Welcome to the debut of a new regular feature here on Badger – The Scrutineering Bay. The premise of each edition is very simple. Each week a hot topic will be selected and thrown at four unsuspecting writes here in the Sett, with each participant giving their thoughts and opinions on the matter at hand. Think Question Time, but with actual answers and less stuffiness

This week’s question:

“Who will join the ‘big three’ of Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari in 2011”

Up first, with his choice, is Adam:

Force India are far from an obvious choice to join the big three in 2011, but looking at the team a little closer, I’m sure you’ll see that it’s not really that much of a ridiculous possibility… they really could be a force to be reckoned with – ahem.

Let’s look back a little – where did the team come from? Remember the pundit that is Eddie Jordan on the BBC coverage, well he used to a run a team – it was called Jordan GP and they were in the sport for 15yrs (and had a few wins) before financial issues forced them to sell up. For the next few years the team was called Midland and then Spyker, who collectively scored a point. Until the wonderfully flamboyant and rather flush business chap Vijay Mallaya came along, bought up the team and rebranded them as Force India (you have to admit, it’s a great name).

They burst onto the scene in 2008 and finished with zero points. In 2009 they finished with a slightly less embarrassing 13points and then 68points in 2010 (ok, so on the same scale that would have been 22 – still an improvement).

This steady improvement is promising and all being well, their 4th year in the sport should be even better. Much of their improvement has been down to the switch to Mercedes power and various other McLaren engineering sourced bits and pieces. The 2009 motor was one of the slippiest (aero-wise) of the field, which resulted in an out-of-nowhere run of front-row grid positions in Spa and Monza with a podium too.

Sure, they’ve lost some key engineering folk, but they have plenty of backing and with the inaugural Indian GP this year, you just never know…

All fair points to justify the fact that Force India could challenge the top teams in 2011. Next up is Jimmy, with his choice being one Force India fought with all through 2010:

It’s been a long time since the Williams team was in contention for wins. In fact it’s well over six years since Juan Pablo Montoya took their most recent race victory, triumphing at the season-closing Brazilian GP of 2004, and since that day the Grove-based squad have never looked likely to trouble the big boys.

But this, lest we forget, is no amateur operation. It is in fact a sleeping giant of Formula One, a team that made winning races look easy for much of the eighties and nineties. The potential is undoubtedly there for them to make a return to winning ways.

Williams has more experience than any other in the pitlane. Frank Williams and Patrick Head were winning world titles whilst Christian Horner was still in primary school (seriously) and both men remain as committed to success as ever. Meanwhile Rubens Barrichello is the most experienced driver in Formula One history and make no mistake, he can still win races given the right car. His victories in the 2009 Brawn were superb drives and he’s arguably a better – or should we say happier – driver today than he was back then. Throw in bright young team members like Adam Parr, Sam Michael and Pastor Maldonado (who is, after all GP2 champion) and you’ve got a potent mix of youth and experience.

Added to their human resources Williams are also hoping for a pretty special car in 2011, and have stated that the new racer is developmentally ‘aggressive’, a bold attempt to reposition themselves among F1’s elite. They’ll also benefit from the fact that they are effectively engine supplier Cosworth’s factory team. With Virgin and Hispania still a long way from competing near the front the company know Williams to be their best shot of success.

When I was a lad I got very bored of watching Williams winning everything every season. Now, 13 years after their last title, I think there’d be something brilliantly nostalgic about seeing Sir Frank’s team triumph again. Can it happen? It’s an outside bet, sure, but it’s one a wise gambler may wish to take.

So, will Williams rise again? Only time will tell. Next up is Graham with his thoughts being the return to form of a very recent World Title winning team:

Never one to shy away from the obvious, my selection for the fourth team who will be playing with the big boys this season is Mercedes GP, and the main reason for this choice is Nico Rosberg (or Princess Nico to some). At the start of last season it was widely considered that Rosberg was going to be the number two driver in the team, however the numbers tell a different story. Rosberg finished ahead of Schumacher 14 times, both in qualifying and in the races. Over the course of the season Rosberg was on the podium three times, and that was in a car that was clearly not competitive.

Which brings us on to the second reason for choosing Mercedes GP: because they were never really in the running last season, they have not been distracted from producing this year’s car, in the same way that the success of the Brawn Era (can one year be an era?) inevitably interfered with last year’s MGP W01. If we couple that with the shake-up of the rule changes, with movable rear wings and the reintroduction of KERS then I would be surprised if Ross Brawn’s team didn’t come up with something a little special for this season. Maybe not as special as the BGP 001, but then last year’s wasn’t as bad as the Honda RA108.

Finally, there’s Schumacher. I know he didn’t exactly set the grid on fire last year, but he did show a steady improvement over the second half of the season and if we add in the fact he hasn’t had the last three seasons off this time, he should do a much better job as second driver this year.

Can Michael Schumacher return to the pinnacle of motorsport in 2011? Most probably, but only if Mercedes and Ross Brawn can provide him with the chariot to do it, it seems. Lastly, and by no means least, is my pick:

Renault were the most improved team of 2010 and I highly expect them to be right at the front in 2011. The way the winter has shaped them means I’ll quite gladly wager cash on the matter. Yep, even with Vitaly Petrov in the team.

Let’s look at the facts; in 2010 Renault matched Red Bull and McLaren step-by-step in the development race. Every time a new innovation was thought of, Renault had their interpretation of said development in place quite rapidly. From the F-Duct to the blown floor/diffuser concept, they had it covered. That same team also started the 2011 car early in comparison to previous seasons, so the signs are positive.

In Robert Kubica, they had the season’s most exciting driver. He scored three podiums, being one of the two drivers outside the top three teams to achieve that (the other being Nico Rosberg). But, his performances at the true drivers circuits of Monaco, Spa and Suzuka were the most impressive, especially the masterful qualifying lap that nailed a front row start at Monte Carlo. Find it on YouTube, it’s epic.

And then there’s the Lotus investment. There were rumblings that the team had been looking for a loan from Bernie to survive, but their knight in shining armour turned out to be Group Lotus and Proton securing 25% of the team. Never mind the politics on which is the real Lotus, and the fact that a team with French DNA has been bought out by Malaysians (and relies on Russian sponsors), the important thing is that whatever guise the team takes it’s full of promise and keeps Badger’s 2010 ‘Top Dog’, Bobby K at the sharp end of the grid.

So, there we have it. One question leading to four completely separate answers, all with strong evidence to back their points up. With only a few weeks to go before the covers come off their 2011 challengers, only time will tell who will be mixing it with last years title contenders – over to you Badger readers, who are you putting forward to join the big three in 2011?