2010 was by far one of the best seasons in history for the FiA Formula 1 circuit. The season finale that seen four drivers with a chance at lifting the the trophy and a boy emerging as THE man to beat in F1. Michael Schumacher returned after three year absence to drive for Ross Brawn and Mercedes GP. While the results were not pleasant to look at, his participation in the championship was rewarding enough. 2010 also seen a host of new teams arrive on the grid. Finally Max Mosley’s vision of more privateer efforts had come to fruition, and like seemingly all things Mosley did in his reign as head of the FiA; it was terrible. Lotus, Virgin, and HRT would struggle to stay within 6 seconds of the lead pace. Now we turn our attention to 2011. A new season with new rules and a new man with a target on his back.
The 2011 season has already started off rocky for Formula 1. It is of course not of their doing, but none the less it has not started off like we had all hoped for. The events in Bahrain are truly tragic and there is no reason a motor race should take place. So we move on to Australia which in seasons past has served as the opening round on the F1 calendar.
Instead of the Bridgestone tires, we have Pirelli. Pre-season tire testing data would indicate that the tires can not last long at all. The degradation rate is rapid and with it huge chunks of rubber will now litter the track. McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton has even gone as far as to say the tires have made F1 slower. He cites the fact that you have to run more gingerly around the track to preserve the tire life. Which means heavy outbraking maneuvers may be limited, and with it over taking as a whole. The problem is not only degradation issues, but also balancing issues. The tires appear to drastically change handling conditions within a handful of laps. Pirelli argues that the FiA wanted this style of tire to promote two or more pit stops during a race. Both Bernie and Pirelli seem to have met in the middle with this crazy idea to make a wet track via artificial means. While that is not going happen at least for 2011, it shows a certain level of “oh crap” amongst the higher powers that be.
With the new tires we also get the return of the kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) and introduction of a movable rear wing. I have went on the record as saying I hate both of these. In fact, a couple episodes back on our podcast we came up with better ideas (self perceived). First we will talk KERS. The original 2009 idea of KERS was a joke. Kimi Raikkonen literally had to leap from his car to avoid being cooked. A BMW mechanic was thrown off his feet when the system malfunctioned and he was the first unlucky soul to touch the car. The KERS we will see in 2011 will remain very similar to those of 2009. The biggest issue is now finding room for the massive battery packs in the car. Before, teams could have small fuel tanks and fit the packs in relatively easy. This year however, we have no refueling and a lot less room in the car for these massive batteries. While introduced to promote overtaking, we saw how these devices were used more for a defensive role as opposed to their original offensive.
Also introduced this year is the movable rear wing. Gone are the crazy F-duct system originally championed by McLaren and excepted by the rest of the grid. The new rear wing is an electronic devise in the cockpit that can be used at all times during free practice and the three qualifying sessions. During the race however, the driver using the wing MUST be withing 1 sec. of the car which he is attempting to overtake. Any other time, the wing is deactivated. Also, the wing can only be used at previously determined points on the track. The system is also deactivated when the driver gets on the brakes to into the corner. Situational awareness will be the name of the game with the new device. There are a number of things the driver must take into account before making the move.
Other changes of mention include the reintroduction of the 107% rule. If a driver is that slow during Q1, he will not be permitted to start the race. This is not all inclusive however. If a driver has a massive moment and falls out, but has set a practice time that the racing stewards view as suitable, then the driver will be permitted to start. Speaking of the stewards, they have been given more power to impose their ridiculous penalties to drivers. This year we will see many more “post” race penalties that alter the outcome of the race. Perhaps Bernie and the FiA could use this to change the results if their overtaking gimmicks fail?
As far as the overall who is going to win or where do the teams stack up? Who knows really? Much like last year, we have a number of teams that are eligible to take home the crown. Red Bull are obviously favorites as defending champion, but Ferrari are set to come back even stronger than last season. Mercedes is my dark horse this year. Schumacher and Rosberg both are very happy with the car and feel they are now set to achieve the results that are expected of the German marquee. Time will tell, but the first round of the championship is upon us! Enjoy and keep it here for results and stories!