The 2011 Chinese Grand Prix brought a much needed end to Red Bull Racing and Sebastian Vettel’s dominance. While I am a huge Vettel fan, I feared a 2004-style Ferrari-Schumacher repeat where Michael Schumacher won most races, but also managed to shoo the fans away from the sport.
However, if the Chinese Grand Prix is anything to go by, the new Formula1 rules seem to be working well and I expect this season to be a cracker. I also don’t expect Red Bull Racing to run away with the honours. The Mclaren team have regrouped and have taken the fight to the Red Bull camp. Ferrari and Mercedes still seem to be struggling, but all teams are expected to bring updates to the next race in Turkey and I expect them to better their performance. However, before we look ahead, I would like to take a look back at the key factors affecting team and driver performances over the GP weekend in 2011.
Pirelli tyres: The Italian manufacturer has improved the show for the fans, but has made strategy the most important factor for the races. Teams know now that if they get their tyre strategy wrong, their race pace and positions are clearly compromised. As shown by Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber in Shanghai, tyre strategy could start as early as Saturday during the qualifying session. The highly degradable Pirelli rubber also calls for some smart strategy during the races. The GP in Shanghai also showed that variable tyre stop strategies are possible and they can also get you to the podium!
DRS: Artificial racing or not, the DRS has improved the spectacle on track by making overtaking much simpler. The new system hasn’t been completely error-free as we saw Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher experience troubles in Shanghai and Malaysia. But the DRS is a welcome move for the television audiences. After much complaining, most drivers have gotten used to the system and have started using it to their advantage.
KERS: The Kinetic Energy Recovery System is a MUST HAVE at the start of the race. The Red Bull Racing team have been unable to solve their KERS niggles and we saw Mark Webber lose more than 5 positions at the start of the Malaysian Grand Prix. The KERS system has also resulted in many retirements as teams seem to be struggling to find a reliable way to use the power boost system. The KERS system coupled with the DRS has proved good for overtaking and in Shanghai we also saw Michael Schumacher use KERS to defend position from Fernando Alonso.
While the teams will be working overtime to update their car at most races, they must keep in mind these three factors that will define their racing this season.
While we look forward to Turkey, a few trends from the first three GPs:
- Red Bull Racing are the team to beat. While Sebastian Vettel has won two of the three opening GPs of the season, the team have been unable to sort out Mark Webber’s car problems. However, I expect Red Bull Racing to rule the roost this season.
- Mclaren seem to be Red Bull’s nearest competitor. The Hamilton-Button pair has worked well for the team and they have already notched up a win to propel themselves to second and 30 points behind Red Bull Racing on the Constructor’s Championship table.
- Mercedes GP and Ferrari are struggling to find consistent pace in their car and hence are competing with the Lotus Renault GP cars for the third position on the grid.
- Force India, Sauber and Scuderia Toro Rosso are in the race to be Formula1’s best privateer team. Force India seem to have consistent race pace, whereas STR have shown good pace in qualifying. The mid-field battle will only get stronger once WilliamsF1 sort out their reliability issues.
- Team Lotus Racing have been the best of the newcomer teams. The second Lotus team has made progress and seems to be matching the WilliamsF1 and Sauber cars for pace. The team registered their best finish at the Chinese Grand Prix when Heikki Kovalainen finished 16th and ahead of the Williams of Pastor Maldonado and Sauber of Sergio Perez.
Most teams are expecting updates for the race in Turkey. Depending on how the updates perform, we shall know which team will scorch the tracks as F1 will enter Europe.