Dash of fun to formula

Motor sport Formula One

Eye on the prize: Germany’s Sebastian Vettel will have his eyes set on retaining the crown but the rest of the pack will be just as eager to take it away. AfP

Formula One has mixed up the ingredients this season to create a new recipe for excitement with more world champions, including the youngest ever in Sebastian Vettel, and an added dash of Indian spice.

The arrival of Italy’s Pirelli as sole tyre supplier in place of Japan’s Bridgestone will have an immediate impact when the racing starts in Australia next week, with many more pitstops and changed strategies.

The debut of four newcomers, including Mexico’s Sergio Perez at Sauber and Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado at Williams, marks the return to the grand prix paddock of nations whose drivers have been absent for decades.

India will see first-hand what F1 is all about when the country hosts its first grand prix near New Delhi in late October, with home-grown driver Narain Karthikeyan looking forward to being back on the starting grid for the first time since 2005. Add moveable rear wings, the controversial return of previously-banned ‘team orders’ and the revival of Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) to the menu, and there should be enough to satisfy the appetite of any racing fan.

“I think in the championship it is going to be far more exciting,” F1 great Stirling Moss, still an avid race watcher at 81, said. “There are so many new things that have come in where the driver’s input is going to mean quite a lot more than it did last year. I am looking forward to the best year for years.”

Vettel, who will line up on the grid in Australia on March 27 with a new contract and the champion's number one on his Red Bull for the first time, is now the main man at the tender age of 23. Red Bull have been quick and reliable in testing and, although Ferrari have at times been quicker and done more mileage, some suspect the champions of keeping their powder dry.

“I think Ferrari look very strong, I think people are under-estimating where Ferrari are. We hope that we are somewhere near competitive,” Red Bull team boss Christian Horner told reporters this week.

“There’s a few teams that have shown good form in testing, Mercedes have recently taken a step. It's difficult to say where McLaren are; one thing's for sure, they will at some point emerge near the front of the field.  “I think it’s doubtful that you will see one team dominate and run away with the first five races for example.”

All will be revealed in Melbourne, but Vettel is sure to be a leading contender. “He will go into the next year with his confidence certainly high and in many respects it's a degree of expectation already dealt with,” said Horner.  “If he hadn’t have won there would be that ‘Oh, Vettel's got to do it this year; now or never’ kind of thing.

“He’s achieved the championship, he turns up in Melbourne as the reigning world champion with the number one on his car and I think that will give him an added confidence and desire with perhaps not quite the pressure had he not have done it.”
Vettel will be one of five world champions -- the most since 1970 -- in a season that criss-crosses the globe with a record-equalling 19 races.

There could even be 20 rounds, although that looks highly unlikely now, were Bahrain to be reinstated after having to scrap its season-opening March 13 slot due to anti-government unrest in the Gulf kingdom. Seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, continuing his comeback with Mercedes, will be seeking to return to the podium for the first time since 2006 while Ferrari's Fernando Alonso looks sure to be challenging for his third crown after being let down by the Italian team's strategy at the end of last term.

McLaren's 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton and 2009 title-holder Jenson Button may have more of a struggle with their car alarmingly off the pace in pre-season testing. Germany's Nico Rosberg is gunning for the first win of his Formula One career, having comfortably beaten team mate Schumacher last year, while Brazilian Felipe Massa needs to counter any impression that he is Alonso's number two at Ferrari.

Vettel’s Australian team-mate Mark Webber actually has the number two on his car but expects to be competing against the German on level terms.

“Mark knows that this year is a big year for him, he will get full support,” said Horner. “I think he has (got what it takes to be champion). He came close last year. Going into that final race, he was the one that was the more likely of the two to win it. It didn't pan out for him but he's continued to evolve and grow stronger.  “I’m sure that those lessons that he's learned last year will stand him in good stead for the challenges of this year,” added the Briton.

The big absentee will be Poland's Robert Kubica, second last year for Renault in Melbourne, after his career-threatening and near-fatal crash while competing for fun in a minor rally in Italy in February.


A quick ride through the changes this season


*TYRES: Pirelli has replaced Bridgestone as the sole supplier of tyres. Expect far more pitstops than in the past with the tyres designed to wear out quickly to encourage better racing and more excitement on the track.

Tyre management will be crucial and drivers will be lapping at different speeds according to the level of tyre degradation. Teams will be allowed extra allocations at certain races for Friday practice to help the Italian manufacturer get around a testing ban and develop the tyres.

* KERS: The Kinetic Energy Recovery (KERS) System, used in 2009 but dropped last year, return but again the use is optional. The systems give a short boost of power at the press of a button.

