F1 emerges from its winter hibernation in Australia next weekend. Here’s a brief preview to what could be an enthralling season.
It’s been almost four months since the chequered flag fell in Brazil to cap the 2011 season and next weekend the lights will go out in Melbourne to signal the start of another year of Formula One.
For the top teams, there’s been very little change as Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes retain their drivers for a third successive season. Behind them there’s change at nearly every team with the most significant change coming at Lotus, the team that was Renault last year. Enigmatic 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen returns after two years in the World Rally Championship and he is partnered by Frenchman Romain Grosjean. Other changes come in the shape of team names – Team Lotus and Virgin have transformed into Caterham and Marussia as both outfits strive to score their first point.
For those in the UK, live coverage moves to a specialised channel in the shape of Sky Sports F1, although ten of the scheduled twenty races will be broadcast live on the BBC. Speaking of twenty races, this season is set to hold the most events ever as Turkey departs but the USA and Bahrain returns. The latter of these events was cancelled in 2011 amidst political protests in the Gulf state and F1’s return in April this year is far from certain. It’s a story that will rumble on for another month or so.
Significant rule changes see the introduction of aesthetically displeasing cars – only McLaren and Marussia have bucked the trend of designing machines with stepped noses. The change has come about in an attempt to avoid cars launching over the back of one another, thus increasing safety.
So what appears to be the order? Well, no-one is really sure, but that’s what makes the sport so appealing. Colleagues who attended pre-season testing in Spain have commented that Red Bull will be out front, but McLaren has closed the gap. Sebastian Vettel is the favourite to make it a hat-trick of world championships although he will face a greater challenge from Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and possibly his own team mate Mark Webber. Ferrari has a mountain to climb after struggle to understand their radical car and could be overhauled by Lotus and Mercedes. The midfield remains relatively unchanged while a couple of teams at the back will be struggling to qualify early on in the season.
Whatever the state of play, it’s shaping up to be another cracking season.