Saturday, 29 January 2011

Pre-season rule changes and driver lineups

I wrote this over a prolonged period, adding little snippets as they arose, so it’ll probably be a bit long and jittery.

There are a number of technical changes for the 2011 season, the details of which are linked to here -

The short version is this:

No more F-ducts or double diffusers

Bridgestone replaced by Pirelli as sole tyre manufacturer

Adjustable rear wings intended to aid overtaking (detail here):

KERS returns

107% rule returns

I very much welcome the return of KERS. The sexy power boost button mixes up starts and restarts from the safety car, and, I think we can all agree, a big button that makes your car go faster is quite brilliant.

Just after the end of the 2010 season Eddie Jordan asserted that Mercedes had a better system ready than Renault, but we’ll have to wait and see.

It is reckoned that the Pirellis will possibly degrade faster (a damned good thing) and aid certain drivers. Schumacher and Massa did well in the preliminary tests in Abu Dhabi, for example. Faster degradation would mean fewer predictable one stop strategies and more Montreal style madness.

The adjustable rear wing really should make overtaking easier. However, it is important to know that whilst it can be used at any time during practice/qualifying it cannot be so freely used during the race. Specifically, it cannot be used on laps 1 or 2, or the first two laps after a safety car restart [when all the cars will be bunched up]. It can only be used on a specific straight, when within 1 second of the car ahead. So, it will not affect the Lap 1 Leader market. In addition, this means that the practice and qualifying times will probably (sometimes) be slightly misleading when it comes to race pace. It is effectively a straight line speed boost, so the distortion will be small or non-existent at a track with a single straight and tons of corners and maximised at tracks with multiple long straights.

The FIA has also decided, in its infinite wisdom, to drop the unenforceable [if Ferrari do it] team orders rule. In other words, they are now permitted. To help out other F1 fans, I’ve compiled a brief list of translations of phrases used this season and what they will be next season.

“Fernando is faster than you” = “Felipe, baby, get out of the way”

“Enter fuel management mode” = “Don’t even think about passing your team mate”

“Jenson, fuel is critical” = “Oi! Knock it off!”

Another interesting fact is that all four top teams (Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes) have not changed their drivers. Mercedes will be most interesting to watch, as it’s unclear whether the car will be competitive enough, whether Rosberg has the cutting edge of a champion and whether Schumacher can enjoy a better season than his somewhat lacklustre 2010 return (although he did improve markedly towards the end).

Renault/Lotus [see below] has retained the stellar Kubica, and the gold-plated Petrov.

Speaking of teams, F1 appears to have ended the realm of madness. Next season will see Lotus competing in black and gold colours, and Lotus competing in black and gold colours. No typo. We will have two Lotus teams. (Lotuses? Loti?). One will be the present Lotus team (named Team Lotus) led by Tony Fernandes. The other will be backed by Group Lotus and parent firm Proton, and be called Lotus Renault. The reasons are complicated, legalistic and a bit petty, and the result will make commentating fun. Bear this in mind if you plan on betting for or against a Lotus team.

Update: Tony Fernandes has decided that Team Lotus will not race in black and gold to prevent confusion.

Regarding new drivers, Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela takes Hulkenberg’s Williams seat. Bit of a shame, as I thought Hulkenberg did well, but Maldonado brings Venezuelan cash, apparently. The banzai superstar Kobayashi is joined at Sauber by Sergio Perez Mendoza of Mexico, who will have to work hard to hold his own against the entertaining Japanese driver.

Virgin has signed up Belgian Jerome D'Ambrosio to partner Timo Glock. This matters because if he can drum up greater Belgian support for the sport then it may help Spa, one of the finest of all circuits, stay on the calendar. There’s a real risk that it might end up going when a number of new races are added (there’s a 20 race limit to the season, and with the addition of India this year it’s already been reached. With Russia, the US and perhaps other countries joining some circuits must be ditched soon).

Toro Rosso have left their lineup of Buemi and Alguersuari unchanged.

With a quartet of drivers vying for Force India seats, there has been a prolonged wait to find out who gets the green light. Sutil was likely to retain his seat, and Liuzzi lose his (despite having a contract for this year). Possible replacements include the British Di Resta and Hulkenberg.

Update: It’s now been confirmed that Sutil and Di Resta will race for the team next year, with Hulkenberg as reserve.

There has also been a significant change in the BBC F1 commentary box. Legard has been axed as lead commentator and replaced with Brundle, whose former role of second commentator/race analyst has been assumed by Coulthard. This has surprised many who expected any potential new combination to feature one ex-driver (probably Brundle) and a BBC journalist. How this fares we’ll have to wait and see, but I trust we’ll see fewer inexplicable errors and strange moments of excitement as well as better commentary chemistry. However, many wanted James Allen out, and then found they disliked Legard, so it may simply be that everyone suffers by comparison with Murray Walker.

The first race (sadly the woeful Bahrain) will be difficult to predict. Testing provides only the haziest of pictures due to the wildly differing fuel loads, and it will only become clear how the rule changes work in race conditions in race conditions.

One, slight, advantage to visiting Bahrain first is that it’s difficult to overtake at the circuit, so if the adjustable rear wing and KERS work well we may see this reflected on race day. There’s no point introducing overtaking aids if they only work in places like Spa and Interlagos.

A reminder that, initially at least, I’m going to offer tips on the main site, and write just a post-race analysis after each race, including how the tips (hedged and unhedged) played out.

Anyway, this post will hopefully take care of updates regarding teams/driver/rule changes, and all the housekeeping, as it were, should be done now. I’ll write a season preview after testing and before Bahrain, and then the season begins.

The testing schedule is as follows:

Valencia : 1 to 3 February
Jerez: 10 to 13 February
Jerez: 17 to 20 February
Barcelona: 25 to 28 February

So the next article will be up after the 28th of February and before the 11th of March, when P1 of Bahrain begins.

Morris Dancer