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Why the 2011 Formula One season could be just as good as 2010…

April 19, 2011 1 comment

F1 2010 has been called the greatest season ever

It wasn’t long before some were dubbing it ‘the greatest season ever’. Sixty years on from Formula One’s creation, the sport had perhaps reached its peak. Since Michael Schumacher’s (first) retirement at the end of 2006, Formula One has not looked back, each season more exciting than the last.

2007 and 2008 saw the narrowest of victories for Kimi Räikkönen and Lewis Hamilton respectively. 2009 saw the triumphant survival of a team so close to collapse. Brawn GP won both drivers and constructors titles in its first and last season. Not to mention ‘the drinks company’ from Austria finally proving their worth. But yet again F1 just kept getting better.

Five fast men in five fast cars in conjunction with new rules and regulations sculpted a truly fascinating and thrilling season, all played out in front of a global audience of millions. But does the 2011 season stand a chance of living up to the hype and expectation created by such a sporting spectacle?

Pre-season testing may suggest a rather less competitive season than last. Red Bull’s RB7 looked ominously quick at every test and many expect the world champions to dominate again. However Ferrari were not far behind and they will certainly be pumped up following the strategic errors that left them empty handed after the last Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi.

Mercedes also now appear to be on the Austrian marque’s tail after upgrades to the stuttering MGP W02 lifted Michael Schumacher to the top of time sheets on the penultimate day of pre-season testing. McLaren currently look out of sorts on the track but it’s impossible to tell how their season will pan out in the long run.

It looks like the mid-field could potentially provide the thrills this season with Williams, Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso all chasing the rebranded black and gold Renault team who have ambitions to challenge the top four. Last year’s new teams aren’t looking much faster but there is a chance Team Lotus, with its experienced drivers and management, could make up a few points. Virgin and the forever struggling Hispania Racing Team look set for another year making up the numbers at the back of the grid.

In terms of drivers, on paper 2011 should be a cracker. Five world champions will be on the grid this Sunday with 12 titles between them. Alongside them will be the talents of Mark Webber, Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg, F1’s nearly men. Another driver who would have added extra spice to the season is Robert Kubica, but his devastating rally crash looks likely to put the Polish sensation on the sidelines until 2012.

On the other hand, it is still unclear whether these drivers’ respective cars will allow to them all to compete at the front like last season. So if there are big performance differences between teams, does the new season stand a chance of being as good as the last? Tyres are the key.

At the end of 2010 Bridgestone bowed out of F1 after 14 years of playing a major role in the sport. Pirelli will supply this year’s rubber and have worked with Nick Heidfeld and Pedro De La Rosa to develop a range of compounds. But already the Italian firm has faced criticism throughout the paddock as their tyres have shown rapid and severe degradation. However, this should make the season fascinating.

F1 fans should expect to see far more pit stops than in 2010, mixing up the order and highlighting those teams and drivers who can preserve their rubber. It may not be the fastest or most aggressive drivers who always take the honours on a Sunday afternoon. No longer will a driver be able to wait until the last lap to pit, like Sebastian Vettel did in Monza last year to secure fourth place.

Each race is set to be unpredictable with a host of different leaders and plenty of overtaking as one driver’s tyres drop off and another’s get up to speed. One man could quickly go from being the fastest on the track to struggling to keep his car on the track.

It looks like it could be a very uncomfortable year for the drivers. In fact, the moaning has already begun with various complaints about the complexity of the new overtaking gadgets. Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) are reintroduced this year alongside the new moveable rear wing. These changes may make overtaking a little easier in some circumstances but as we saw in 2009 the benefits of KERS are often negligible and lead to multitudes of problems including smoke filled cockpits, as Kimi Räikkönen will tell you.

Rule and regulation adjustments have become a part of every pre-season but this year’s are unlikely to have much of an effect. No, what will really make this season interesting is how everyone up and down the paddock deals with the Milanese manufacturers return to F1. Drivers will no doubt struggle, but isn’t that what every F1 fan wants to see?

As the early 2000’s proved, the era of ever more complex electronic driver assists, F1 is just no fun when the drivers are comfortable. Pirelli is already upsetting the apple cart and could make 2011 a pain in the arse for the drivers but a fabulous season for the fans. After all, isn’t that who counts?

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