After a winter of testing and speculation the 2011 season is almost upon us. A number of changes have been made since Abu Dhabi in November with KERS back and the adjustable rear wing introduced. F-Ducts and double diffusers have been banned and Pirelli have taken over as tyre supplier from Bridgestone. Racing is set to be different but what can be expect? Read on for my thoughts on what sort of racing we could well see throughout the season...
Tyres: 2010 was a season which seen very durable tyres, some compounds even capable of lasting an entire race distance. Pirelli have been given a mandate of producing tyres which will wear out quicker, forcing more pitstops and more variance in the strategies that teams will run. There are 4 dry compounds as well as an intermediate and wet tyre. They will be as followed:
Super Soft - Red
Soft - Yellow
Medium - White
Hard - Silver
Intermediate - Light Blue
Wet - Orange
Each weekend there will be 2 of these compounds available. Usually this will be either a combination of Super Soft/Medium or Soft/Hard. It's clear from testing that the degradation is quite high and we are set to see 2/3 stops from each driver in a race. One team has even factored in the possibility of a 5 stop strategy! It should be noted that the intermediate and wet tyres are much harder and so should be able to run quite a distance if required.
Strategy is going to be intriguing, difficult and hectic for the teams. Q3 will see the option tyre being the clear one to use if you want to get on the front row of the grid. However we could see some people going for the prime tyre and deciding to utilise a better race strategy. Qualifying will be quite intense because you will go into it with 3 sets of options and 3 sets of primes. We could see less running during qualifying as well as practice though the teams are getting an extra set of tyres at some weekends for the Friday sessions. So if we have a weekend where tyre degradation is very high and a 4 stopper is need for the race you will have to restrict yourself to using 1 set of tyres per qualifying session. The front runners will want to try and get through the first 2 sessions with 1 run on options or perhaps a set of primes which then gives you 2 runs on options in Q3 if it is needed. Then you start the race on one of those sets and use primes for the rest of the race. Note the rule of using both compounds in a race remain.
Lewis Hamilton commented that he had tyres destroyed after a 9 lap run during testing. However we have seen 20 lap stints as well so clearly the compounds vary. Much is made of the different styles of the drivers and how this may affect things but it is unclear whether the Pirelli tyres are affected by this or whether mileage alone is the key factor in their wear rate. Another noticeable aspect of testing was the amount and size of pieces of rubber and marbles coming off the tyres. If we have a dry weekend then race day could see a track which has 1 racing line and it extremely slippery offline and this could hurt overtaking moves but see more mistakes. The FIA may have to look at washing the track on Saturday nights if it became detrimental to the season
KERS: The Kinetic Recovery Energy System is back after it debuted with some teams in 2009. Now we have most teams utilising the system, only Virgin, Lotus and HRT have definitely ruled it out for now. Mercedes were considered to have the best KERS a couple of years ago which will please them and customer outfits McLaren and Force India. The likes of Williams have had teething issues and i feel that Ferrari, McLaren and Renault will benefit from their past usage of the system.
The start will again be key with it, using your energy as soon as you are not traction limited. More cars will have it now so there will be more of a cancelling out effect but if you can hold position and save a bit you can perhaps attack later on in the lap. I think the teams will make use of it regularly. It can bring 0.2-0.33 seconds per lap and with regulation changes stabilising the weight distribution teams will not be able to make this up as easy with revised ballast placement. Same rules apply as 2009, you can use it for 6.67 seconds per lap.
Adjustable Rear Wing: The Adjustable Rear Wing (ARW) or Drag Reduction System (DRS) as it is also being called is a new gadget for the drivers to use this season. Gone are the adjustable front wings after 2 seasons. Each rear wing will be capable of having a slot activated which opens it, reducing drag and increasing straight line speed by 8-12 km/h. This is opened by the driver in the cockpit with a switch or button and once open remains so until the driver next uses the brakes when it closes within 20 milliseconds of the brake pedal being pressed.
