- ESPNF1's team of the year
Red Bulls on a chargeLaurence Edmondson December 21, 2010
Although the constructors' championship was glossed over by the excitement of a four-way battle for the drivers' title, it was a vintage year for the teams. Three different outfits fought for wins throughout the season, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and each with very different views on how to approach Formula One racing. Considering all aspects of team management and car design, ESPNF1 asked a panel of 14 observers (including Sir Stirling Moss, Sir Jackie Stewart and Tonio Liuzzi) to rate their top three teams of 2010. The results are as follows...
1. Red Bull
One man's name was praised again and again by our panel: Adrian Newey. His Red Bull RB6 was nothing short of a masterpiece in automotive design; breaking from convention and delivering nine victories and 15 pole positions - some by over a second from the nearest competitor. So fast was the RB6 that almost every team copied its exhaust-blown diffuser and some even took to questioning the legality of its design in an attempt to close the gap. Red Bull was also commended by our panel for letting its drivers fight on track, even if that meant a collision. RenaultF1 majority shareholder Gerard Lopez was the only member of the panel who didn't rank Red Bull as No.1 (and before you ask, he put McLaren and not Renault at the top of his list), pointing out that it "had the fastest car and should have wrapped it up far earlier". It's the only criticism our panel could muster and in itself is a backhanded compliment.
For the first two thirds of the season McLaren was punching well above its weight, with the innovative F-duct keeping the rest of the field guessing and masking a pretty serious deficit in downforce to Red Bull. Inspired strategy decisions delivered two wins for Jenson Button early on, before Lewis Hamilton won in Turkey and Canada on sheer pace alone. However, the team came unstuck trying to mimic Red Bull's blown diffuser and towards the end of the season hit a brick wall with the development of the rear of the car. That, combined with mistakes on track, put Hamilton out of contention, while Button found the car increasingly difficult to drive. The season was a huge improvement on 2009 but the team can't escape the fact that it still hasn't won a constructors' title this century.
Ferrari has been in limbo since Michael Schumacher left at the end of 2006, falling upon success from time-to-time, but lacking the leadership and direction that allowed it to paint the sport red in the early 2000s. This year Fernando Alonso has filled Schumacher's void, extracting the best from the team by getting it to orbit around him and in doing so opening a new chapter in Ferrari's illustrious history. The only casualty of this seismic shift at Maranello has been Felipe Massa, whose new role was made abundantly clear by the pit wall during the German Grand Prix. There is no doubt that it was the right thing to do for Ferrari, but it wasn't the right thing for the sport and the obvious flouting of a rule (albeit a dubious one) lost the team votes among our panel. However, the team is still held in huge regard by the F1 paddock and Sir Jackie Stewart and Sir Stirling Moss both ranked it second in their top three, directly behind Red Bull.
What a difference a year makes. At the end of 2009 Renault's F1 future looked bleak with its sponsor portfolio in tatters following Crashgate, its car struggling at the back of the grid and its star driver Fernando Alonso Ferrari bound. In the midst of the recession the Renault parent company was looking for an exit strategy and its prayers were answered by Gerard Lopez's investment company Genii Capital over the winter. Genii took over 70% of the team with a loan set against the factory and its F1 grid slot and set about creating a completely new image, albeit with the historic name still attached. The investment paid off and the steady flow of cash from the loan fuelled a series of significant updates race-after-race, which in turn boosted the team's appeal to sponsors. But the key ingredient was Robert Kubica, whose supreme talent allowed Renault to score three podiums and take the fight to the top three teams on several occasion.
Mercedes made it into our panel's top five by picking up the odd leftover vote, but in reality it was a disappointing first year for the German car giant. At the crux of the issue was that Brawn GP - as it was known last year - rather neglected 2010 in the midst of Jenson Button's title challenge, partly to focus on winning the championship but also because the financial future of the team was far from secure. Mercedes and its money arrived over the winter, but by that time the 2010 car was already a long way down its development path and off the pace of McLaren and Ferrari. Michael Schumacher's return helped to overinflate expectations ahead of the start of the season, but when the racing started it soon became clear that the car was only fourth fastest and that the seven-time champion was more than a little rusty. During the season the car lost ground to its competitors and the team got sidetracked by a temperamental F-duct system, dropping it out of the top 10 at times. It was a far cry the ruthless efficiency Sir Stirling Moss remembers from Mercedes in the 1950s, but for the reasons mentioned above, it was always going to be a year of transition.
Although only on the list by virtue of a single vote from -you guessed it - Tonio Liuzzi, Force India does deserve some recognition for its efforts this season. Its breakthrough year came in 2009, but the car was still very primitive and only worked on specific track layouts. The challenge this year was to turn the car into an all-rounder and, after Force India picked up points at 12 of the 19 rounds, it's fair to say it achieved its goals. However, the car's performance trailed off towards the end of the year and the loss of big names in the engineering department - James Key to Sauber and Mark Smith to Lotus - does not bode well for 2011.
Best Newcomer: Lotus
Our panel unanimously voted Lotus as the best new team of 2010. It took the coveted 10th place in the constructors' championship thanks to Heikki Kovalainen's 12th place finish in Japan and won legions of fans by evoking memories of Colin Chapman's legendary team. Next year will be its true test as it targets the established teams and focuses on performance as well as reliability. However, its toughest battle may well come off the track as it fights with Group Lotus for its right to continue to call itself Lotus.
On the ESPNF1 panel: Sir Stirling Moss (motor racing legend and ESPNF1 columnist), Sir Jackie Stewart (three-time world champion), Gerard Lopez (RenaultF1's majority shareholder), Tonio Liuzzi (Force India race driver and ESPNF1 columnist), Sam Bird (GP2 race winner and ESPNF1 columnist), Mark Sutton (F1 photographer and ESPNF1 columnist), Martin Williamson (ESPN managing editor), Alex Livie (ESPN.co.uk editor), Laurence Edmondson (ESPNF1 deputy editor), Fraser Masefield (ESPNF1 contributor), CI Sport (ESPNF1.fr editor), Daniel Bastien (ESPNF1.fr contributor), Jonathan Hungin (ESPN product manager), Deepak Gulati (ESPN content manager).