2011's Formula One's season is set to be the most exciting in years - we have five F1 champions lining up, as well as a few driving teams that could cause a surprise. Furthermore, there is brand new technology and regulation that is deliberately designed to make the races more aggressive and competitive, not just for teams competing at the top of the grid, but throughout the sport.
Ahead of this weekend's curtain raiser in Melbourne, and with pre-season testing in Spain behind us, we take an assessment of where each team stands heading into the new season, and how they are built to respond to these important changes, individually and collectively.
Many teams have made individual innovations to get the upper hand, including Renault's forward-facing exhaust or Toro Rosso's 'double floor' but it is the FIA's new regulations for this season that could potentially completely change the dynamic of the sport. Here, we take a look at those changes...
1. New adjustable rear wings can be moved from the cockpit. This is designed to help overtaking by reducing drag off the car it is directly following. However, there are restrictions to this usage - it can be used at any time in practice and qualifying, but during the race can only be activated when a driver is less than one second behind another car at pre-determined points on a straight and is de-activated once the driver brakes for the next corner. Early reports in testing suggest that used correctly, adds approximately 6-8mph to the driver and so could be crucial on long straights, especially in the Far East for example. This is not a mandatory requirement but will be widely used for all the competitive teams.
2. KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) makes a comeback after a one year hiatus. KERS draw excess power from the engine whilst the car brakes and this energy is stored in a battery and made available to the driver in fixed quantities per lap via a steering wheel-mounted 'boost button'. Cars on average get an extra 80bhp from this, approximately 10 per cent of their total power. Again, this regulation is not compulsory but all teams apart from Lotus, Virgin and HRT have applied it to their cars and KERS can be used in conjunction with the rear wings, meaning the drivers are busier than ever!
3. The clause in the sporting regulations banning team orders has been removed, which will demand a re-shuffle as to how racing chiefs organised and/or prioritise their two drivers- something we saw to dramatic effect last season with Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.
4. However, arguably the largest change since last season is the change in tyre supplier from Bridgestone to Pirelli and the demands that the tyre must be softer to deteriorate more quickly, which in turn is expected to create three to four pit-stops per car per race. With added restrictions on the dry weather tyres, drivers will be forced to consider tactics which prolong their longevity or face being overtaken. Driving styles will come under scrutiny, unlike any time in the Bridgestone era.