Given the longer than expected wait, I’m going to fill the Bahrain-sized gap with a shorter post about betting, given the rule changes.
It’ll be mostly conjecture, of course, but that’s always the case pre-season.
There are 19 races (possibly 20, if Bahrain returns). If Korea is dry throughout, we’ll effectively have two new tracks in Korea and India (which is reportedly ahead of schedule). I’d guess that India should be good for McLaren, as it’s got quite a lot of long straights, which may also serve the increase the distortion between practice and qualifying times and race pace.
Qualifying may see the market for getting into Q3 becoming more interesting. If Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes, Renault, Williams and Toro Rosso are all capable of it, it may become an opportune (or very difficult) market. [It’s worth pointing out that the previously poor Mercedes seems a bit racier since it had some upgrades fitted].
Pole will be the same as last year, because the adjustable rear wing can be used in qualifying and practice, so the P3 simulation runs should provide a good guide. (NB the last 3 races in Australia, our first destination, have had pole-sitters who did not top the timesheets much at all in practice).
The races will see many changes. The 107% rule means that, occasionally, a slow team will end up not even starting. KERS means that the teams with the best system (and best engine) may regularly gain a place or two at the start. The adjustable rear wing should, slightly, aid overtaking, and its highly regulated use in the race and free use in practice and qualifying will create a gap between practice and qualifying pace and race pace.
Perhaps the biggest change is that the tyres, now Pirelli, will no longer be made with the resilience of granite, but of crumbly cheese. An average of two pit stops was expected per race, rather than the standard (dry) one from Bridgestone. However, in a preview of the season the eminently sensible Martin Brundle reckoned three to four pit stops per race would be likely. This is deliberately to try and create more Montreal type racing. I have mixed views, as I found Montreal very exciting and had my worst result of the season there. Extra pit stops create more opportunity for cock-up, whether a poor pit stop or getting back out into traffic.
This also puts a premium on tyre management, and Button has reported he loves the new tyres. So, perhaps he’ll do well. (Then again, I thought that last year).
(For more info on tyres falling to pieces, check out this link: http://pitpass.com/fes_php/pitpass_news_item.php?fes_art_id=43040).
Reliability will matter a lot, obviously, and in new and exciting ways. When it was last used, the KERS system occasionally broke, which then requires the car to carry quite a lot of weight for no advantage at all.
I’d expect the above changes to make the pole-sitter less likely to win, compared to last year. Extra pit stops adds possibility of misfortune, KERS adds opportunity for being passed at the line and the adjustable rear wing makes being passed later on more likely too.
If Ferrari and Red Bull are top dogs, initially at least, then the advantage ought to lie with the team most reliable. On recent history, that would probably be Ferrari. However, the cars are new, so we’ll have to wait and see whether the Red Bull (and especially Vettel) trend of being fast but fragile continues.
Unhelpfully, those pesky colonials have P3 at 3am and qualifying starts at 6am. I’ll make a decision nearer the time, but my inclination is to sit qualifying out rather than either get up at an ungodly hour or miss out on the usually helpful (although not at Australia, see above) P3 qualifying simulation.
The first race of the season (unless the hated dictator Julia Al-Gillard is toppled, of course) will be on the 27th of March, starting at 7am UK time. Hurrah!