F1 2012 Preview: Norfolk battle lines draw between Caterham and Lotus – again
For the first time in recent years, Norfolk’s Formula One fans can keep focus firmly on the track. No court battles, public slanging matches – just a straight track fight, in 2012 between Caterham and Lotus…
Of the Norfolk links, Caterham’s remain strongest. The Hingham outfit, formerly Team Lotus, will be based in Norfolk until a proposed move to Leafield near Silverstone takes place in August’s mid-season break.
Even after the move F1 design and development will still take place on the Hingham site, alongside Caterham’s other engineering plans.
On the track, the goal is a familiar one – but unlike last season, there has been a lack of overblown predictions. Judging by testing and the mood around Hingham, there are hopes Caterham will be mixing it properly with the likes of Williams, certainly on race pace.
The team also has Kers for the first time – meaning if Heikki Kovalainen repeats his ability to push the car up the grid, he will have more of a chance keeping it there.
The arrival of Vitaly Petrov in place of Jarno Trulli will also make an impact, given Trulli’s 2011 came across as a bit of a write off.
Petrov is backed by Russian money – but is better than the term ‘pay driver’ suggests. His pace in testing has made a good impression on those at Hingham – apparently including Kovalainen, who may have a proper rival across the Caterham garage to take on this year.
The team needs its first points – it remains the ultimate goal.
Lotus’ Norfolk connection surrounds their iconic marque – a sponsorship deal that has plenty of things riding on for Hethel.
And the ex-Renault team based at Enstone could spring a surprise this season, if things go well.
The 2007 world champion Kimi Räikkönen is in tow after a break from F1 to race elsewhere, and the Finn is perfectly capable of filling the big hole clearly left by Robert Kubica last season.
A more conventional car design should also see Lotus able to improve the E20 as the races progress, rather than fall away like 2011.
Romain Grosjean gets his second shot at F1 after a short stint with Renault three years ago – another sign of a French F1 renaissance.
Given Räikkönen was fastest in the final test, also completing the most laps, there seem few after-effects from missing out on the second test with an engine mounting issue.
Pipping Mercedes to fourth in the constructors’ championship is the modest public aim – in truth, they may be hoping for more. In the very least, they will be pushing to match the early podiums the team achieved last season.
Räikkönen will make it six former champions on the 2012 grid.
That’s half a dozen drivers who hate losing – more than most. Let battle commence.