One season is off again but we will have to wait for the next test in Barcelona to get a clearer idea of who will be quick and who will be playing catch up. I would still say that Red Bull Racing will undoubtedly be the favourites with McLaren being their main challenger. But hey, this is F1... so expect the unexpected!