A new Formula One season is upon us once again and with new drivers plus new rules joining a 19-race calendar, this year’s world championship is likely to be the most unpredictable and exciting in the past six decades of the sport.
Entertaining the worldwide fans and creating a greener message are now the main focus set by the sport’s governing body (the FIA) and with that an adjustable rear wing has been adopted to aid overtaking, plus KERS making a return, last seen in the 2009 season.
The new season will see the return of the 107 per cent rule in qualifying. Under this arrangement, any driver who fails to set a time within 107 per cent of the fastest lap in Q1 (the rule won’t apply in Q2 and Q3) will not be permitted to take part in the race. For example, if the fastest lap is one minute, 40 seconds, a driver must set a time faster than one minute, 47 seconds in order to make it to the grid.
The sport’s governing body has increased the maximum allowable penalty which racing stewards can issue to teams from $100,000 to $250,000, following the controversy over the 2010 German Grand Prix in which Ferrari were fined one hundred thousand US Dollars for the use of team orders.
Following the final race of the 2010 season, the FIA president Jean Todt revealed his stance on the use of team orders, promising regulation of the practice rather than allowing them outright.
Todt disclosed that while team orders would not be banned, any team using coded instructions would be prosecuted as such messages would be used to deceive spectators and would require teams and drivers to lie to stewards in order to substantiate the claims made in the message. Case in point, that infamous message between race engineer Rob Smedley and racing driver Felipe Massa.
After a decade of running Bridgestone tyres, Pirelli becomes the new sole tyre supplier for the 2011 season. To prevent individual teams with an unfair advantage running the new tyre, the twelve teams has agreed to share out all tyre information. In addition, the cars will have a mandatory weight distribution, reported to be a ratio of 46:54, to provide Pirelli with a technical specification, and preventing teams making changes to the internal configuration of their chassis, namely moveable weight ballast.
During the first test session of the season in Valencia, several drivers reported that they experienced degradation (excessive tyre wear) when using the Pirellis, with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton suggesting that more than one tyre stop would be necessary in the races. In that proves true, the expect a better racing spectacle with extra pit stops.
Several technical rule changes have been introduced for 2011, including the following:
- The drivers will have to be better in managing the tyre usage during a Grand Prix weekend, as the number of dry-weather tyres per race has been reduced from 14 to 11 sets. That’s six sets of the hard ‘prime’ tyre and five sets of the soft ‘option’.
- In addition, Pirelli has adopted a colour system to distinguish the six different types of tyre used this season. Each tyre will carry its own colouring on the Pirelli and PZero logos affixed to the sidewall. The six colours are as follows: Wet – orange; Intermediate – light blue; Super-soft – red; Soft – yellow; Medium – white; Hard – silver.
- The maximum height of the diffuser will be cut from 175 millimetres to 125 millimetres and the double diffuser designs – introduced in the 2009 season – will be excluded.
- Also banned are double exhaust-blown diffusers, which use exhaust gases re-routed over the diffuser to increase downforce, although single blown diffusers are still allowed.
- McLaren’s clever ‘F-duct’ system, which other teams copied, has been outlawed, as the aero system relying on drivers blocking a gap in the cockpit was judged unsafe.
- An adjustable rear wing system was confirmed as an addition to the 2011 regulations, designed to aid overtaking as a substitute for the F-duct system. The wing can be adjusted from a minimum of 15 mm to a maximum opening of 50 mm.
In a similar system to the KERS regulator used in 2009, the adjustable rear wing would only be available under certain conditions; specifically, drivers will only be able to use it when they are within one second of the car in front, but it would not be usable within the first two laps of a race except in the case of an early safety car.
Furthermore, the drivers will only be able to use the adjustable wing (officially known as the Drag Reduction System) on a designated area of the circuit, to be decided by race director Charlie Whiting. The system is expected to offer drivers an additional 15 km/h (9.3 mph) when passing, and will deactivate when the driver first touches the brakes after using the adjustable rear wing.
In order to illustrate the effect of the Drag Reduction System to television viewers and trackside fans, all circuits will have special track markings in a designated area. This will be the only place where the Drag Reduction System can be used. This designated overtaking zone will encompass the final six hundred metres of a circuit’s main straight, with the circuit markings designed to show the difference between the cars when they are one second apart.
If the racing becomes too artificial following this new concept – and to be honest the drivers and fans have reacted quite negatively on the Drag Reduction System – then it could be dropped.
The number of wheel tethers – the load-bearing cables connecting the wheel hubs to the bodywork – will be doubled for 2011, in response to an increasing number of accidents where wheels have been torn free of their mountings.
