Thanks to Formula One's constant hunt for new venues, it has been just a little over three months since the curtain came down a season dominated by Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing. Well, two months if you count the start of winter testing. It's unlikely, after an exciting Australian Grand Prix, that F1 fans will be complaining about their weekend fix returning after such a short break. So in order to get those fans as well as those on the periphery primed for the remainder of the 2012 F1 season, here are a few pointers.
Diff-using the situation
Exhaust blown diffusers are banned from 2012 onwards. What are exhaust blown diffusers you ask? In a nutshell; a diffuser is an aerodynamic device that generates downforce at the rear of a car due to the low pressure generated underneath it, which is created by the air flowing through it. As if that wasn't enough of a mouthful, F1 designers added to the already complex device by channeling exhaust gases through it and electronically programing the engine to blow exhaust into the diffuser even when a driver had his foot off the throttle.
Seen as wasteful and against the 'green' push by F1's governing body (FIA), the practice has been outlawed starting from 2012. Although some teams still seem hell bent on trying to replicate exhaust blowing, the ban has seemed largely successful in winter testing.
McLaren's Jenson Button has even said that because of the absence of the diffusers, teams can make a much stronger connection between the research carried out in wind tunnels and through Computational Fluid Dynamic (CFD) software and the testing carried out on track. Lucky 13 for Briton Button as Red Bull wings clipped
A welcome change to F1's state of play considering the difficulty teams had in developing their machines through the course of last season. Long story short; should a team find itself in trouble against its rivals early in the season, it has a better chance of clawing back throughout the course of the season. Well, the big spending teams like Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari at least. Australian Grand Prix results
F1 was not immune to the economic realities of the global recession when it hit in full force in 2008. The FIA responded by banning in-season testing completely in 2009 and only allotted 15 days prior to the start of the season for teams to get their cars race-ready. It was a drastic step considering F1 teams would test pretty much indefinitely throughout a season prior to the ban. An unintended effect of the ban was of teams struggling to develop their cars throughout a season due to not having inputs from drivers.
From this year the FIA has shortened pre-season testing to 12 days and slotted three days at the very technical and very fast Mugello circuit in Italy for the teams to test their cars following the first four races of the season. The hope is that drivers can get a chance to practice their craft before tackling the remainder of the season. Not to mention give vital inputs to their team technicians on resolving any issues with their cars.
Ferrari will be counting on this test in order to sort out their cars so that, unlike Melbourne, Fernando Alonso is not fighting an uphill battle to be competitive. His fifth place finish was impressive, but the struggles of his teammate Felipe Massa offer a much clearer picture of where Ferrari stand at the moment.
"Why are they waving blue flags at me!" Hearing Kimi Raikkonen's radio communication was almost as entertaining as his fighting effort to go from 17th to 7th in the Australian GP. The Finn is one of six world champions who have previously won a world championship to line up on the grid this year. A first in F1's 62-year history.
The six drivers are broken up into three different categories.
Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher are recent returnees to the F1 grid.
While Raikkonen tried his hand at the World Rally Championship in 2010 and 2011, Schumacher had left motorsports for good from 2007 to 2009 after retiring at the end of 2006. The German legend's attempt to walk away from the sport he dominated didn't go well and he returned with plenty of rust in 2010. Last year saw a much improved performance and even though he is entering the final year of his contract with Mercedes, there is talk of Schumi deciding to hang around a little bit longer. Following an impressive showing in Melbourne (especially qualifying), he may just decide to just that.
Alonso and Jenson Button are entering the eleventh and 13th seasons, respectively, of their F1 careers and have gone matured from fresh-faced rookies to seasoned veterans. While the Spaniard has consistently remained one of the most sought after drivers in F1, Button has matured from a playboy to a consummate professional with a driver's title and 13 wins on his CV. Winning as many races and scoring more points than his highly rated McLaren teammate has marked Button out as a bonafide proven product in F1. His domination of the race at Melbourne, only further cemented his position as McLaren's new go-to-guy.
Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton are the two youngest men to have lifted the world championship and on seemingly opposite sides of the driving coin. Vettel's unfailing speed and precision are pretty much unmatched at the moment. Hamilton, however seems to alternate between phases of brilliance and inexplicable 'foot-shooting' moments.
A good crop
There will be plenty of young and hungry drivers willing to make their mark on the sport this year. France's Romain Grosjean, will 'return' to Lotus after an additional two year stint in GP2 (F1's feeder series of choice) and a point to prove. That being that his missteps in his brief F1 stint with Renault (now Lotus) in 2009 were just a blip and that the 2011 GP2 title justifies his place on the F1 grid. His showing in Melbourne was proof that not only had his second stint in GP2 help him mature as a driver, but also the fair amount of testing he had done with F1's tyre supplier Pirelli. Although, a poor start in the race followed by a mini collision with Pastor Maldonado proved that the Frenchman's has not yet come.
Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne are the latest picks by Red Bull's driver development program manager Helmut Marko after Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari were unceremoniously show the door (search for 'Alguersuari Marko' on youtube) at Toro Rosso. Both have come through the Renault World Series and Red Bull's top brass hope that one day they will take the reigns at Red Bull.
Nico 'The Hulk" Hulkenberg returns to F1 after sitting out the 2011 season. Tipped by many to be the next big German racing star, Hulkenberg scored a sensational (if fortuitous) pole position with Williams in 2010. Hulkenberg will partner Great Britain's Paul Di Resta at Force India. Di Resta impressed in his debut season last year and is considered to be a shoe-in at Mercedes should Schumacher decide to call it quits for good or if Nico Rosberg decides to move on. Di Resta has been on the radar of many top teams ever since he beat Vettel to the Formula 3 Euroseries title in 2006 and then won the German touring car title for Mercedes Benz in 2010. The rivalry between him and Hulkenberg will be a major point of focus.
The Indian connection
You didn't think we would forget about the Indian presence in F1 now did you? Narain Karthikeyan flies the flag as far as Indian drivers are concerned. After having to miss ten races last year when HRT gave his seat to Ricciardo, Karthikeyan will be looking to complete a full season and get the best out of the car produced by the Spanish team's
(comparatively) modest resources.
Following a frustrating outing in Melbourne, where neither HRT car managed to qualify for the race, Karthikeyan will be hoping for a better outing in Malaysia.
Corporate India too has decided to get further involved in F1 from this year. Tata Motors not only continues to sponsor Karthikeyan, but has also entered into a technical partnership with HRT. Tata Communications has become the official technology and communications partner of F1 and the Sahara Parivar now has a 42.5 percent stake in Force India.
And last, but definitely not least, comes the weekend of 26-28 October, which will see the second edition of the Indian Grand Prix.
The inaugural edition exceeded the expectations of many people. The Buddh International Circuit that was hailed by drivers for its fast and challenging layout, after a slight ticketing fluff 95,000 people filled the seats of the 1,10,000 capacity seats and India revelled in a top-line global sporting event that was held without a hitch.
There's definitely a lot for Indian F1 fans to looks forward to this year, even before they get to lap up the sights and sounds of the F1 circus in person.
Jenson Button's interview after winning Australian GP: