3….2….1….We Have Launch-Off

The first two months of any year always mark the focus shifting to the cold, bitter mornings. As teams ramp up their preparation for the upcoming season, time is of the essence. Success in the follow year and ironing out failures of the previous is the justification for testing.

Before the official tests take place in February and early March, the world throws a glance towards the chariots which the noble warriors shall contest the following season with. Some teams do it big, some are under-stated, while some barely do it all. Launching your car is the starting point on the road to your season’s end.

Branson headed things up for the new team

Rookies in 2010, Virgin Racing ensured that their fun-loving spirit was plain for all to see as they did things a little different. The world’s first peek at the new squad’s machinery was in an online video which presented the team as the new rock ‘n’ roll in the sport. Smaller teams such as Virgin Racing, or Marussia as they are now known, partake in the showcase launches as they know it will get them attention which shall fall away at a vast rate of knots over the following season with a poor car.

The first teams to have shown their new cars are Caterham and McLaren. Caterham choose for the first full look at their car to be exclusively contained in the pages of magazine F1 Racing. As leading technical officer Mike Gascoigne stated, Caterham in 2012, formerly known as Lotus, need further improvements to materialise as they seek to compete on even terms with the established teams of Toro Rosso, Sauber and Williams. He also acknowledged that the pecking order is unlikely to change as the leading five teams remain the same.

Gascoigne wants to race higher up the grid

“We want to be racing that midfield, and if you’re racing them, you’re looking to score points. We didn’t finish that far off in terms of qualifying last year in Brazil (final race of 2011 season) and we were doing that without Kers. We’ll have that this year, so we want to be picking off a few people in front of us and challenging for points. But if the top five teams are as reliable as they have been, then scoring points is not that easy in F1 these days.”

Hamilton has a clear mind for the upcoming season

British squad McLaren took the covers from their car at a highly-anticipated unveiling yesterday. Drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, spoke with confidence in their new machine. Following an incident-season where he saw events unfold with him involved more often than not, Lewis pledged to spend the year with a clear focus.

“What I have decided to do this year is just focus on the most important thing and that’s racing. Last year I was training too much and this year I balanced it a bit better. Spending time with family and friends is how you get your energy. I was grateful for Martin (Whitmarsh, team boss) for allowing me to have such a good break.”

Button (L) is optimistic

Team-mate Button was hopeful towards the car’s potential:

“I personally didn’t feel we were going to win races last year after the first test,” he said during the launch of the MP4-27. Normally you get a good feeling from the first test and build on that feeling for the first race. It is tricky, especially when you have new regulations. It’s difficult to know where you stand. I’m hoping we are in a good position when we wheel the car out in Jerez.” (location of first pre-season test)

Ready to improve further

Force India displayed their new creation to the media on a freezing day at Silverstone. Hoping to improve on their 6th-place finish in the Constructors Championship in 2011, they stated that finishing in fifth position out of the 12 teams and earning the ‘best of the rest’ berth behind the Big Four, is their aim. Dismissing claims that their young driver line-up is risky, deputy principal Bob Fernley said otherwise:

“No, I don’t think we are taking a gamble, driver succession is important to us. “I think outside of, or maybe including, the top four, we’ve got one of the most exciting driver line-ups, so I’m not worried at all.”

Di Resta urges to keep up momentum

After a strong debut year, Scottish sophomore Di Resta stated how he feels the team can keep improving following a strong climax:

The big thing we’re going for is a stronger start than last year, because the momentum at the end of the year was incredible,” he said. “I think the guys should be very proud of what they’ve achieved.

“We’re still on a buzz from that and it would be great to start where we left off. We were very close to coming fifth as a constructor last year and we met our ambition of coming sixth.

“We want to do better, that’s the main focus. We’ll just keep pushing on.”

Hulkenberg's happy to be back racing after a year of testing

Team-mate Hulkenberg was excited to be back in a full-time role following his time on the sidelines in 2011 as the squad’s test driver:

“It feels pretty good to be back. When I heard about it I was happy.

“Last year wasn’t easy for me but Force India have given me a chance to prove myself.

“I’ve kept myself sharp and now I’m back. Last year I improved and learned, even though I wasn’t racing.

“But I was still heavily involved in the team. I picked up some things, with the only thing missing being the racing.

“Now, ahead of my second year in F1, I want to establish myself.”

One of the most anticipated launches was always going to be for Ferrari, and on the same day Force India took the covers from their challenger, the Scuderia were always going to steal their thunder.

Always heavily-anticipated is the first-look at the new Ferrari

It has been 4 years since Ferrari last won the World Driver’s Championship, and even then it was due to some mistakes from the rival McLaren team. Stefano Domenicali has been team boss since 2007 and knows that another season without a championship could spell the end of his run as boss. The team need to deliver and have the right assets in lead driver Fernando Alonso. Optimism was the keyword for the Spaniard, as he also spoke of how the machinery has potential at the car launch:

“We have to be optimistic. We have to fight for the title.

“With the new car the first feeling has been very good from the beginning,” the Spaniard said.

“I like the creative shape that we see in this new car and I think when a car surprises you from the first look it is usually a positive thing. I quite like the car, I hope it is fast.”

Can he finally put up a fight against Alonso?

Team-mate to the ex-double champion, or whipping boy as some would say, Felipe Massa knows it’s a vital year for the man who needs to get back into people’s minds as as worthy of his place with the Italians:

“It’s a very important year for me and the whole team of course; 2012, this is going to be the victory year. We are going to fight to get the championship back,” he said.

“I really feel focused on winning. There are positive things in my head and I want to finish the championship in a better way.”

