Formula 1 enjoyed a renaissance in 2010. A host of fans returned to the sport amidst the most exciting title battle for a generation. Formula 1 now faces the same issue faced by authors of a great book, bands following a smash hit and a successful film maker….providing an even better sequel!
It is a daunting task facing the sport. Building on the drama of last year and continuing to find new ways to amaze the newly found fans that have found their interest in the most dramatic motorsport action in the world. The early signs though are very promising for 2011.
Fans can look forward to seeing continuity at the front of the field. Last year there were many questions about how Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher would react to their new teams but this year there is no such wonders about the leading drivers heading to the season opener in Australia.
While the title battle was arguably the most exciting since the Alain Prost and Aytron Senna battles of twenty years ago there was actually a lot of room for improvement in relation to the actual on-track racing. Overtaking was exceptionally difficult and the tyres offered little scope for different strategies to unfold during races.
Tyres will be crucial to the outcome of races
The durability of the Bridgestone tyres was such that there was little doubt that each driver would make only a single pit stop during the majority of races; the thrilling Canadian Grand Prix being one of the few exceptions. Any thoughts that teams had of availing of similar one stop strategies in 2011 though have already been cast aside by the design and philosophy of the new Pirelli control tyres.
The Italian tyre manufacturer has decided to go completely against the normal development paths of a control tyre manufacturer. Generally when a tyre company has no competition in a category they decide to play it very safe with a very hard compound that should not have any risk of failures. When there is a tyre monopoly, it is often said that the only time that the tyres get noticed is when something goes wrong.
As a result it is inevitable that a safe tyre is developed, as happened with Bridgestone. However when the sports governing body, the FIA, saw the exciting events of Canada it was decided that it was crucial for Pirelli to design a tyre that was much more aggressive; forcing teams to make additional pit stops. As a result Pirelli has developed a tyre that lives on a knife edge. Testing has shown that it is exceptionally difficult to maintain tyre life and that some races will see three stops to change rubber.
This is exactly what was needed following the uniformity of 2010 where it was all but impossible to go against the strategic grain and hope for a successful race. The coming season will be dominated by drivers who will either nurse their tyres, and hope to make a stop less than their rivals, or drivers who will race as fast as possible in the hope of opening a large enough gap to be able to make an extra pit stop and maintain track position at the end of races.
Formula 1 has not seen such a strategic conundrum since the control tyre was introduced in 2007 but it is sure to be one of the constant thorns in the sides of strategists up and down the pit lane in 2011.
While the change is tyre regulations has been welcomed by many fans as being one that will increase excitement it has generally been panned by drivers who have cried about how slow the cars are for them to drive and how they are not tested any longer. In recent years Formula 1 drivers have grown accustomed to near perfect cars that can be driven at 100% for the duration of a race. The new tyres will force them to adapt their styles and while they are not best pleased about it the move is actually another measure to see the cream rising to the top of Formula 1.
Will there be more overtaking in 2011?
While the change in tyre regulations was aimed at improving “the show” there has also been additional changes made ahead of the season. It has long been the case that there has been precious little overtaking at the front of the field in races but the coming season should see the battle at the front of the field feature wheel to wheel racing and crucially overtaking.
This will be due to the much anticipated adjustable rear wing which will allow drivers to reduce their aerodynamic drag, and therefore increase their top speed by approximately 10 mph, when they are within one second of the car in front during a certain section of the track. The device was brought in to make overtaking easier and while there are no guarantees that it will increase overtaking it does show that Formula 1 is committed to improving the spectacle of racing.
It remains to be seen how successful the device will be but teams and drivers are expecting it to make a significant difference in making overtaking easier. Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems, KERS, will also be reintroduced this year and it will be used by the majority of teams on the grid, unlike in 2009 when it was previously used.
While the adjustable rear wing can only be used by the attacking driver on a single 600 metre section of the circuit KERS can be used by any driver at any time, but only for a set period of time during each lap. The systems store the energy dissipated during braking, the heat build-up, and convert into kinetic energy to provide drivers with an increase in top speed when they activate the device.
As a result of all these changes there is a tremendous level of hope heading into the new season and while testing has led to many questions about what will transpire over the course of the 19 race season there is now only days to wait until the opening race of the season in Melbourne on Sunday when we will begin to get answers about the performance of teams and the success of new regulations.