Michael Bailey: Pirelli could make the F1 show a treat
PUBLISHED: 18:20 24 March 2011 | UPDATED: 16:51 25 March 2011
It may be three weeks late but we got there in the end - the spectacular, global circus that is Formula One is ready to roll.
Good winter, bad winter
GW – Red Bull: The RB7 looks streets ahead. Will anyone be able to stop them this season?
GW – Paul di Resta: The Brit’s patience has paid off with a seat at Force India.
BW – Robert Kubica: Horror injuries from his rally crash turned him from 2011 contender to man on the Renault sidelines.
BW – McLaren: Brave new car, but poor reliability in testing has Lewis, Jenson et al a bit worried.
• Quote of the winter – Martin Brundle
“It shouldn’t be the push of a button that decides the result of a grand prix”
However, whether it is ready to match the memorable campaign we saw last year is another matter.
Once again those in charge – namely Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt – have decided that, despite F1 not being broke, it’s worth having a go at fixing it.
That means another raft of rule changes and technological introductions, taking us from 2010’s classic to the prospect of 2011 being the most unpredictable we have seen.
It’s a fine line the FIA are treading, trying to increase overtaking while maintaining its credibility. The integrity of the sport rests on how things pan out from the opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, which we can all watch over here in the early hours of Sunday morning.
So it seems a good idea to summarise what we will all be keeping an eye out for when the cars are fired up in anger for the first time this weekend.
• Gismos – lots of new ones. Kenetic recovery systems, or Kers, are back. Put simply, they store heat from when the driver brakes and turn it into a power boost when the driver presses a button on his steering wheel.
The other introduction to help increase overtaking is the moveable rear wing on each car. Only a driver within one second of the car he is chasing coming onto a main straight will be allowed to use the device, which should help him overtake.
Kers was in F1 two years ago, but the new wing is a complete unknown – although the FIA has enough scope to tweak things to make it work, even if there are teething problems.
• Tyres – Pirelli are the new boys after Bridgestone left the sport this winter and they have a special remit: make the tyres ‘rubbish’ so the team’s have to change them more…
OK, that is a little harsh. But what Pirelli has seemingly done to great effect is create tyres that wear quickly and go from being fast to slow in a very short space of time. It will mean up to four pit stops per race, the return of proper tyre strategies and drivers having to learn when to stop – or risk losing seconds every lap.
Jenson Button – known for looking after his tyres – should be licking his McLaren lips.
• Rookies – there is the potential for a new British (or Scottish, if you like) hero in Paul di Resta, who has a seat at Force India. The youngster beat Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel in their junior formula days – so there is already plenty of expectation on Di Resta’s shoulders for 2011. Then there are the GP2 graduates, with champion Pastor Maldonado and Sergio Perez likely to make an impact – what sort of impact is the big question.
• Hispania – somehow HRT have managed to avoid running their new car at any of the pre-season tests.
So actually seeing the new F111 on track will be something.
• It remains to be seen whether this will be the longest F1 season. Civil unrest postponed race one in Bahrain, and while Bernie still has 40m reasons to get the race on, F1 is irrelevant when a country’s leadership and people are trying to figure out their democratic standpoint. The grid doesn’t really fancy squeezing Bahrain back into an already packed calendar, so common sense should see a first visit to India match last season’s 19 races rather than overtake them.
And ironically, with so many changes for 2011, all we are really hoping for is a season as exciting and spectacular as the last.
• It may be a global enterprise, Formula One, but the sleepy Norfolk village of Hingham is going to play its part again.
Home of Team Lotus (inset), last year’s new boys – then named Lotus Racing – are desperate to be fighting alongside the likes of Sauber, Toro Rosso and Force India in their second season back on the grid.
And while it may only be the opening race this weekend in Melbourne, it could be the perfect chance to score that first point for the Hingham factory.
Most of the teams on the grid in Australia are going to be hoping their new cars and complex Kers systems hold it together – and some are bound not to.
Then there is the circuit itself. Last year’s race was fantastic and with an unpredictable weather forecast for the weekend Down Under – plus a big question mark over how the new Pirelli tyres will perform in their first race – and there are plenty of elements to help bring a shock.
Probably just as unpredictable is the current High Court battle betweeen Team Lotus and Hethel-backed Lotus Renault.
Car manufacturer Group Lotus now sponsors the former French team, who operate out of the Oxfordshire village of Enstone – so not as strong a Norfolk connection to their Hingham namesake, but strong enough to keep people in these parts curious of their progress.
The trial started on Monday and is scheduled to last 10 days – after which it will hopefully become clear whether one, both or neither of the teams can carry on using the Lotus name in F1. It’s such a sorry state of affairs that it had to come to this. It needs to be sorted once and for all – here’s hoping that is the case come April.
• Where would be the fun in looking forward to the new season and not making a few predictions?
So here we go – and you are all free to bring them up in November, when they will almost certainly have proven ridiculous.
Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber seem to have put last season’s differences behind them, but given the former has signed a contract extension and Webber is in the final year of his Red Bull deal, there is plenty of scope for the spark to reignite in 2011.
The rest of the field may have been brought closer together, but Vettel – another year wiser – is in with a serious shout of becoming only the ninth driver ever to successfully defend his title.
Team Lotus will pick up their first points since rejoining the grid but Lotus Renault will be some way up ahead, while Sauber’s Sergio Perez will surprise everyone in his debut season – unlike Pastor Maldonado, who may well occasionally find the wall in his Williams.