President of Ferrari Luca Di Montezemolo and Domenicali echoed the statement of Massa needing to perform:

“As for Massa, he knows as much as we know that he has to do something great, something better after a not-so-positive season.

“We are offering him the best conditions to do a great job.”

“I’m sure this year, after a difficult season, he will be able to show his value.”

Lotus have dubbed the new car, the E20, celebrating 20 years of their factory at Enstone

Lotus-Renault gave prying eyes the full look at their challenger this afternoon. Armed with a new driver line-up, it is a team which looks quite promising. Having not challenged for the championship since their victory in 2006, new recruit Kimi Raikkonen has faith in his new team:

“I think these people know how to build a good car, and even the biggest teams cannot produce a winning car every year,” said Raikkonen during the launch of the E20.

“They are very capable people and they have a good feeling about things and they’re pushing hard so hopefully we will get good results.”

Confident in his team

When asked if he was anxious about racing following a two year absence, the Finn was cool:

“Not really. It will be something slightly different to what it used to be when I was in Formula 1 before – with a different team and different regulations, but everybody’s different. For some people it’s more difficult to get used to new stuff. ”

Team co-owner Gerard Lopez stated the target was fourth in the Constructor’s Championship, a placing which he says should have been achieved in 2011:

“The hopes are to be able to get one season together and do what we were expecting last year,” he said.

“We hope to have a strong car, and have strong drivers, one of which is of course an ex-world champion. We hope to bring the car up to the front of the pack and probably try to aim for fourth as a reasonable goal for this season.”

The new Red Bull

Reigning Constructor’s Championship champions Red Bull were in confident mood as they showed their set of wheels to eager eyes. Despite taking both titles in 2011 and doing so with ease,  current Driver’s champion Sebastian Vettel down-played fears of the same story being told in 2012:

“It would be wrong to go into this season and expect 2011 to happen again, as in getting into the lead early and having a very big gap to other competitors. I think it will be very, very tight this year.”

He also said of how comfortable the car felt to him and Australian team-mate Mark Webber, despite not having driven it yet:

“The first time I jumped into the car for the seat fit – checking the position, checking your pedals, see if everything works – I think it was the same for Mark and myself, we felt extremely comfortable. Everything went well and we got our comfortable position fairly quickly. The RB8 was pretty straightforward, so we hope it continues that way.”

Sauber

Perennial mid-grid runners Sauber will be hoping to improve on their 7th place in the Constructor’s Championship. While they keep the same driver line-up in Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi, their technical director James Key announced prior to the car launch that he was leaving the Swiss squad. In the past, e was an important part in improving the fortunes of Force India as well as Sauber, and started his career as a data analyst at Jordan. Key leaves to join a another F1 team but has not said which that is. The team are confident that they can continue to progress without him:

“He joined us during a handover period from a factory team to a private team. His contribution was very valuable, but we now have a structure, long term, that is the right one going forward.”

Entering his 21st year of F1 involvement

Team owner Peter Sauber wants a higher finish in the Constructor’s Championship and believes it can be done with their exciting driver pairing of Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi:

“Our goal is to finish regularly in the points so as to put ourselves in a significantly better position in the world championship. We are looking forward to another season working with our young and talented drivers. Kamui will be competing in his third full season in F1. Last year we asked him to take on leadership responsibilities within the team and he has grown into the role.

With his rookie season behind him Sergio is now approaching his second season, which is often the most difficult in a driver’s Formula 1 career. Both drivers have huge potential and will work with the same race engineers as in 2011 to continue developing that promise.”

Scuderia Toro Rosso with all-new drivers

Scuderia Toro Rosso took criticism over the winter period for its decision to drop both of their drivers and instead opt for new blood with Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne.

Daniel's raring to go in competitive machinery

Ricciardo, like Sebastian Vettel, has been part of Red Bull’s driver programme and is seen as the next big star of their’s. Having raced for the second half of 2011 with the last-placed HRT team, the Aussie is excited to finally get a full season’s worth of racing under his belt, and wishes to be the leading driver in a car which he feels can finish in points-scoring positions:

“The team hasn’t set out a leader or anything but obviously if I can be the dominant driver I think that’s everyone’s little aim. I would love to, that’s the goal.  I think if it’s anything to go by how the performance was at the end of last year then we can definitely be realistic about points,” he said. “It’s probably easier said than done, but I am going to have a pretty competitive car this year, at least more so than I had than last year.”

Senna (L) and Maldonado (R)

Third-oldest team on the grid but some way short of their glory days, Williams were clear that this season begins a fresh start of the team. Long-time team owner Frank Williams  is determined that with a new driver in Bruno Senna and new engine-supplier with Renault, the past is history:

“One could say that looking at the Williams F1 Team today we are off to a truly fresh start,” Williams said. “We have a new car, new driver line up, new engine and new senior personnel.

“We also have a number of new partners who have joined the team in the past few months. I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome them formally and sincerely wish that they have an enjoyable and, most importantly, a valuable experience with us.

“The team has had a good winter at the factory and we feel ready and strong for the fight.”

Into his second season, Pastor Maldonado emphasised the need for development in order to keep up with rivals and said that he felt he could offer more than in his rookie year:

“I have faith in the FW34 (car name) and the Renault engine and so have high hopes for the races ahead,” he said. “It will be very important that we develop the car from the start of the season to the end. Now that I have a year’s experience, I can help in that area much more now.”

Now all that remains is for Mercedes, Marussia (formerly Virgin Racing) and HRT to show creations to the world. Following the winter shutdown, the sport is finally beginning to wake from it’s slumber as the first pre-season test takes place this week.

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