Several smaller aerodynamic devices introduced last season have also been banned, including shark fins – an additional fin attached to the engine cowling – that connect to the rear wing, the bladed roll bar structure pioneered by Mercedes GP to decrease the obstruction of air to the rear wing, aerodynamic wheel spokes, flexible front splitters designed to lower front ride height, and modifications to the monocoque that create a V-shaped channel running the length of the car’s nose.
KERS units will be optional for all teams, after not being utilised in 2010 following a team agreement banning the devices. Although a proposal by Flybrid Systems to provide mandatory units to the entire grid was not approved, to encourage all teams to run the system the minimum weight of the car will increase from 620 kilograms to 640 kilograms, compensating for the extra weight required.
The gearbox must now last for five Grands Prix instead of four. Drivers will have one additional gearbox that may be changed without penalty for the purposes of completing an event.
The FIA has tightened its driving standards, moving to prevent overly-aggressive driving and going beyond the boundaries of the circuit to gain an advantage by implementing stricter penalties.
Last season’s points system remains with the winner awarded 25 points, 18 for second, with third receiving 15, 12 for fourth and then ten, eight, six, four, two, and one for tenth place.
And finally, Formula One Management has announced that all Grands Prix will be broadcast in native high definition format this year. It will make a very big difference in the viewing experience, as the images will look sharper and more dynamic.
In terms of the drivers taking part this season, it will be fascinating to see new world champion Sebastian Vettel defending his title honours against a strong field of driving talent with the likes of Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Mark Webber.
The 2011 season will also see new rookie drivers from the GP2 series with Jérôme d’Ambrosio, Pastor Maldonado and Sergio Pérez making their debuts for Virgin Racing, Williams and Sauber respectively. DTM champion Paul di Resta will have his chance as a racing driver for Force India, after demonstrating his impressive form during Friday practice sessions last year. And making his welcome to Formula One after six years away, Narain Karthikeyan will drive for Hispania. The last time Narain competed was the Chinese Grand Prix for Jordan in 2005.
As for the teams, there will be four Lotuses powered by Renault engines on the grid this season. Why the confusion? Lotus Racing team principal Tony Fernandes purchased the rights to the Team Lotus name from David Hunt, with the intention of renaming the team to reflect its historical counterpart this year.
But the use of the Team Lotus name led to a naming dispute with Lotus Cars. Last December, Lotus Cars announced a partnership with Renault F1 that saw the British sports car manufacturer become title sponsor, with a view to taking full control over the next few years.
Confusion over the exact status over ownership of the team led team principal Eric Boullier to clarify that Genii Capital has full ownership of the team, with former owners Renault retreating to a position as engine supplier. Tony Fernandes’s team also uses Renault engines, after terminated their three-year contract with engine supplier Cosworth.
At least BMW Sauber has revert back to the name Sauber this season. The team was forced to retain the BMW naming last year due to issues involving television rights money that would not have been paid had the team changed their name.
Right, lets turn our attention to the runners and riders this season. Starting off with the new champions, Red Bull Racing.
After winning the championship in dramatic fashion in 2010, new world champion Sebastian Vettel will have the unique opportunity to defend his title honour with the energy drink-backed team. Last season’s RB6 was the fastest car on the grid and to continue that impressive form the new RB7 – as designed by the creative genius of Adrian Newey – hopes it can lead to another championship triumph this season.
The driving line-up of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber is immensely strong with neither giving way, as we saw in Istanbul and Silverstone last season… Despite that inner-team rivalry, the competitive nature of the pair will lead Red Bull Racing to even greater success, hopefully in not crash into one another! In Vettel’s case, he wants to translate his superb pole position form into race wins without throwing it all away. While team-mate Webber is hoping to cast aside his late season disappointment (not help by his secret shoulder injury) with a fresh approach to the 2011 season.
Leading the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes this season are the two recent British Formula One world champions, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. The pair hopes that the new radical MP4-26 will challenge the likes of Red Bull Racing and Ferrari for race victories. But in testing so far, the new car seem to have reliability issues meaning less development time on track for the drivers. In addition, the drivers have expressed concern about the car’s lack of downforce… This is a major issue as back in 2009, the McLaren MP4-24 also suffered with a lack of downforce and it took the team all season to resolve the aero problems that ultimately cost them the championship. Both Lewis and Jenson hope the team can focus all its resources in making the car competitive and reliable, or run the risk of facing a frustrating season.
