With new drivers, teams and rules, the 2010 Formula One World Championship is proving to be as unpredictable as ever, ahead of the season opener in Bahrain.
In the first of a mini-series of articles, Forumula1.com’s Alex Scott looks at how the sport’s latest batch of technical regulations will pose a major challenge to its competitors in their race to the top.
I guess the best way to kick of this mini technical preview is with the most talked about aspect of modern F1 cars aerodynamics. The teams are once again pushing the regulations to the limit in order to gain those precious scraps of time, with some cars being completely redesigned to accommodate optimised â€˜double diffusers , a concept which was such a large talking point last season. Indeed, we have seen even more extreme versions of the diffuser appear over winter, and with the rule interpretations being stretched even further, we may yet see these devices cause further controversy in 2010.
The most notable aerodynamic innovation to appear over the winter is surely McLaren s air fed rear wing, which gives them a top speed improvement of up to an alleged 6mph on the straights. Some teams have questioned it s legality, but the device has passed scrutineering in Bahrain so you can bet that others will be working hard to introduce their own interpretations of this solution as soon as possible.
How each car treats it s tyres will be absolutely crucial this season, both in the race, and for those who make it through to the third qualifying session. As the top 10 on the grid will have to start the race on the tyres they used on qualifying, it will be key for the driver not to take too much life out of the tyres on their final qualifying laps, as their race could be compromised before it even starts. Certainly the most intriguing aspect to the 2010 rule changes does indeed stem from the strategic effects of the refuelling ban combined with the aforementioned tyre treatment. During races, good tyre treatment will simply open up many more strategic options for the team – for example, at places like Monaco where track position is key, those cars which are good to their tyres could conceivably stay out far longer than their rivals and avoid being dropped back into the main pack (and all the slower traffic). Therefore, they could make up a lot of time and potentially jump several cars before they need to pit themselves. Alternatively, they may simply have to make fewer pit stops than their rivals and automatically around 20 seconds that way, at absolutely no cost in running heavy fuel (unlike previous seasons, where it would be very tough for heavy, one-stopping cars to set a pace fast enough for them to ultimately benefit).
So who seems to have the advantage in this department? Well, Bridgestone have said that their pre-season testing data shows that Sauber are enjoying great tyre performance, however whether that translates from the cold tracks tested on to the heat of Bahrain, Malaysia and the like remains to be seen. Other rumours suggest that Ferrari have the ability to maximise their one lap performance yet also do consistent laps over a long stint, albeit at the cost of suffering tyre graining in the first few laps of a longer run.
With the banning on refuelling this season, we can expect to see greater importance being placed on the fuels provided to each team by their respective providers. Why is this? Well, a key point with the non-refuelling regulations for 2010 may well prove to be fuel consumption, an aspect affected by both the engine and the fuel itself.
If the various internet rumours are to be believed, the Renault engine is the most fuel efficient engine on the grid and therefore will require less fuel to complete a race distance, something which may supposedly give them a huge weight advantage at the start of each race in comparison the more thirsty engines of Ferrari and Cosworth. Despite the fact that this advantage will deteriorate over the race, as we all know, the easiest time for the drivers to make up places is early in a race where the field is still tightly packed. Whether Renault s superior consumption will make up for the alleged lack of ultimate engine power compared to it s rivals remains to be seen, but in theory, they have the ability to run richer fuel mixtures (that give more power) to compensate without using up as much petrol.
One final thing to potentially look out for this season, especially in the first couple of races, is the teams making errors regarding how much more fuel they will need to get to the end of a race, and having to take damage limiting action and losing seconds a lap (and several places as a result), in the same vein as what we saw with Felipe Massa at last season s Spanish Grand Prix.