Thoughts with the 2011 Formula One season just hours away

Posted on March 25, 2011

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In just a matter of hours, the 2011 Formula One season will get underway in Melbourne, Australia.

Are Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull ready to keep winning in 2011? Credit: Red Bull/Getty

Five world champions will head out for first practice at Albert Park in new cars, on new tyres and with new technology bolted on.

Making predictions at this point of the season is a fools game. Reigning champions Red Bull start as favourites and everyone is assuming they’ll have the extra pace in the car if anyone can bring a challenge.

Ferrari also look quick and reliable, while Mercedes dramatically upped their game in the final winter test in Barcelona. Renault look fast too. McLaren’s form has been poor and the team have had to make radical changes to the car before even turning a wheel in competition.

But if the form is hard to judge what is plain to see is where some of the talking points are going to be at the end of the weekend.

The new Pirelli tyres remain something of an unknown. We know the degradation rate is high and most cars will make three, even four, stops on Sunday. This dramatically increases the possibility of mistakes and throws a lot of weight on strategy.

Overall, this is going to be a good thing. I’ve some concern that the teams will start out too cautious on the tyres and we risk seeing a race to two where drivers spend more time looking after the rubber rather than looking down the road. But it will only take a Lewis Hamilton or Fernando Alonso to win by being aggressive and gambling to shake it up. Just remember Hamilton’s move on Nico Rosberg in Australia last year to imagine why it could happen this weekend.

There have been few driver changes over the winter. The only switch at the front is Nick Heidfeld benefiting from Robert Kubica’s nasty accident to take a seat at Lotus Renault. Paul Di Resta will debut in the Force India and must face down very high expectations of success. In a sharp looking WilliamsPastor Maldonado has to show he’s not just a pay driver who displaced the talented Nico Hulkenberg.

Less exciting is the introduction of the moveable rear wings, or Drag Reduction Systems as they have bafflingly become known. I still feel this is a largely pointless innovation which raises real questions of safety and is either going to make overtaking far too easy or have its use so restricted as to make no difference. The same goes for the reintroduction of KERS.

These systems are on most of the cars so it’s worth trying to make them work but I remain cynical. Formula One can’t turn into a glorified Mario Kart match where drivers can get past just by pressing a button. It might make superficially good television but people will see straight through it.

What am I hoping for from the season? Another glorious title battle. I fear Red Bull could be even further in front as Adrian Newey and Sebastian Vettel make a formidable pairing. Seeing Michael Schumacher mixing it at the front would be brilliant.

And Coffee Powered Racing is going to Silverstone for the first time in July so having some competitive British interest would be excellent, if you’d be so kind McLaren.

We have been spoiled in the past two years. Outstanding coverage on the BBC has been matched only by two amazing world championships which surely stack up against anything in the history of the sport and are easily as good as anything I’ve seen.

Roll on The Chain at 5am Saturday morning.

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Posted in: Formula One, News