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The 2010 Season Preview - new beginnings in Bahrain 05 Mar 2010

Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes GP MGP W01. Formula One Testing, Day Two, Barcelona, Spain, Friday 26 February 2010. Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F10 Formula One Testing, Day Two, Barcelona, Spain, Friday 26 February 2010. Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB6. Formula One Testing, Day Four, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday 28 February 2010. Vitantonio Liuzzi (ITA), Force India VJM03, makes a practice pit stop. Formula One Testing, Day One, Barcelona, Spain, Thursday 25 February 2010. Bridgestone tyre and wheel hub. Formula One Testing, Day Two, Jerez, Spain, Thursday 11 February 2010.

The return of Michael Schumacher; four world champions on the grid; at least three leading teams in which team mates will be fighting head-to-head for the title honours; and the prospect of drivers having to display genuine finesse in nursing their tyres now that refuelling has been banned.

Is it any wonder that 2010 is being billed as a fantastic season for the FIA Formula One World Championship?

First of all, there’s Michael Schumacher on the comeback trail, at 41 still as fit and focused as he was in his heyday when he won 91 Grand Prix victories and seven world titles. And the metamorphosis of Brawn GP into Mercedes GP signals the return of the Silver Arrows to Formula One racing for the first time since the team was withdrawn, victorious, at the end of 1955.

Then there’s Fernando Alonso, adding fresh charge to Ferrari, while Felipe Massa returns as healthy and determined as ever after his horrible accident at Hungaroring last July. Jenson Button is already settling in alongside Lewis Hamilton at McLaren, where he will be determined to prove that the 2008 champion is not going to wipe the floor with him.

Sebastien Vettel and Mark Webber are ready to go head-to-head at Red Bull, and owner Dietrich Mateschitz has made it clear he will accept nothing less than the world championship from one of them. The return of Lotus, meanwhile, spearheads the appearance of new teams from Virgin and HRT.

There are fewer rule changes this year, and the most significant is the ban on refuelling. It has obliged teams to develop longer cars with up to 160 kg of fuel-tank capacity instead of the previous maximum of 80, and to juggle weight distribution. The ban will place a premium on preserving their Bridgestone tyres between the mandatory stop(s) in which drivers must switch compounds. It will also change strategy, and promote greater efforts to overtake, as drivers will be less able to wait for pit stops to make up places. Calculation of testing form has been a nightmare, since fuel loads can vary so much (from 10 to 160 kg). Just so you know, every 10 kg of fuel equates to 0.3 seconds on lap time.

The other major change places much more emphasis on victory, as the new points system goes down to 10th place, thus: 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1.

Each driver now gets only 11 sets of tyres per weekend, six sets of primes and five options. Three sets apply solely to Fridays, and must be handed back even if they aren’t used. And drivers from the Q3 session must start the race on the tyres on which they set their grid time.

The penalty for engine changes has effectively been doubled; it’s now 10 grid positions at the race at which the failure occurs, and for the next. The other significant change once again allows teams to run their third drivers on a Friday, provided they use the engine and tyres allocated to the nominated race driver of the relevant car.

Continued in Part Two