Rubens Barrichello, Pastor Maldonado
Kamui Kobayashi, Sergio Perez
Force India VJM04
Adrian Sutil, Paul di Resta
Team Lotus T128
Jarno Trulli, Heikki Kovalainen
With the resource restriction agreement taking full effect this year, medium-sized teams such as Williams and Sauber should be entering an era in which they can compete on more level terms. But perhaps it's still a year early for that – again because of the resources deployed upon the top teams' 2011 cars, before the latest rounds of cuts had to be made.
Williams and Sauber are of a similar size, Force India somewhat smaller, Team Lotus smaller again but building. Williams had a less certain development path than Sauber last year, starting well in front, ending roughly on a par. The combination of the great facilities at Hinwil left behind by BMW and the recruitment of the very capable James Key as technical director saw Sauber make greater strides from the beginning of the season to the end than any other F1 team. It now has the underwriting of the giant Mexican Telmex group and a solid core to build upon.
In Kamui Kobayashi it has a try-hard charger but the Japanese sophomore is now the most experienced driver on the squad! Backed up by GP2 graduate Sergio Perez, it's not impossible the team could end up being taken down the wrong development path by its drivers.
By contrast, Rubens Barrichello, who holds the record for Formula 1 starts (303) underlined last year how the driver can still contribute greatly in this area. His convincing of the Cosworth engineers about the type of targets being chased in the wind tunnel – driveability more than peak power – brought about a notable turnaround in performance midseason. He stays on board and is hopeful that the FW33 is an aggressive leap forward. Just how aggressive we'll probably only see when the Red Bull RB7 shows its paces.
Force India has performed very respectably for the last two seasons. In fighting with Williams and Sauber last year, it was punching above its weight. But can such momentum be continued with the loss of several key engineering staff? In Paul di Resta, Formula 1 has its most exciting rookie since Vettel and Hamilton arrived. Adrian Sutil may need to step up his game, to get more consistent access to his considerable talent.
Some of those Force India defections have been to Team Lotus, emphasizing the way the “new team” is expanding. There are no budget worries here; it's more a question of growing the team organically. The easiest leap should be from the very basic car of last year – conceived just to ensure the team made the grid in time and finished races – and this. A Red Bull rear end – including Renault engine! – coupled with a basic car that in its first wind tunnel test was already delivering more downforce than the twin diffuser 2010 car suggests Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen should be in the mid-grid.