JJust after midnight in the United States the flag will drop on the beginning of the 2011 Formula 1 World Championship. What does this year's F1 circus hold in store?
The 19 (considering that Bahrain will not be on the grid unless they attempt to move the race to late November and hope the unrestends) races should have the same cast of characters going for the title -- it seems the reigning Red Bull Renaults (Vettel, Webber) should be the fastest again, and Renault has decided their partners at Nissan will receive the branding on the Red Bull this year, so don't be surprised to see the Infiniti logos on the cars this season. Four more seasons for Vettel and Adrian Newey (designer) should be a warning fired across the bow.
Scuderia Ferrari *******'s (because of laws the name must be censored) 150th Italia (named for the 150th anniversary of modern Italy, even had parent Fiat's partner in their microcar that's coming Stateside in litigation for a while) should be a challenger after testing, but the new threat will be Schumacher and Rosberg in the Petronas Mercedes be a threat too considering what happened in testing with no changes among the major players in the Silver Arrows, which took place in Montmeló because of the unrest. But Vodafone McLaren was very inconsistent, and add that a very taxing time for Lewis Hamilton has he signed a new manager in Simon Fuller, who is responsible for RTL's hit international television formats, who hopes to make the Hamilton brand (and that of his girlfriend) viable worldwide.
Renault's works team (the name dispute, see below) will be an issue but it may take a while for Nick Heidfeld as he replaced the injured Robert Kubica (injured in the Volkswagen rally crash in Italy), who was set to have a breakout year. Will that compromise the budding team that would make it five legitimate contenders for this F1 season?
Naming disputes between Tony Fernandes' Malaysian-based team and Renault's "works" team that has been partially purchased by a Malaysian automaker should be an interesting court right, while "pay" rides have come in the form of both the winner and runner-up in the European support series GP2, as both champion Pastor Maldonado (Williams, with Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez picking up the tab) and runner-up Sergio Pérez Mendoza (Sauber, with the world's richest man, Carlos Slim, through Telmex, doing the sponsorship) are in F1 in rides funded by sponsors but deserved by their positions last year. Colin Kolles' Hispania organisation is in trouble and we could have something similar to the Aguri Suzuki case two years ago with a team withdrawing in the middle of the season.
The F-Duct from last year and the Double Diffuser that led Ross Braun's new outfit (now part of Mercedes) to a title last year are now both illegal, but KERS hybrids are back and the most intriguing one is a transponder and driver operated rear wing. If the car is within a specific time between transponder locations, the computer will allow a flap to be lowered for more speed.
On the circuit front, there will be some new looks. Silverstone will look considerably different as the "Bridge" section has been officially abandoned, as has the historic Woodcote garages. It will look considerably different to see pit entrance as you exit the Vale into Club, with the start-finish line, then swiftly turn into the new Arena section to the new Abbey. Again, the MotoGP race at Silverstone will debut the new "wing" so that race (live on Speed, unlike the F1 race) will be a good preview to see what the drivers will see with the new section. A new circuit, Greater Noida, will debut this year in India, and the FIA banquet is set there. As will be the case, controversy over Yeongam will also erupt after a major F3 race was axed last year.
With Pirelli as the tyre supplier, they are wanting to ensure three or four stops will be made just for tyres. The tight pit road in Melbourne with 240 "over the wall" crewmen (20 per team) should be interesting to see what happens. They don't want durable tyres, something you'd see at a Sprint Cup race or an endurance race, but tyres that fade quickly. It's not Bridgestone anymore and it should be an angle to watch.
Jean Todt would like to see permanent numbers similar to most racing series and not numbers based on performance, although he's slightly confused that numbers aren't driver but are team numbers. Here's to wanting a return of the classic #27/#28, #11/#12, and numbers that identify with a team easier than points position. How could Hamilton and Button want the #7 and #8, Alonso and Massa on the #27 and #28, and the rest of that?
Our Canadian readers will be interested to hear that the new BBC F1 broadcast team of Brundle and Blundell make their debut. Canada is among the countries that historically carry the British broadcast (whether it was ITV or BBC), complete with a local studio host in their home country. The still fresh-faced Will Buxton (he's only 31) will front the US broadcasts from pit road, complete with a studio crew at 1220 West W. T. Harris Boulevard as part of the new Speed Center complex.
One question which needs not be asked: will we continue to see Red Bull dominance in qualifying? World Champion Vettel blitzed the field this morning by an astonishing seven-tenths of a second over Hamilton, a fact even more impressive considering Vettel made no use of KERS. And could it be that Red Bull aren't even using a full-fledged KERS, but a "start-only" one?
The red lights are turning on and at 2 AM (ET) Sunday morning, the lights will extinguish, and the 2011 Formula One season, and the Qantas Grand Prix, will be up and running!
Adam Cooper: Breaking down the 2011 F1 Grid.
James Allen: Upbeat Mood in Melbourne Paddock Despite the Gloomy Weather.
Joe Saward: No KERS in the world for Sebastian Vettel. ◙