As ever, 2011 has been a busy year in Formula One. As January began, the constructors announced when they would launch their cars. HRT, meanwhile, still had no drivers announced in their lineup. On January 7th, they shocked everyone by revealing former Jordan driver Narain Karthikeyan – India’s first F1 driver – would be part of the team.
At the end of the month the first cars were launched – Ferrari, Red Bull, Lotus and Renault amongst them. It was a surprise on the first day of testing – the 31st of January – to see so many reserve drivers at Renault: Fairuz Fauzy, Bruno Senna, Romain Grosjean, Ho-Ping Tung and Jan Charouz. Senna would be the most likely to get himself into a race seat, should he be required during the season.
On the third day of testing, Renault were shining as Robert Kubica – in the new black and gold car – topped the tables. But Renault’s high was not going to last. As we all know, the Pole was severely injured in a rallying accident between the first and second tests, leaving him badly injured and certainly unable to drive an F1 car for the forseable future.
Renault were stranded. Their best hope for 2011 was gone, and they had only a limited time to decide who would replace him. In the end they drafted in Nick Heidfeld, Kubica’s former teammate. A solid driver, he would be able to help the team develop their car.
HRT launched their new car livery on February 8th as Force India had an online launch including interviews with Sutil, di Resta and new reserve driver Hulkenberg. The FIA Academy drivers were chosen, including Alexander Rossi and Richie Stanaway. Both drivers would go on to shine in 2011.
As pre-season testing continued, things were changing across the Arab world. Beginning in Tunisia, the appetite for protesting spread to Bahrain where the second round of GP2 Asia was due to take place. With medical staff needed in the city, the race was cancelled, and as the situation refused to calm down, the F1 round was postponed. The final testing session was moved from Bahrain to Barcelona, and the first race of the season would be in Australia.
Pre-season testing ended with Red Bull looking like the championship was in the bag already, with Ferrari close behind. McLaren were struggling slightly, but things could still change before the first race. Williams also had a good turn of pace, it seemed, but they were having KERS problems. As for HRT, with the new 107% rule it was doubtful whether they’d make it past the first race, let alone complete the season…
[To be continued]