Monday, 25 April 2011

F1 2011 season, after 3 races

Well, we should have had 4 by now but Bahrain was axed. It may return, though it seems a little unlikely. A shame to lose a race but if we had to lose one then Bahrain is not the hardest blow to bear.

I’m going to take a general approach rather than looking at each race specifically, as there are already post-race reviews up.

Red Bull clearly have the best car. It’s the fastest and in most regards it’s highly reliable. Well, for Vettel. Webber has faced some sort of reliability failing at every race and has done well to score good points despite this. Vettel, in stark contrast to 2010, started with near perfect reliability and performance and deserves his massive lead. However, Red Bull is not invincible. Its KERS breaks down frequently and has a problem with overheating, and Webber usually needs an extra pit stop per race due to tyre mangling.

McLaren made an enormous, staggering leap forward from pre-season testing, when their car was as magnificent and impressive as Crassus’ performance at Carrhae, to the season itself. Their car is in a strong second place, close enough to challenge Red Bull for podiums and, with fortune/superior strategy, wins. They’re also a cut above the likes of Ferrari, Renault and Mercedes. McLaren’s job now is to stop Red Bull running away with the title. Hamilton may well be Vettel’s closest rival this season, though it’ll be interesting to see how Button does.

Ferrari did the exact opposite of McLaren. They seemed ultra-competitive in testing, perhaps even better than the Red Bull, only to be a bit lacklustre in the season. The car just isn’t quick enough. On the plus side, Massa’s got his head screwed on right and has beaten Alonso twice out of three attempts, aided by Alonso ramming Hamilton in Malaysia. Ferrari have less than half of Red Bull’s points (50 to 105), highlighting the task they have. But, things looked impossible for Alonso last year and he came within a whisker of winning the title.

Renault have produced a cracker of a car which has delivered 2 podiums in 3 races. It’s a great shame that Kubica was not able to drive for the team, and here’s hoping he recovers fully and gets back for 2012. Heidfeld and Petrov seem to veer from the ridiculous to the sublime, scoring either no points or standing on the podium. Their car is very tasty, with a superb start, but is a bit off the pace in qualifying. The title is out of reach but they are doing well in their bid to beat Mercedes and become the 4th team (32 points to 16).

Mercedes are still not living up to the memory of the Brawn team. The car is just not fast enough and they’ve had some bad luck, with both drivers victims of misfortune in Australia. However, it is a very good car in a straight line and Schumacher’s been starting brilliantly. It was great to watch him and Alonso duelling in China. If they don’t develop some pace soon, Rosberg will probably seek a faster team.

Sauber have made a good start, and only failed to score in the first race due to a silly technicality which meant they broke the rules without gaining any speed advantage. Kobayashi seems to have been passed more than expected, but Perez is doing very well in his first season, though he could perhaps tone down the aggression a touch.

Likewise, Force India have a class act in di Resta, who is punching above his weight with the car and keeping his team mate, Sutil, honest. Toro Rosso are also doing alright, without setting the world alight.

The lowest three teams, Lotus, Virgin and HRT, are still way off the pace. I hope they’re able to up their game. Personally, I’d be quite happy if HRT and perhaps Virgin were axed.

So, how are the rule changes working?

KERS is back, and works the same as before. Recycling energy used when braking, it affords a brief 80bhp power boost to promote overtaking or defending. It works pretty well, though the system can break, leaving a car lumbered with a hefty weight and no performance boost.

DRS is a new, simple, cheap system which allows a car to basically go faster in a straight line when within 1 second of the preceding car, on a specified straight. It produces a bigger advantage than KERS and the two can (and often are) used at the same time.

I like KERS. And I like DRS. But I think having both is a little over the top and would prefer DRS to be axed.

However, both of the above pale in comparison to the impact brought about by the new Pirelli tyres. Pirelli were given a brief to increase degradation so that strategy and tyre management became critical, as in Montreal last year. Excepting that instance, 2010 saw highly durable, reliable Bridgestones which almost always meant that teams opted for a single stop. Pirelli have given us something new, a fantastically exciting Chinese GP and put strategy ahead of qualifying in terms of importance.

I do wonder how the race in Montreal will go, given that even the granite-like Bridgestone tyres needed multiple stops.

I’m also glad the 107% rule has been reintroduced. It was breached by both HRTs in Australia, and they were not permitted to start the race. Quite right too.

The next race starts on the 8th of May, and is in Turkey. This may well be the last race at the circuit, which is one of the better new ones. Let’s hope my rubbish betting improves somewhat.

Morris Dancer

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