Unfortunately my top five is a bit predictable, but here we go nonetheless.
5. Sauber F1 Team
Sauber actually had a worryingly variable season. The start of the season was very promising, with Kamui Kobayashi stringing together seven consecutive impressive points finishes (although the first of these ended in disqualification). The Saubers were noted for being particularly kind on tyres, in a season when tyre management was so crucial thanks to the entrance of Pirelli and their high degradation tyres.
The turning point came halfway through the season when Sauber made a decision not to pursue the exhaust blown diffuser at a point when it seemed as though the FIA was going to ban the device. Points finishes were still possible, but usually in 9th or 10th rather than 5th or 7th.
Exhaust blown diffusers will be banned for 2012, which hopefully bodes well for Sauber’s chances next year.
4. Mercedes GP
A year of consolidation for Mercedes. This is a team that is definitely still punching below its weight. On occasion Mercedes will be beaten by, say, a Renault or a Force India. But at the same time, they are also capable of putting up a bit of a fight against one of the Ferrari drivers at least. In other words, Mercedes are firmly the 4th best team in F1.
Mercedes will want more, and its drivers will demand more. They should have the resources to achieve their goals. But there is a danger that the team could also succumb to a Honda-style implosion — something the Brackley-based team knows all about. There are so many big names on the technical side that it’s tempting to wonder if too many cooks spoil the broth.
3. Scuderia Ferrari
Another disappointing year for Ferrari, who expect more than one solitary victory even in the worst of seasons. It gets worse when you consider that the one win, at Silverstone, came with a temporary rule change on engine mapping, which was rescinded at the next race. So basically, to the 2011 regulations as they were for almost the whole season, Ferrari had a car that was not capable of winning a race.
Worse still, the car seemed to get worse as the season went on. The flexible front wing suggested that Ferrari were perhaps turning to desperate measures in their attempt to carve some extra speed out of the car. Both Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso seemed to struggle to keep the car under control at stages towards the end of the season.
If there’s one thing that bodes well for Ferrari, it’s that exhaust blown diffusers will be banned in 2012. Given the encouraging result at Silverstone, Ferrari could be best placed to design a car to the new regulations.
Yet another ‘almost’ year for McLaren. Once again McLaren designed a car that was poor out of the box — a worryingly consistent trend. But, as usual, McLaren developed the car superbly to the point where it was capable of winning races.
But McLaren need to get out of this rut. It is an incredible 13 seasons since they last won a Constructors’ Championship. Being 2nd every year is not good enough, and it might even be preferable to perform like Ferrari, who are sometimes 3rd but sometimes 1st.
1. Red Bull Racing
It goes without saying that Red Bull Racing were the strongest team in 2011. They weren’t as dominant as some teams have been in the past. Mark Webber was not always up there. How much of that is down to the car, Vettel’s excellence, or Webber being off-colour, is not easy to know.
But the fact is that every race weekend the expectation is that Red Bull are the most likely team to win. And on almost every occasion, they met up to that expectation.
Not bad for a soft drinks company.