Following the disappointing in not winning the drivers’ title in the season finale at Abu Dhabi – blaming the team’s pit strategy decision – this season’s main objective for Scuderia Ferrari is winning the world championship. The new Ferrari 150° Italia certainly has the potential to deliver the result for the Maranello-based outfit during pre-season testing after setting some fastest laps in Valencia. Double world champion Fernando Alonso is determined to lead Ferrari back to championship glory and now that he has settle quite comfortably within the team, the Spaniard can lead the Scuderia in the fight for title honours against Red Bull Racing and McLaren this season. As for Felipe Massa, the Brazilian will want to step away from his team-mate’s shadow and recover from his difficult season. Not to mention that infamous team orders at Hockenheim. Hopefully Felipe will do a better job in 2011 thanks to the new Pirelli tyres.
After a difficult maiden season for Mercedes GP since taking over Ross Brawn’s championship-winning Brawn GP, the team hopes that the new MGP-W02 can deliver a better result for Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg. The seven-time world champion struggled with last season’s MGP-W01 complaining of understeer, no thanks to the Bridgestone tyre characteristics. Hopefully the change to Pirelli for 2011 will mean Schumacher can rediscover his driving style on being on a knife-edge with a ‘pointy’ car that he can fight for championship points. As for Rosberg, he is still seeking that elusive maiden victory in Formula One. He has the skill, talent and desire but can the new Silver Arrows provide Rosberg what he needs to take that first step on the podium? Well, judging by the initial lap times in pre-season testing, the new MGP-W02 was damn slow. Around 1.5 to two seconds slower compared to the pace setters… But thanks to Ross Brawn and the dedicated team at Brackley, the new upgrades introduced in the final pre-season testing at Barcelona which feature a new diffuser, exhaust layout, wings and bodywork has transformed the MGP-W02 into a serious title contender. In fact, the improved performance meant Michael Schumacher was able to set the fastest time in the upgraded W02 at the Circuit de Catalunya. But despite this impressive upturn in pace, Mercedes will face a difficult challenge this season compared to race favourites Red Bull Racing and Ferrari.
With a striking retro livery and a joint partnership with Lotus Cars, the Renault F1 team is targeting a stronger result in this season’s championship with the R31. An unique front exhaust system seems revolutionary when considering the ban of the double diffuser and the strict aero regulations. It will be fascinating whether rival teams will adapt this concept of generating more downforce at the front of the car.
As for the drivers, Renault had a dilemma regarding Robert Kubica’s rally crash. Before the incident, the speed of the R31 during testing and Robert’s desire to lead Renault back to victory looked promising, but the team’s hopes in achieving a good result in 2011 were dashed when the Polish driver was seriously injured in the Ronde di Andora rally. Robert suffered partial amputation of his forearm, compound fractures to his right elbow, shoulder and leg, as well as significant loss of blood… After undergoing three successful operations, the doctors were able to repair the fractures without complications. And yet it seems Robert Kubica will miss out the whole of the 2011 season. So Renault faced a problem. It needed a new number one driver to lead the team. Well, step forward ‘Quick Nick’. After setting the fastest time in a Barcelona test and impressive the team with his technical feedback, Renault announced that Nick Heidfeld will be the new lead driver. This is a good decision as the German can provide detailed set-up analysis thanks to his vast racing experience. And what about Vitaly Petrov? The Russian has been given a second opportunity to prove his worth as a Renault F1 driver despite the many crashes last season. Petrov will learn from his mistakes and will hope to impress the team with better results this year.
That elusive 114th race victory still remains out of reach for Williams. The line-up of Pastor Maldonado and Rubens Barrichello mixes youth and experience but will the driving talent reward that much needed success for the British-based team? Rubens Barrichello’s technical knowledge is a major asset to Williams in making the FW33 more competitive. As for his young team-mate Pastor Maldonado, this will be steep learning curve for the 2010 GP2 champion. The new FW33 will be powered by Cosworth following the switch from Toyota. While the result of some clever packaging with the gearbox, rear suspension and rear wing mounting points has meant that the back-end of the FW33 is the smallest compared to the rest of the grid. This is a very bold move as it aids better airflow around the rear of the car. Can this small detail make Williams fight for championship points? We will find out soon enough.
After setting some impressive lap times in Friday practice sessions last season, Force India have decided to promote Paul di Resta to the role of racing driver. The 2010 DTM champion will have the unique opportunity to showcase his talent in the VJM-04 and with Adrian Sutil alongside, they will push the team forward to a possible fifth place in the constructors’ championship. Realistically, Force India’s chances are scoring the occasional points and competing against the likes of Scuderia Toro Rosso, Sauber, Team Lotus and Virgin Racing.
