So the long winter break is over and all the teams are off to Australia for the first race of the 2011 season of Formula One! After the riots in Bahrain caused the race to be postponed until the latter ends of the season (and possibly absent from the calender entirely) the teams have been able to extend their testing and it means that the inaugural race will be at a circuit far more suited for the season opener: Australia. Ecclestone may be threatening to take the glorious Albert Park circuit away and their government may be wanting to get rid of it too, but you can’t deny the spectacle and the magnificent racing that takes place there every year.
It may be a little late to the party, but below you’ll find a preview of what to potentially look out for in what promises to be the best season of the sport yet!
The New Drivers:
Maldonado- After his recent GP2 triumph Pastor takes the place vacated by Hulkenburg in this year’s Williams F1 team. While he hadn’t exactly set the track on fire during pre-season testing with more than a few spills, with the most experienced driver ever as his team-mate I doubt that it’ll take long for Maldonado to get used to his new surroundings and be challenging for some decent positions. Well, we can hope.
Di Resta- The current DTM champion makes his F1 debut in the increasingly-awesome Force India team. This isn’t his first shot at a drive; he’d previously tested for McLaren F1 and was a potential choice for Force India in 2009 before become the reserve driver in 2010. Hulkenburg becomes the new reserve driver for Force India while Di Resta gets his dues, and his hype was running so hot even David Coulthard had to step in and cool it down. However, there must be hype for a reason, and Di Resta looks to be the driver who can help Sutil and the team cement a constructor’s place over Williams this year.
Perez- Taking Heidfeld’s vacant seat at Sauber, last year’s GP2 runner-up is tipped to do some awesome stuff with Sauber this year. Remember, Kobayashi only has one season under his belt now and Sauber taking the risk with an inexperienced line-up means that they believe the inexperience is worth the potential risk there could be. That’s why Perez may be one to watch out for.
D’Ambrosio- While a reserve driver for Renault last year with their driver’s programme, D’Ambrosio takes to the Virgin F1 car for 2011 after his 12th place in the GP2 championship last year. Replacing the lacklustre Di Grassi means that he’s the newbie with one of the slower teams last year, and with Glock as his team-mate, he may have a lot to live up to and a lot to prove this year.
This year F1 finally makes the move to India in Ecclestone’s quest to expand across the East with another Herman Tilke created track. While there will be more than a few moans at that (myself included) the new circuit actually looks to be a high-speed extravaganza with a planned average speed of 210 kilometres an hour it looks like it might give Monza a run for its money as one of the fastest circuits around. Will it be any good though? Guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Then we have some new rules and the return of some old ones to contend with too. Amongst the returns include the 107% Qualifying Rule (if a driver doesn’t qualify within that boundary they won’t be in the race at all) and the return of team orders to the point that coded messages are banned (as they deceive the viewer and the stewards) and the return of the KERS device allowing drivers to gain extra boost from the energy they gather while braking. Gearboxes now have to last for five races, but all teams get an extra gearbox over the season. The F-Duct and the double-diffuser are now banned, but the cars now have movable rear wings which will provide a short boost of speed, but deactivates when the brakes are touched and can only be activated after being within a second of the car in front for two laps (safety car excepting) or on certain designated parts of the track. Confusing.
I couldn’t be happier.
Now, while I have a lot more to talk about, I thought I’d do something different this time. I approached some of my best friends who are also F1 fanatics and whose opinions on the sport I respect much more than my own, and I asked them a bunch of questions about this year’s potential F1 season. So below you’ll find a bunch of questions we came up with and our answers to them. I thought it’d be a better way to do a preview and means you’re not just listening to my opinions all the time again. Hope you like it ;)
F1 QUESTION TIME!
With the rule changes allowing team orders, do you think it’ll clear up any potential controversy, or is there a worry that the results will become manufactured?
Nick: There is potential for manufactured results as the driver in the ascendancy in the Driver’s Championship will always get the preference. But to be honest I reckon it will. For example, Vettel/Alonso will probably kick Webber’s/Massa’s backside and therefore from about Silverstone will get preferential treatment at any opportunity. While that might help the tension of a potential championship fight it could be seen as massively affecting towards the overall championship.
Lewis: The whole team orders debate has been an issue in motorsport since forever. The problem is that it’s one of those arguments that work both ways. Yes, it makes things unfair, but it also works for the team so they benefit from it. Being a huge fan of the BTCC, a sport that religiously uses team orders, I am all for the idea. BTCC was called the most exciting and competitive motorsports in the world, and if it worked for them… F1 can use it too.
