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Cars are the true stars of Formula One

Hype around unveiling of the £2m ‘missiles’ reflects their importance

Image Credit: AFP
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso missed out on the title by threepoints last season, but says the team will be better this time.
Gulf News

Formula One’s main players, the cars, are subject to as many mood swings as the star drivers who go to work in them at speeds topping 200mph.

And that is why the build-up, the rehearsals and presentation days, are crucial in fettling the £2 million (Dh11.52 million) missiles to perfection to obey the demands that face and challenge them throughout a gruelling campaign which can make or break both man and machine.

Jerez, in southern Spain, has this week been the scene of the first activities of the upcoming season, with cool presentations for the media preceding a much tougher bout of discovery of what the cars are capable of in demanding development circumstances on the track.

The outcomes, jealously guarded secrets, will be the subject of intense scrutiny back at the various headquarters, where errors of engineering judgement will be painstakingly corrected and flashes of inspiration, such as those plotted by Red Bull’s design genius, Adrian Newey, regarded merely as the norm.

When all the covers came off, there was little that looked any different from the underlying shape of last season’s main players, and that is the way it will stay, with the real revolutionary changes scheduled for the 2014 season.

That is not to say the workings under the bodies have not been fine-tuned with improvements hidden from the spies’ naked eye and only visible on the screens of the computers hidden backstage.

The only clues, and of course they could be just talk to scare the opposition, leak out in purpose-built phrases like this from Newey: “The car is a tribute to all the guys who have worked so diligently throughout the winter lay-off.”

Team boss Christian Horner was gushing in his praise when he said: “It is a great car. Fantastic. A great combination of a great amount of effort — and it will have to be because the competition is phenomenal.”

Driver Sebastian Vettel, 26 times a winner and aiming to be the only man after legends Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher to claim four world titles in a row, says: “There is a tough challenge ahead of us, but I am looking forward to it. Okay, there is a lot of pressure and expectation on us — and me. But, as ever, I shall be going for it. Big time.

“It is one thing to look back on what we have achieved so far, but now we start again from zero.”

F1 rights owner Bernie Ecclestone, who has just agreed a five-year partnership with Emirates, told me: “Last season was a corker. One to remember. And I firmly believe this time around it will be the same story with Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren scrapping hard for the crown. And don’t write off Lewis Hamilton, he could score a win or two with his new team, Mercedes.”

And Mercedes team leader Ross Brawn, who masterminded all seven of Schumacher’s world titles at Benetton and Ferrari, believes his shock signing could spring a surprise or two.

“We are excited about this year’s car. I am pretty pleased with the look and promise of it, but we’ll have to see how it goes in testing when we are pitted against our rivals. And we have every faith in Lewis’s ability to make it a winner.”

Ferrari superstar Fernando Alonso, who missed out on a third title by just three points in a dramatic countdown to the championship chase, would prefer there was more testing and fewer races.

But it didn’t stop the 32-year-old promising: “We had one or two problems last year, but this time around we will be better and I shall doing my best to go one better in the championship.”

Those frontrunners would be advised to watch out for dark horse Jenson Button, now free of the presence at McLaren of the departed Hamilton and, even if he won’t claim it, now the team’s No 1.

His dream of a second title, after his 2009 triumph, is not diminished by being the most experienced driver on the grid at 33.

He is without doubt the fittest of them all after a relentless regime of cycling, swimming, running, marathons and triathlons throughout the winter break.

And he told me: “I am really excited. Sure, I know most drivers say that when the new season looms — and I arrived back from my break thinking ‘let’s get on with it’. And I reckon I am in a really good situation. I can’t wait.”

Cash flows are in full spate, with sponsorship millions being absorbed in the titivation of edgy, prima-donna cars — and they will need to be.

Drivers, on as much as £20 million a season, are safely and securely protected in an £85,000 carbon-fibre shell.

There was rarely a race, in what was the most exciting campaign in F1 history, without incident and F1 bosses forking out fortunes to meet the resultant repair bill.

The cash-for-crashes setback is a potentially ruinous reality that every team faces.

Grand Prix cars go through around 2,800 gear changes a lap. They accelerate from standstill to 125mph in 3.8 seconds and zoom onto 190mph in another five seconds.

The driver’s tightly helmeted head is tipped sideways and his eyes boggle with a 5g force equivalent to 20kg, making breathing a tussle.

It is little wonder disastrous accidents happen in the melee of 24 cars being blasted to 200-plus mph by a determined mass of equally committed drivers?

Any season’s biggest spenders are Ferrari, with an outgoing of £307 million. McLaren are next with £211 million, with all of their rivals not too far behind in their budget busting.