You can hear the commentator already: “And here comes Webber now in the Red Bull... he’s got those Pirellis lit up... what can he do to get past Vettel?”
Well, in 2011 he can do one of three things: trust his judgement and his own speed to make a passing manoeuvre, use the boost from the car’s KERS system or resort to the new adjustable rear wing ruling.
The major changes for 2011 are what you might expect in Formula One: they’re all about ways and means of making the cars go faster.
In 2010 it was the often controversial F-duct that gave some drivers a brief but telling advantage, depending on how well their teams had sorted the rather rudimentary technology out. Webber’s Red Bull Racing outfit, for example, struggled to make theirs work effectively mid-season while the McLarens were flying.
Now the F-duct is outlawed, but KERS returns after being banned last year – that’s the on-board system which stores energy that would otherwise be dissipated under braking and allows the driver to use it in a brief surge.
Not only that, but each driver will be able to call on an adjustable rear wing to enhance his car’s aerodynamic performance and help him pass the car in front. This being F1, strict rules apply: the driver must wait a minimum of two laps after the race start or after a safety car period before using it; he may use it only when the on-board electronics advise him it is enabled; and he must be within one second of the car he is following at any one of several pre-determined points on the circuit.
It’s all about the spectacle, and the new rules have the backing of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who said recently: “I’m confident that next year, finally, the rules will help overtaking and we will have a better show for everybody.”
Part of that show will be new tyres, from Pirelli instead of long-term sole supplier Bridgestone. Pirelli boasts 42 Grand Prix wins but the last of those came in June 1991 when Nelson Piquet won for Benetton in Canada. Mind you, it was a Pirelli-shod Alfa Romeo that won the first-ever World Championship Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1950 so the pedigree is certainly there.
On the driver front, Aussie fans can look forward to two local heroes being on-track at Albert Park. Mark Webber, now officially in the number 2 Red Bull alongside World Champion Sebastian Vettel, will be joined on Friday by Daniel Ricciardo as the young West Australian gets his F1 opening as ‘third driver’ for Scuderia Toro Rosso at every race next season.
And last but not least... F1 is officially a team sport once more. The ban on ‘team orders’ that caused such a fuss when Ferrari used them in Germany last season has been lifted.