I do like how there is an actual specific rule because it does lay to rest the debate, which was the problem because last year it did seem a bit vague. In terms of the individual team members, team orders will make it extremely interesting; especially if the two team mates are closely matched in terms of races and the championship. I personally look forward to it.
Edward: I think it’s all dependant on the teams and the situations. Think about it; no one is going to particularly care if one of the lower teams in the pecking order decides to do it, but it’s going to come down to situations like Germany last year and with Red Bull to boot. We know Ferrari actively favour drivers and are more keen to push one into the spotlight so I don’t think we care so much as long as they don’t ruin the race with it like they did last year. What’ll be the more interesting event to watch is a Webber/Vettel or a Hamilton/Button situation, with one driver needing the position over another and both teams desperate not to so obviously pick favourites, what happens then? One of the major elements of F1 is the strategy after all, and there’ll be make-or-break situations which rely on this rule whether we’d like to think it or not.
What do we think of the new Pirelli tyres? How much more exciting do you think they’re going to make the sport?
Nick: The Pirelli’s degrade like a bugger, that much is clear. The pit stops will make the racing more interesting as there will be multiple pit stops (like in Canada in 2010), but there is one thing that gets me about this. Bridgestone are the only tire company to get the intermediate tire right… Anyone remember how bad Michelin’s were in 02-04? They needed to use the full wets in any situation of drizzle. My only worry is that Pirelli could well ruin (in my view) the best invention in the sport since the V10.
Lewis: Because it will be a whole new change for everyone, I think it will have numerous benefits, especially early on. It will make the playing field a lot more level – they are new for everyone, everyone needs to work at them to get them to work best for them. Having read up about them, their design encourages overtaking so I am definitely all for them – it will definitely make the first half of the season a lot more exciting and if the data about overtaking is true – the entire season will be a lot better
Edward: As much as I did love last year’s season, it’s impossible to deny that way too many of the races descended into the same routine: Top Ten all qualify on the soft tyres, have to start with soft tyres and pit early, but swap onto hard tyres and stay on them for the rest of the race while most the action takes place in the midfield. Canada’s race last year was so exciting and unpredictable that I spent so much time on the edge of my seat I fell off it, and if we get more races like that, or races with some actual strategy then I’ll be more than happy.
Did postponing Bahrain give us a better potential season? Will it come back next year? Or will it come back at all?
Nick: Yes. Not only has it given one race less for engine concerns (and sand concerns) but it also has a better percentage of tracks that can produce exciting races (making it 15 or16 out of 19 as opposed to out of 20).
The future of the race next year and beyond will depend on the political state of the country later on this year, simply because the safety of the people in the country is a hell of a lot more important than if they have a boring motor racing in the country. I can genuinely say that I don’t think that it should come back as the track is crap and there is no atmosphere for race one of the year, which should be all fireworks, tension and ‘FUCK THE RECESSION’ (it helps that Melbourne is hosting it again).
Lewis: Postponing Bahrain was the best thing they could do. By a long, long way. The season will become more exciting and explosive like the good old days. Bahrain is more of a mid season track; it is not competitive or exciting enough for an opener or a closer. I’m sure it will be back as Bernie’s symbol of Eastern dominance.
Edward: I never thought Bahrain should have been an opening track in the first place; it seems to me to be more of a track you’d race on just before or after Turkey for some reason, and totally not an opener. Keep in mind last year that Bahrain and it’s special extended track for the first race of the season were so terrible and boring there was almost a crisis. I’d rather their country be sorted and the safety of their people assured than us having another boring race caused by Bernie’s increasingly nonsensical insistence on expanding F1 to places it’s not needed. Speaking of Bernie…
Bernie’s made some controversial statements of late to the effect that we don’t need green engines, movable rear wings won’t improve overtaking and he’s considering a sprinkler system in future years. Do we agree with his ideas or do we think he’s getting too old to effectively call the shots?
Nick: Bernie is a psychotic old man. The idea of fake rain does have it’s good points: Unpredictability and differences in how drivers will handle it and set up the cars. Again, one thing bothers me with this, and it’s a biggy: While we want to see the drivers pushing the limits in wet conditions and potentially have crashes. But think of it this way: Should this be instated and one of the rookie drivers who has never driven an F1 car in the wet and crashes, injuring his leg or something, Bernie is liable. Simple as. Bernie shut up and bring F1 back into Europe and bring back tracks like Imola & Estoril.
Lewis: Well in some ways I agree with him, but in other ways, he reminds me of a child who wants attention from everyone. He just seems to say and do things with the intention of getting talked about. I wonder if he actually cares that much about it or whether he is just saying so he can get in the papers? He is getting on a bit, and yes I think he needs to go soon, he’s becoming more and more unpopular as time goes on.