With an exciting Japanese driver and a rookie backed by the world’s richest man, Sauber’s next step is the podium. Pre-season testing has reveal that this season’s Sauber C30 looks quite competitive and it may even spring a surprise in this up coming season. In the hands of Kamui Kobayashi, who delighted the fans with his bold (and brave!) overtaking move on Fernando Alonso in Valencia last season, not forgetting his fantastic outbraking manoeuvres into the hairpin at Suzuka, Kobayashi is certainly the right driver to lead the team. As for his new team-mate, Sergio Pérez, the Mexican driver faces a difficult learning curve following his GP2 victories last season. But with the backing from Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man and money from sponsor Telmex, he hopes the Sauber team will provide him the confidence when competing in his maiden season in Formula One.
With no technical guidance from Red Bull Technologies, the team formerly known as Minardi must push ahead with its own development to achieve results. In the case of Scuderia Toro Rosso, the Red Bull junior team has created the new STR6 in a bid to improve its racing performance. The line-up of Sébastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari remains unchanged and with the pair having gained two season’s worth of experience underneath their belts, Buemi and Alguersuari’s targets will be leading the team and challenging the others for championship points.
Okay, the on-going battle over the use of the Lotus name has become a real complicated issue that only the court can decide, but it shouldn’t distract the main focus for Tony Fernandes’s outfit on improving its competitiveness. The Mike Gascoyne-designed T128 looks more aggressive compared to the boxy T127 from last season. The 1960s-based livery works well, but initially the team wanted the black and gold theme, until Group Lotus had other ideas… The driver pairing remains unchanged with Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen eager to race in a much competitive car. Realistically, the best Team Lotus could hope for is racing midfield and fighting for the occasional championship points.
A stream of pay drivers and an off-the-pace car made for a tricky debut in 2010. Can Hispania do any better this year? Well, in the hands of Vitantonio Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan, who makes his Formula One return after five years away, it seems HRT are heading in the right direction by opting for experienced race drivers. But can the new F111 fight for points? That’s difficult to say as the lack of testing and preparation could hamper HRT in 2011. In addition, the new 107 per cent qualifying rule could mean that HRT might not even take part in the Grand Prix due to lack of pace… We shall see if Hispania could prove the doubters wrong with an improved car this season.
Following the theme of the last year’s car, which was designed entirely using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulation technology, as opposed to the traditional method of using a windtunnel, the new MVR-02 hopes to improve the team’s performance when competing against Team Lotus and Hispania. Following the Russian sports car manufacturer Marussia taking a significant controlling stake in the outfit late last year, the team will race this season as Marussia Virgin Racing. Leading the team to better success is Timo Glock, who has the experience and technical knowledge to push Marussia Virgin Racing forward. Alongside will be Jérôme d’Ambrosio. The young Belgian made an impression to the team during selected Friday test sessions in 2010 and as a reward for his efforts, the team promoted Jérôme to a race drive, replacing Lucas di Grassi in the process.
So that’s the grid. In terms of the circuits, for the next nine months the Formula One circus will be travelling around the world with the opening round of the championship taking place in Albert Park, Australia on March 27. The season-opener was meant to be the Bahrain Grand Prix, but the race organisations decided to call off the event due to anti-government protests in the country. It is unclear whether the race will be rescheduled. The Nurburgring will host this year’s German Grand Prix, while the Indian Grand Prix is a new addition to the 19-race calendar. The final race of the season will be held at the popular Sao Paulo circuit.
The excellent BBC coverage has been enhanced further with a change to the commentary team to both the television and radio shows. Following harsh criticisms on Jonathan Legard‘s style of commentary during the racing action in which he made mistakes and use of cliché catchphrases, BBC Sport have taken a gamble in promoting ex-Formula One racer and established broadcasting presenter Martin Brundle as the main commentator for BBC1. Joining him will be his old-pal David Coulthard. It will be fascinating how the pair will get on explaining the on-track action this season.
As for Radio 5 Live, the excellent David Croft and Anthony Davidson double-act will remain but will join by a new pit-lane reporter Natalie Pinkham. The previous pit-lane reporter Holly Samos left in 2010 to spend more time with her family. It’s going to be interesting how Natalie will fit in with Crofty and Little Ant.
And yet the biggest news is High Definition. Finally, Bernie Ecclestone and FOM have seen the bigger picture and have adopted the HD format for this year’s Formula One World Championship.
The popular red button coverage will continue and all the sessions will be broadcasted live. The familiar faces and voices of Jake Humphrey and co will be trackside to bring you the best comprehensive coverage of Formula One to the British audience.
So there you have it. Not long to go before the first race in Melbourne on March 27. It’s going to be one hell of a battle. Bring it on!