Three races, three winners. Where are we in 2010?

Posted on April 4, 2010

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Three races into the 2010 season, we’ve seen three different drivers from three different teams taking the chequered flag and Malaysia has given a helpful guide as to where everyone is.

Red Bull have underlined their status as the fastest team on the grid. Sebastian Vettel was dominant today, jumping Mark Webber off the line, winning with a classy drive. The biggest thing which stops the team running away with it this year is reliability. There seem to always be niggles with the Red Bull and it was the same last year.

Ferrari are probably second best, though Fernando Alonso seems strangely quiet and keeps getting stuck behind Felipe Massa. Martin Brundle said during commentary today the difference between Massa and others is he’s not as aggressive as some when following another car and it’s a fair criticism. He’s a good but not great driver. Massa’s greatest asset is consistency and if he can beat Alonso, that’s a superb achievement. But Ferrari must be feeling edgy because I can’t see Massa holding onto the championship lead.

McLaren are looking good in race trim. Their qualifying pace is off but both drivers today showed they can get through the midfield. Lewis Hamilton in particular was outstanding today, turning in the best drive on the grid. You can’t ask for any more than for your driver to make up 14 places. Jenson Button showed good tactical nous today to leap the Ferraris in the stops but his tyre change was too early and Alonso had him at the end before his engine gave out. Both McLarens will be there if circumstances go their way but the team must qualify better.

Mercedes are in an odd position. Ross Brawn has admitted the hangover from last season means they aren’t on the pace – but Red Bull don’t seem to have suffered from the battle. It’s impossible to know if Michael Schumacher would have been there today because of the rear wheel failure but his start was good. Nico Rosberg was solid but anonymous after a poor start but he was never under threat of losing his podium. Mercedes need a big step in the car to show what they’re about.

Force India look to be the best of the midfield, breaking into Q3 consistently and getting both cars in here. Adrian Sutil seems to have stopped crashing into things, while Antonio Liuzzi isn’t too shabby either. With a bit of luck and some good development, this team can score a win in 2010 – maybe in Spa, where Sutil went so well in 2009.

Renault are looking very solid. Robert Kubica is getting more out of the car than is probably there and Vitaly Petrov is handy in a scrap. Petrov had a good squabble with Lewis today and the car looks to have plenty of potential. The team has moved on from crash-gate and is rebuilding itself. But it will take a long time for them to get back. Given the opportunity, Kubica will take a win this year.

Williams aren’t as quick as anyone was hoping or expecting, which is a shame. Nico Hulkenberg did ok this weekend but he went backwards after a great qualifying. Rubens Barrichello recovered to finish after failing to get off the line but he was a lap down and he’ll be as disappointed as anyone the car is nowhere near fast enough to be chasing the top four teams.

Toro Rosso are continuing to make good progress. Jaime Alguersuari has matured hugely from last season and scored his first points today. Sebastien Buemi too is looking much better. With a Ferrari powerplant, the team will be well placed to run at the front of the midfield if they can keep up the development and they have finally recovered from losing Vettel two seasons ago.

Sauber are proving disappointing and two DNFs today will be painful for the team. Peter Sauber’s squad looked great in winter testing but clearly they were running lighter than everyone else. Kamui Kobayashi seems to have blinked in the headlights after his stunning cameo late last year. Pedro de la Rosa has been anonymous.

Lotus are the best of the new teams. Virgin may be slightly quicker in out and out pace but their fuel tank is too small, negating anything else they can develop. In Mike Gascoyne, Lotus have one of the best brains in the pitlane and two solid divers in Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen. I’ve little doubt they will be solidly up to pace with the rest of the midfield by the end of the season. There’s expected to be a big upgrade for Barcelona.

Virgin are looking quite racy but knowing Nick Wirth has to rebuild the car to fit a bigger fuel tank is a shame. Timo Glock is a great driver and Lucas Di Grassi is looking brisk. Fundamentally the team look good but it’s a big ask to maintain reliability, fit the new fuel tank and put on performance.

Hispania are at least basically reliable now. They have two good soldiers in Bruno Senna and Karun Chandhok and the car is capable of running a race distance. They are miles off the pace and it’s not clear to me they have the scope to develop even as fast as Lotus or Virgin, let alone the more established teams. Most important is for the business to survive into 2011 and the squad will be hoping for the smallest possible step in the regulations for next year.

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