Edward: I’ve never liked his bloody medals system because it just complicates results standings and makes things harder to predict by eliminating debate about points. I also think he’s an idiot for turning against Todt for his crime of coming up with ideas to improve F1 and a lot of his other statements, but there is another side to the coin. I actually love the idea of a sprinkler system because you know it’s not actually going to show up in every race, and it’s only going to improve the snoozefest tracks like Hungary and Valencia. I think one of the upcoming tracks should have it as a trial run though, before it’s run out to everyone. Still, Bernie’s old and he’ll be passing the torch to someone completely and utterly unaware of how to properly run the sport soon and we’ll all be begging for him to come back. Well, maybe. On the other hand, we’ll just have to hope he leaves before he kills the sport.
Which of the new teams do we think is going to end up trumps, and do you think they’ll manage to attack the midfield and even scoop up some points? Do we think Hispania can even last until the end of the season?
Nick: The Green Lotus car will be the best of the new teams this year as it was last year. By miles. It has the best gearbox in the field and the Renault engine is more powerful than the Cosworth. If Kovalinen can keep the form he had last season I can see them getting lots of midfield fights and potentially some points in races with particularly high attrition.
HRT are a joke and that is an end of it. They will have enough money to through the season on 2 conditions: 1) Money from sponsorship in India thanks to their new driver (more on him later) and 2) If they qualify. With a car that has had no testing before it hits practice in Melbourne it’s gonna be a mess.
Lewis: Well its not often new teams ever really get anywhere; the only exception is Brawn but the difference there was they had essentially a legend of the sport who had previously worked with arguably one of the most successful F1 teams ever, so they were always going to do well. I do think there isn’t much hope for the new teams. I think there will be a few midfield challenges, but how strong and effective they are I don’t know. It doesn’t help that I think they are coming into an increasingly competitive field so getting their foot in the door as it were may be difficult.
Edward: I’ll actually be disappointed if Lotus aren’t challenging Williams and Force India by the end of the year! They showed great promise and seem like great people, so I hope they do well, even if they do have a driver line-up designed specifically to annoy me. Virgin were pretty much forgotten last year, and I’d probably be more competitive than Hispania if I drove my sister’s Nissan Micra around the tracks instead. If Hispania last by the end of the year then I’ll be genuinely shocked that they’ve managed to make the F1 equivalent of a Reliant Robin kept in the sport.
Webber spurred on a lot of ‘conspiracy theories’ last year (‘Not Bad for a No2 Driver’), do you think we’re going to see the same ones popping up this year, or some entirely new ones?
Nick: Team orders aside the only controversy I can see appearing this season would come from the degrading tires possibly causing more potentially avoidable crashes in hand to hand combat, which won’t really be a controversy it’ll just mean more late nights for the ex-driver stewards (good idea for Jean Todt there).
Lewis: Quite simple really; F1 wouldn’t be F1 without a good old conspiracy theory. All you need are arse-hole drivers (which we definitely have), some risky decisions, and there we go. I could never guess what could come up this year, they get more and more creative every year.
Edward: I feel a bit stupid because I asked this question and I couldn’t answer it myself. I think it’ll mostly come down to team orders spurring rivalries between team-mates that’ll turn sour and cause undue accusations. If anyone gets as bad as Webber last year and Barichello the year before I’ll be counting down the moments until someone decides they’ve had enough and headbutts them.
Any chance of any team creating something that gives them an advantage that’ll later be banned? (See: F-Duct/Double Diffuser)
Nick: Well to be honest from what I’ve seen they’ve all had the same idea with the radical exhaust system. But if there is anything a bit loony coming up I expect it to come from Renault, as it was the most radical looking car is in the first test.
Lewis: I think its highly possible. Especially if there is a car that is surprisingly faster than everyone else. People will find a way to slow it down
Edward: As Nick said, they’re all going with a new exhaust system, but I reckon someone’s going to roll up to the grid later in the year with something that’ll give them a massive boost. I doubt it’ll happen though; most of the new inventions come about at the beginning of the season and give the team a boost for months until the other teams catch up.
Who do you tip to be on top in the early races?
Nick: Melbourne should be close. Ferrari have reliability, Red Bull have pace, McLaren have Hamilton and Button (the best overtakers in F1) even if the car is a ‘Mooseclaren’ (according to my brother). Mercedes are the curve-ball. They have monumental one lap pace and good wet weather pace (and it should be raining in Melbourne) and both Schumacher and Rosberg both have points to prove after a disappointing season in 2010.
Lewis: The early races I honestly think it will be a continuation of last year, unless of course there are some stunners from the midfield who want their turn. McLaren, Red Bull and Ferrari battling for the top few spots I predict.