In practice and qualifying the use of the wing is unlimited and the driver can use it whenever they want. This should make qualifying laps quite interesting because as soon as they accelerate onto a straight or indeed go through a flat out corner which they can take with reduced downforce they will want the wing activated so the drag, and indeed the laptime, is reduced. Some drivers have complained about this but really it is not much different to having to operate a F-Duct last year so i can see them getting on top of it early on.
The races see a different situation for the ARW. First of all the use of the wing is not allowed on the opening 2 laps and on the 2 laps after any safety car period under any circumstances. For the other parts of the race the wing is only open to use in pre-determined overtaking zones. A timing loop will be set up at a particular part of the circuit. Then ahead of this will be a line on the track which will indicate the start of the overtaking zone. If you pass the timing loop within a second of the car in front you will be able to activate the ARW when you cross the line. For the opening races this zone is designed to be 600 metres before the braking zone for the next corner but the FIA can adjust the parameters surrounding this new device throughout the season based on what they see in the season.
From what i understand, the best way to maximise speed is to open the rear wing and then deploy KERS. So when you exit the last corner of your outlap you will want to do that in the right order to get the highest speed to start your lap. Another issue will be gear ratios. You will want your 7th gear set so it just maxs out with the ARW open and KERS being used. You could have it set lower and give yourself better overall top speed when running without the use of either but i feel the teams won't do this because it would be too costly to performance in qualifying and hence negatively affect your chances.
The race is going to be a bit different though because if you are trying to catch the car in front you will (depending on the relative pace of the cars involved) want to use the KERS to push yourself into the 1 second window to activate the rear wing. However if the car in front saves some KERS he can respond to the activation of the rear wing by deploying KERS so i think we will see some of that this season. In terms of the ARW improving overtaking i think with the current way it is being utilised a car will have to be within 0.5 seconds to have a chance of passing. What we will see is a car enter the zone and suddenly move towards the car in front quite quickly. This may not result in an actual overtake at the time but we may see some closer battles, times when the driver in front is forced more defensive and indeed more late lunges. Malaysia and China in particular will show better the advantage it gives.
Safety Car: Some slight adjustments regarding the rules surrounding the deployment of the safety car. The delta time which you have to not exceed when the safety car is first deployed now must be maintained for 2 laps instead of 1 lap. This seems minor but basically means for that period the race is neutralised. So if you are a team which has cars running closely and you want both to pit you can pit one immediately and the other car the following lap and should in theory not lose out. This will mean queueing will not be required in the pitlane and should ensure a calmer and hopefully safer pitlane. A note about the pitlane is that the fast lane is only wide enough for 1 car now so more space for the mechanics and no side by side racing in the pitlane. The green light will always be on at the pit exit so drivers can come out even if there is other cars close by.
So a lot of new aspects to Formula 1 this season. I think the tyres will be a massive part of the season. Anytime we have had a big change it has seen certain teams adapt better and the new rubber could suit some drivers better than others. It could be a very reactive situation in races. Perhaps a 3 stop strategy will be the plan at the race start. However if people start to feel their tyres go they'll pit to try and jump others on fresh tyres because of the difference in compounds. This will force other drivers to react even if their tyres are not totally finished. Teams will shift their pitstops forward and then perhaps leave themselves with a longer final stint. The dilemma then is whether you hang on to the end of the race or make an extra pitstop and try and recover the time with fresher tyres.
The adjustable rear wing will be an intriguing aspect and i think people who think that cars will be breezing past too easy shouldn't worry. KERS should keep the starts manic and busy but we could see a cancellation effect when the wing and KERS go into combat. In terms of strategy you are now more likely to pit even if there is traffic because on fresh tyres and with the ARW you can make your way through the field quicker so whereas the optimum strategy was generally stuck to last year, 2011 may see teams take more of a risk with an extra stop and on certain tracks it may be workable. Don't forget that with the double diffuser gone we should see cars able to run a bit closer with less turbulent air and the cars are a bit slower than before so should be slghtly easier to attack a car in front.
It promises to be an exciting, competitive and fascinating season and it all kicks off this weekend in Melbourne