* MOVEABLE REAR WING: Driver-adjustable bodywork is now allowed, specifically a moveable rear wing that drivers operate by pressing a button on the steering wheel to open a slot in the rear wing and gain more straight-line speed when chasing a rival.
The wing will be enabled via control electronics if the driver is less than a second behind a rival at pre-determined positions on the circuit. The overtaking zone will be on each circuit's main straight.

The double-diffusers and 'F-ducts' seen last season are outlawed since anything which relies on driver movement to alter the aerodynamic characteristics of a car is banned.

* TEAM ORDERS: Team orders, of the kind that caused a furore in the past when a driver was ordered to let his team mate past, are legal again although the governing FIA can still charge teams with bringing the sport into disrepute if the move is too blatant.

Effectively, teams must not show favouritism too early in the season. Later on in the year, such tactics are to be expected if one team-mate is no longer in contention.

* GEARBOXES: Gearboxes must now last five successive races, instead of four. Any unscheduled change will incur a five-place penalty on the starting grid. Drivers are however allowed one penalty-free change the first time an unscheduled switch becomes necessary.

* 107 PERCENT: The rule, which excludes a driver from taking part in a race if his best lap in qualifying exceeds 107 percent of the fastest time set in the session, has been restored after being dropped to help the new teams.

The Races - where and when

* March 27: Qantas Australian Grand Prix (Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit, Melbourne).
* April 10: Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix (Sepang International Circuit, Kuala Lumpur).
* April 17: UBS Chinese Grand Prix (Shanghai International Circuit).
* May 8: Turkish Grand Prix (Istanbul Park).
* May 14: Gran Premio de Espana Spanish GP (Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona).
* May 29: Grand Prix de Monaco Monaco GP (Circuit de Monaco, Monte Carlo).
* June 12: Grand Prix du Canada Canadian GP (Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal).
* June 26: European Grand Prix (Valencia Street Circuit).
* July 10: Santander British Grand Prix (Silverstone Circuit).
* July 24: Grober Preis Santander von Deutschland German GP (Nurburgring).
* July 31: Eni Magyar Nagydij Hungarian GP (Hungaroring, Budapest).
* August 28: Shell Belgian Grand Prix (Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Spa).
* September 14: Gran Premio Santander d'Italia Italian GP (Autodromo Nazionale, Monza).
* September 25: SingTel Singapore Grand Prix (Marina Bay Street Circuit).
* October 9: Japanese Grand Prix (Suzuka Circuit, Suzuka).
* October 16: Korean Grand Prix (Korean International Circuit, Yeongam).
* October 30: Indian Grand Prix (Jaypee Group Circuit, Greater Noida).
* November 13: Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (Yas Marina Circuit).
* November 27: Grande Prêmio do Brasil Brazilian GP (Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, Sao Paulo).
* Revised dates for the Bahrain Grand Prix, following Bahraini protests, have not yet been announced.

The drivers...

Second coming : India’s Narain Karthikeyan returns to Formula One with HRT Racing after a five-year gap. AFP* Red Bull Racing (RS27-2011): Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber. Test driver: Daniel Ricciardo

* Vodafone McLaren Mercedes (Mercedes FO 108Y): Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button. Test drivers: Pedro de la Rosa, Gary Paffett.

* Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro (Ferrari 056): Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa. Test drivers: Giancarlo Fisichella, Jules Bianchi, Marc Gené.

* Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team (Mercedes FO 108Y): Michael Schumacher, Nico Rosberg. Test drivers: To be announced.

* Lotus Renault GP (Renault RS27-2011): Nick Heidfeld, Vitaly Petrov. Test drivers: Bruno Senna, Romain Grosjean, Fairuz Fauzy, Ho-Pin Tung, Jan Charouz.

* AT&T Williams (Cosworth CA2011): Rubens Barrichello, Pastor Maldonado. Test driver: Valtteri Bottas.

* Force India F1 Team (Mercedes FO 108Y): Adrian Sutil, Paul di Resta. Test driver: Nico Hülkenberg.

* Sauber F1 Team (Ferrari 056): Kamui Kobayashi, Sergio Pérez. Test driver: Esteban Gutiérrez.

* Scuderia Toro Rosso (Ferrari 056): Sébastien Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari. Test driver: Daniel Ricciardo.

* Hispania Racing F1 Team (Cosworth CA2011): Narain Karthikeyan, Vitantonio Liuzzi. Test drivers: To be announced.

* Team Lotus (Renault RS27-2011): Jarno Trulli, Heikki Kovalainen. Test drivers: Luiz Razia, Davide Valsecchi, Ricardo Teixeira.

* Marussia Virgin Racing (Cosworth CA2011): Timo Glock, Jerome d’Ambrosio. Test drivers: To be announced.

At long last : After years of talks with the FIA, India gets a chance to host the Formula One Grand Prix at the track being built in Greater Noida.

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