Edward: I really want to say Mercedes or McLaren. I’d love nothing more than Schumacher winning again or McLaren once again doing the best they can with a dog of a car, but Ferrari and Red Bull have been dangerously quick and it’ll be a shame if Red Bull continue their dominance from last year without much competition.
What were Hispania doing hiring Liuzzi and a driver who has not been in F1 since ’05 and expecting to be faster than Virgin/Lotus?
Nick: I can not tell you why HRT hired Liuzzi and Karthikeyan. I can see Karthikeyan making lots of very useful sponsorship money in India when they get there, but Liuzzi, quite frankly, is a clown. He actually had more offs than Petrov (counting all sessions, not just races) and since Petrov was a rookie with a big of fire in his belly I’d call that inexcusable and really HRT should have either brought Chandok back (good driver and more Indian sponsors) or hired someone like Grosjean that has experience of the tracks and despite not being amazing, a lot better than Liuzzi has been.
Edward: I refuse to like Hispania after they dropped Chandok halfway through the season and then gave both him and Senna a terrible car while selling out the spare seat to the highest bidder. They’re utter embarrassments and their failure will be one I’m already predicting. If the car was as fast as it is visually-pleasing it’d be dangerous.
How will F1 will be dragged into the media with the budget cuts?
Nick: If we are looking at media on a national level it will all depend on how well Hamilton, Button and Di Resta do. If they are doing well then they will want everyone to throw money at them to make sure they win and if they are losing they will think they are wastes of money and start to slag off the sport as a whole (oh wait am I talking about Football players here?..)
Lewis: The UK based teams might have to cut down on staff etc. (I’m not sure where the funding comes from), but the media will try its best to make F1 suffer I’m sure.
Edward: As much as I hate to think we might lose the most amazing coverage of the sport since I started watching back in 1998, I can’t help but understand why they’d want to cut it. Think about it; it’s on at a lot of different times which are hard for casual watchers to keep up with, there’s a lot of stuff the commentators need to remind them of too and the amount of rules and intricacies make it harder for some people to follow the sport. I want it to stay with the BBC, but between overpaid twats being given the kind of money that’d save the economy in order to kick a ball around a field and a bunch of people who essentially risk their health driving around cars at intense speeds for a living, some people seem to prefer the former to the latter. As much as I want to change that, I never could.
Best potential silly-season rumours?
Nick: Hamilton leaving McLaren (No chance in hell, Martin Whitmarsh sucks his dick too much).
Lewis: There will probably be a rumour regarding the relationship between team mates behind closed doors. Lets face it, there will be more sex related rumours; Nazis, orgies… you name it, it will be rumoured.
Edward: I try not to think about silly-season too much because it gets so stupid my brain starts to hurt, but expect a lot of Raikonnen return rumours, potential teams to step in if a certain terrible team have to pull out, comeback rumours and retirement/replacement rumours for anyone who dares to have a bad race, just like always.
Nick: 2 first time winners: Heidfeld and Rosberg, and a podium for Algersuari as the Toro Rosso looks rather fast in race trim. Force India to win at India, because you just know it’s going to be like all Force India’s: Fast in a straight line and decent in high speed bends.
Lewis: Kobayashi victory – starts last and finishes first. Also, a driver getting so pissed off with someone else they physically punch them in the face live on TV (my bets Webber or Barry for that one).
Dramatic tyre failure of most of the field – resulting in a Hispania victory by pure luck.
Edward: I love Lewis and Nick’s predictions, but rather than copy theirs I’ll add a few of my own:
Bernie Ecclestone to retire and put a pet in charge of the F1, or to die doing something outrageous or stupidly ironic. Think the incident where he was mugged in London after slagging off complaints about Brazil’s security by saying anyone who gets mugged is an idiot and then getting mugged a few months later, but even bigger.
Webber, Alonso and Barichello suddenly become likeable personalities who manage to go more than a few races without me wanting to throw them off the Monaco pier with Hispania cars tied to their feet.
Topped off with Legard being so bitter about losing his job that he’ll find a way to hack into every commentary booth and commentate solo during the most boring race of them all, Valencia. The ensuing terrible commentary coupled with an awful, awful race causes the apocalypse to come early and destroy humanity. Or it’ll just be really shit.
So there’s the F1 2011 Season Preview!
Hope you enjoyed :)
I’d like to thank Nick and Lewis for answering my questions and making this all a lot more interesting, too.
For more F1-related wisdom from Nick Alexis-Webbe, check out his blog http://musingsofafro.blogspot.com, which covers F1 in a lot more detail than I do here at Life’s A Game.
Let’s see if 2011 can’t be the best year yet for F1!