LONDON: Launch time has arrived for Formula One fans waiting hungrily for the new season to start in March.
But the fare served up at the teams’ pre-season presentations, starting with Toyota in France on Wednesday, promises to be simpler and less fanciful than the champagne and showing off of previous years.
Belts have been tightened and staff trimmed. Few, other than dominant champions Ferrari, have had much to gloat about in the last 12 months.
Expect a new note of realism to replace the confident predictions that have sometimes led to wry humour as the season unfolds and the pipe-dreams are cruelly pricked.
Last January, Jaguar came out and told the world that the R3 was their first “proper”' F1 car – a boast that backfired as the full extent of its deficiencies became apparent.
The ebullient Eddie Jordan felt a victory for Italian Giancarlo Fisichella was on the cards and spoke also of a bright long-term future with his engine suppliers Honda, since substituted by Ford.
Jordan ended the season sixth with nine points.
Brazilian driver Enrique Bernoldi even saw Arrows, their factory since closed and staff now redundant, taking a big leap up the rankings in 2002.
Ferrari’s success in winning 15 of last year’s 17 races has left nobody with any illusions about the season ahead.
Toyota, putting their TF103 through its paces at Le Castellet on Jan 8, are more likely to talk about consolidation and consistency in their second season than any prospective battles with the big boys.
Jaguar would have been next out, with Jan 13 earmarked for their launch, but the departure of team boss Niki Lauda and more than 70 redundant employees prompted a rethink.
“We feel that it would be grossly insensitive to be investing large amounts of resource and money at this time into a lavish launch,” team spokesman Nav Sidhu said last month.
Jaguar, once one of the biggest spenders when it came to pre-season preening, will now go “virtual” with an Internet launch as the R4 has its first shakedown test in Barcelona on Jan 21.
McLaren, who once booked the Spice Girls to sing at a London launch, do not expect to have their new car ready for action until April and will make do with a revamped 2002 one until then.
Venice, the classical ruins of Taormina in Sicily and Lord’s cricket ground have all been used as backdrops for glitzy launches in the past but glamour is now thin on the ground.
Although Sauber are marking their decade with an “art on ice” presentation at Zurich’s Hallenstadion on Feb 9, intriguingly combining figure skating and their C22 car, the working launch is the most popular option.
British American Racing (BAR) and Williams will both be presenting their cars around test sessions in Barcelona on Jan 14 and 31 respectively.
Renault will run an unliveried car at Le Castellet on Jan 23 after a formal presentation in Switzerland three days earlier.
Jordan say they are planning a “purposeful” launch but, still without a named title sponsor or a second driver, have yet to finalise a date while Ferrari traditionally invite the world to their factory in Maranello.
Like every other team on the grid, they know that the key date is when the talking stops and the racing starts – in Melbourne on March 9. – Reuters