F1 2011 Testing So Far

Testing has been interesting so far. As always, the times are not generally representitive of actual pace under race conditions. Not only this, but many teams still aren’t running their Bahrain packages which means they have several major upgrades to come before the first race, which may or may not take place, due to the current problems in that part of the world.

Going back to the cars themselves, from what people close to the sport are saying, Red Bull appear to have the best car, unsurprisingly blitzing everyone else in terms of down force, with reports suggesting that they can use their movable rear wing in the middle of high speed corners. If true, it would be a massive advantage in qualifying if they were the only team able to do this.

I’m a bit fearful that despite everyone talking up their chances, especially last year’s new teams Lotus and Virgin, that they will once again flop and will still be in effectively a championship of their own. Lotus have the best chance to make an improvement but I think that they will again struggle to keep up with the back of the established pack, especially with Toro Rosso appearing from early indications that they might have a relatively competitive car on their hands.

The other recent news that excites me is that Tonio Liuzzi has been tested by HRT in Barcelona this weekend which I hope will lead to him landing that race seat. I think he was treated abominably by Force India, especially when most of the incidents that happened to him last year were mechanical and not his fault. I did mention before that he could end up being paid twice this year, and that looks increasingly likely, as I can’t see any better candidates for that second Hispania seat than him when you consider his fast experience of modern F1 cars that almost no other contender can match.

He’s a seasoned campaigner and even though the HRT will no doubt be very uncompetitive, it’s still a drive and it still keeps him in the sport he loves to compete in, and that’s got to be a great thing for him. Especially as excellent drivers like Nico Hulkenberg are having to sit out the season.

Mercedes are a team that everyone thought would bring themselves into contention as the fourth real contender after suffering a dismal 2010 compared to their championship winning form the previous year. Up until today their pace and reliability were both a concern. Pleasingly, they seem to be getting a grip on the teething problems with various parts of the car and Nico Rosberg set the fastest time in today’s test session. While this doesn’t necessarily prove they have genuine pace, it’s at least a positive sign of things to come.

Likewise, Renault who have also been tipped to challenge for wins this season have had one massive setback, the injury to star driver Robert Kubica. It’s hard to gauge how well they will do this year, but I’m glad for Nick Heidfeld that he’s been given a final chance to prove himself in what is believed to be a competitive car. He’s known for his consistency as opposed to pure speed but he should still prove to be a worthy replacement for Kubica, even if he probably won’t be able to match the Pole’s pace in the car.

McLaren were the third fastest team this year, and everyone seemed sure that they would be even more competitive this year. They’ve had car trouble and their running time has been considerably cut down from what they wanted. Whether their car is as fast as it looks is unknown but Lewis Hamilton was fastest this morning until Rosberg took that honour in the afternoon session. I don’t think you could ever count out a team like McLaren anyway. They’ve shown multiple times, especially in 2009 that they can turn a terrible car into a race-winner with regular in-season upgrades.

Whether or not Bahrain happens in March or not, whenever and wherever the first race is, I hope as many teams are competitive as possible, so we can see the best racing possible. If only they would leave the regulations alone for one season to give the smaller teams a chance to catch up, because there’s only so fast a car can go under a set of static regulations. However, the changes in the last few years have allowed some great things to happen such as Brawn GP and Red Bull elevating themselves to glory. I suppose when you consider those things, you would still prefer to have constant technical changes but perhaps there needs to be a kind of trade-off where the regulations only change every other year or only when absolutely necessary.


F1: Was Bahrain boring?

My opinion is that it was and it wasn’t. I think to just flat out say it was a boring race is taking a very casual view without really appreciating what F1 is.

No, overtaking didn’t really happen in the race. Did the new regulations have a part to play in that? It quite likely did play a part but I think that in F1, overtaking will always be a premium because of the fastest cars qualifying at the front of the grid. Unless a driver in a fast car under-performs in qualifying, it’s hard to see where overtaking is going to come from.

The main argument at the moment is that the cars aren’t being driven to their full potential during the races which is a problem. In a sport like this, pure speed and performance should be at the top of the agenda, rather than looking after tires, engines and brakes. Those should come second to racing.

The ban on in-race refuelling has made the cars longer, heavier and slower (especially in the first part of a race). This makes braking late and generally manoeuvring the cars harder than normal, and makes overtaking very difficult especially when the faster cars and drivers are generally in front. I personally like this new rule, especially from a safety perspective. I think they should stay with this but change other aspects to improve the racing.

What most people are suggesting at the moment is a new rule which would make 2 pit-stops at least required during the races in order to make them more strategic and less processional. The others include abolishing the double-diffuser to allow cars to run closer together and improve overtaking opportunities, as well as tire supplier Bridgestone producing “racier” tires which would degrade quicker and prevent teams from running longer on a single set.

These all seem like good ideas and will surely help to improve things. Unfortunately, the double-diffuser, although they have been banned, haven’t been banned until next season. In the meantime, the possible mandatory 2 stops and less durable tires should go some way towards achieving the desired effect.

Of course, this won’t solve everything. You still need to do more to reduce aero turbulence behind cars and make the cars more even, especially in the engine department.

What I’ve not mentioned so far is that, of course with every new large rule change in a sport like this, there will be an adjustment period where the teams will struggle at first. That is what we’ve seen to an extent at this opening race of the year. I suspect that in the next few races we will start to see more differing strategies and exciting racing. If the teams, especially McLaren and Mercedes can bridge the performance gap to Ferrari and Red Bull which I’m confident they will do.