The 2011 Season Review - Vettel finds another gear 05 Dec 2011
Formula Ones new golden era continued in 2011, as five world champions did battle over the 19 races. The top four teams kept their same driver line-ups: Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber at Red Bull; Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button at McLaren; Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa at Ferrari; and Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg at Mercedes.
New to the show, however, were Paul di Resta in place of Tonio Liuzzi at Force India; Sergio Perez in place of Nick Heidfeld at Sauber; and Pastor Maldonado in place of Nico Hulkenberg at Williams. Toro Rosso kept Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari, Lotus Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli, while Virgin paired regular Timo Glock with Jerome DAmbrosio and Liuzzi slotted into HRT with Narain Karthikeyan as his partner until the Indian was replaced mid-season by promising rookie Daniel Ricciardo.
The saddest change was forced upon Renault when Robert Kubica, surely one of the top three drivers in 2010, was so grievously injured in a rallying accident in the off-season that his F1 future still remains in doubt. The likable Pole was replaced initially by Heidfeld, who got his umpteenth chance to show his mettle against Vitaly Petrov, until he was replaced later in the year by rookie Bruno Senna after some less than stellar performances.
On the technical side KERS - the Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems which boost power by 80 bhp for a few seconds each lap - made a return with all the major teams, but not with any of the new ones. But the two biggest innovations were the introduction of Pirelli as sole tyre supplier in place of Bridgestone, and the DRS - Drag Reduction System - rear wings.
Once again there were few significant political issues. The most notorious was Bahrain. The troubled situation there, which saw a later start to the season after the cancellation of the opening race, dominated the news for much of the year. Thankfully, the F1 paddock is due to return in April 2012.
Then there was the vexed technical saga of the blown diffuser, which came to a head at the British Grand Prix. As Silverstone celebrated the opening of its resplendent new pits complex, relocated to the exit of Club corner, there was wholesale confusion over the question of whether teams were still allowed to blow exhaust gases over their cars diffusers, to generate more downforce and thus grip. Could they just do it cold when the driver had his foot on the throttle, or have a clever hot means of maintaining the downforce when he lifted off by injecting fuel into the gas flow to create an afterburner effect like a jet engines and thus maintain downforce?
It was one of those arguments that meant everything to the teams most keenly involved, but virtually nothing to the man in the street, to whom it was ludicrously complicated to try and explain. There was so much argument and counter-argument that weekend that nobody really knew who was running what, and by Germany the FIA reverted to the previous rules with the promise to look deeper into the matter over the winter.
Then there was the dispute over naming rights between Group Lotus (Lotus Renault GP) and Tony Fernandes Team Lotus, which got so fraught that it went to court where it was settled in Team Lotuss favour and two teams thus continued to share the same name. That one has been resolved for 2012, when Fernandes will run his team as Caterham; at the same time Lotus Renault GP will become Lotus and Marussia Virgin will become Marussia.
Those issues aside, once again the focus was on the racing as another highly competitive season was fought out between the three star teams of 2010. The 19 races took the circus from Australia to Brazil, via Malaysia, China, Turkey, Spain, Monaco, Canada, Spain, Britain, Germany, Hungary, Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Japan, Korea, India and Abu Dhabi. This year there was no last-race denouement as Vettels 11 victories brought him a youngest-ever back-to-back world champions title by Japan, but Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button took three wins apiece for McLaren as Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber scored one each.
Vettel made tremendous use of his machinery as he demonstrated even greater maturity. He took a record 15 pole positions, beating Nigel Mansells 14 from 1992, and more often than not built an early lead after judging exactly how hard he could push his tyres before they were fully warm, yet still managing to conserve them. Races such as Korea and India indicated just how beautifully he judged such things, and he had them won from the start. He made few mistakes in races, (but several in practice sessions), and showed that he is now a complete racer.
The Red Bull RB7, created by the genius of chief technical officer Adrian Newey and painstaking attention to detail of chief designer Roger Marshall, was the seasons best car. It lost out to the Ferrari once and the McLarens several times, but it was almost inevitably the fastest in qualifying and the most competitive in races, as well as being phenomenally reliable. Webber had some early KERS issues, Vettels tyre failure in Abu Dhabi may have been down to one of Neweys innovative exhaust system tweaks, and he had an odd gearbox problem in Brazil, but otherwise it was bulletproof.
Continued in Part Two
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