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The 2011 Grid

Posted by Carrot on March 26, 2011 | No Comments

After three practice sessions we can finally start to speak definitely on how the 2011 will go. The majority of the obfuscation that’s inherent to pre-season testing is gone, although there is some sandbagging still going on before qualifying. So, what can we say?

Drivers

There areĀ  countries represented in the main driver lineup this year:

  • Six Germans (Sebastian Vettel, Michael Schumacher, Nico Rosberg, Nick Heidfeld, Adrian Sutil and Timo Glock)
  • Three Britons (Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Paul di Resta)
  • Two Spaniards (Fernando Alonso and Jaime Alguersuari)
  • Two Brazilians (Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa)
  • Two Italians (Jarno Trulli and Vitantonio Liuzzi)
  • One Australian (Mark Webber)
  • One Russian (Vitaly Petrov)
  • One Venezuelan (Pastor Maldonado)
  • One Japanese (Kamui Kobayashi)
  • One Swiss (Sebastien Buemi)
  • One Mexican (Sergio Perez)
  • One Finn (Heikki Kovalainen)
  • One Belgian (Jerome d’Ambrosio)
  • One Indian (Narain Karthikeyan)

We have four rookies this year: Perez, d’Ambrosio, di Resta and Maldonado. Although Karthikeyan may also count as a rookie depending on your point of view given the time he’s spent away from Formula 1, he’s made 19 F1 starts, the last one in China in October 2005. There’s also a persistent rumour in the paddock that Red Bull and Toro Rosso reserve driver Daniel Ricciardo will take over one of the Toro Rosso cockpits during the season that will increase the rookie count.

Tyres

The new Pirelli tyres suffer from severe degradation and there could be as many as four pit stops in the Australian race, and this is great. Pirelli have done an excellent job to supply not only the number of tyres needed for Formula 1 in such a small space of time but to supply a tyre that is both safe and suffers degradation to require more stops and increase the spectacle of the sport. It would have been very easy for the Italian company to supply bulletproof tyres like Bridgestone used to, they’ve listened to the fans and the teams and it seems to be working well.

The visibility of the tyre specifications, the colour coding, is actually harder than Bridgestone’s green stripe indicator to read. You need a full side shot of the cars to be able to tell the difference. This is a small problem however, and something that can easily be remedied with some extra paint in the appropriate colour.

DRS

The DRS, Drag Reduction System, better known to the fans as the moveable rear wing concept is the new gimmick this year. After observing it in practice this isn’t going to make a great deal of difference. It’s a very fan friendly innovation though, whereas KERS requires a graphic to see when it’s being used and the F-Duct needed an onboard shot to see the driver using it if hand operated, DRS can be seen clearly from a long way away. The flap that moves is easy to see. There seem to be two major control mechanisms, the traditional button on the steering wheel or an extra pedal controlled by the left foot. As the left foot is only used for the brakes and the steering wheel is already overcrowded with buttons, this seems the better solution.

Regulation wise, the DRS can only be deployed in the race if a car is within a second of another car within a certain area of the track and is then usable for the next straight. The system automatically shuts off the next time the driver presses the brake or is running at less than 90% throttle. During practice sessions (including qualifying) the DRS can be used anywhere on the track regardless of where other cars are. This is going to give very fast qualifying times and very exciting qualifying laps as drivers push to the limit.

KERS

The white elephant that is KERS makes a return this year. Although never banned it was not used last year due to a gentlemen’s agreement between the teams. Most teams are either constructing their own, or purchasing it as a drive train extra from their engine supplier. Ultimately KERS is a spin story, something Formula 1 can point to showing how aware they are of environmental technologies. The fact that very clever boffins in the paddock have said that the systems in F1 will have no bearing on road car KERS means the systems are more of a gimmick than DRS. This is especially important given the return of KERS was in part to replace the advantage of the F-Duct being banned. The F-Duct is a hole in the bodywork that is covered to give extra straight line speed, cutting holes in cars is cheap, the development of Mercedes’ KERS cost the same as Virgin’s yearly budget. Williams’ innovative flywheel system apparently won’t be making a appearance, the enlarged fuel tanks now that refuelling has been banned mean there’s not enough room for it in the car.

107% Rule

This rule makes a, in my eyes, very welcome return this year. Any car that cannot qualify with 107% of the top qualifying time will not be allowed to compete in the race unless an exemption is made. The times are taken from the first qualifying session in which all cars run. This actually helps the tail end teams as the top teams will generally be using a harder set of tyres for that session to preserve their option tyres for the final top ten shoot out.

Apparently there’s a gentlemen’s agreement that all teams will be allowed to compete in the first race of the year, looking at the Hispania in practice, it’s the only thing that will get it into the race. In reality only Virgin and Hispania are in danger from this new rule. There is a tactical consideration for the top teams, especially Red Bull, to use a set of option tyres in the first qualifying session and see if they can instant remove four cars they’d have to lap multiple times during the race.

The Pack

Twelve teams this year and they seem to have broken into three convenient sections once again. We have:

  • The Frontrunners – Red Bull Racing, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes GP. McLaren aren’t as far back as the pre-season testing would have us believe and Mercedes seem to be a lot closer to the top three this year.
  • The Midfield – Renault, Team Lotus, Williams, Toro Rosso, Force India and Sauber. Renault seem to have dropped back into the midfield firmly, apart from that it’s anyone’s guess who will lead this group on any given weekend. Team Lotus aren’t as far forward as everyone thought they might by, but they are over a second a lap clear of Virgin.
  • The Rear Gunners – Virgin Racing and Hispania Racing Team. Hispania aren’t likely to see out the season given the rate of development in Formula 1, they’re already so far back with the new car that by mid-season it’s going to be like running a GP2 car in a race.
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