F1 roller-coaster set for Melbourne lift-off
After a thrilling 2010 full of drama and suspense, Formula One is expected to deliver more of the same this season with five crowned drivers' champions in the field.india Updated: Oct 14, 2011 17:18 IST
After a thrilling 2010 full of drama and suspense, Formula One is expected to deliver more of the same this season with five crowned drivers' champions in the field.
The loss of the original season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix due to unrest in the island kingdom has turned Sunday's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne into the first event, a switch that could presage a roller-coaster ride into the unknown.
The addition of a maiden Indian Grand Prix, in Delhi in October, is sure to stretch resources of the teams, the drivers and everyone else involved.
That will ensure that the team/driver crowned champion at the end of the year will not only be fast, but also durable, fit and well-funded.
The season stretches from the warm days and cool nights of the Victorian autumn to a later-than-ever finale in steaming Sao Paulo, for the Brazilian Grand Prix, on November 27.
In between, the championship takes the flying F1 circus through its normal stops before the 'European' season, which ends in Italy in September, and then into a tense and dense itinerary that takes in Singapore, Japan, Korea, India and Abu Dhabi before it all ends at Interlagos.
It is the latest finish in modern times.
"It will be a major test for all of us," said Christian Horner, the man who guided Red Bull to the double of constructors and drivers titles last year.
"This is going to be a very, very long season".
The new season sees the introduction of 'moveable rear wings', a feature that will allow for increased speeds on the straights in a bid for more overtaking, and the return of KERS, a system that allows cars to use the kinetic energy created by braking for power-boosts on the straights when needed.
New tyre supplier Pirelli has already promised greater excitement with tyres designed to wear faster, thus creating rapid degradation and more pit-stops - a prospect that, for the drivers, has caused some consternation.
Defending champion Sebastian Vettel has already raised the prospect of a possible drivers' strike if they cannot reach agreement with the sport's ruling body, the International Motoring Federation (FIA), on the danger of uncontrolled use of the new moveable rear wings.
"We will try to find a solution," said Vettel, 23.
"But in the end the drivers can be very powerful and say, ok, we are not racing, if we don't agree to the way things happen."
Veteran Williams driver Brazilian Rubens Barrichello said: "I don't like to think of using KERS and the moveable rear wings at the same time on a flying lap.
"It means we are not looking ahead all of the time - I don't want to run into another driver before something is done!"
Vettel, having signed a new long-term contract, can rely on an unchanged line-up as Australian Mark Webber seeks to shake off his self-made tag as the team's number two.
Last season, it was Webber who appeared to have engineered the strongest title challenge until the showdown in Abu Dhabi where a strategy bungle by Ferrari's pit-wall crew wrecked Fernando Alsono's challenge - and in turn also ruined Webber's hopes of glory.
Both men will be bidding to erase that memory this year with Alonso, looking for his third title and maiden crown with Ferrari, especially keen to show his strong and reliable pre-season run signals a successful year ahead.
Ironically, it was a mistake by another Australian Chris Dyer that created the uproar for Ferrari in Abu Dhabi and cost him his job as head of race track engineering.
Ferrari recruited Briton Pat Fry from McLaren to replace him.
"This was a mistake of great magnitude," said Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali, himself under pressure this year to deliver success for Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo.
"This year - we must win," he said clearly at the team launch.
If, as expected, Red Bull set the pace with Ferrari challenging, it will be intriguing to see how much progress McLaren - with two champions on board in Britons Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton - can make after a disappointing pre-season riddled with reliability trouble.
"We can surprise a lot of people," said team boss Martin Whitmarsh, looking ahead to Australia.
Much the same situation has existed for seven-times champion Michael Schumacher, now 42, as he has worked to find the performance he needs from his Mercedes team.
In the final test week at Barcelona, in Spain, he looked to have found a breakthrough when he topped the times ahead of Alonso.
A lot can change, however, between a test session in Europe and the end of a full Formula One season - especially with a new tyre supplier seeking more thrills - and, in the end, it could be Ferrari's great strength in depth that carries them back to glory.