The 2011 Season Review - Part Two 05 Dec 2011
Continued from Part One
McLaren struggled horribly in pre-season testing, trying to get their blown floor working, but reversion to a previous iteration worked miracles for the opening race and they were competitive for much of the season. Hamilton won beautifully in China, then came victory for Button in Canada, the race of the year which had it all. First there was the terrible weather at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, then the collision between the McLaren team mates which put Hamilton out. Then there was a drive-through penalty for Button for speeding behind the safety car, followed by stoppage of the race for two agonising hours because of the conditions. Then, as he fought back from last place after the restart, Button collided with Alonso, caught and passed a duelling Webber and Schumacher, then relentlessly pushed Vettel into a slide on the final lap which enabled him to slither by to snatch a sensational victory after one of the greatest wet-weather drives.
Hamilton won again in Germany, a much-needed relief for under-fire team boss Martin Whitmarsh after a disastrous Silverstone, then Button won in Hungary and Japan before Hamilton, who had a bruising year filled with personal problems, hit back at his mounting number of critics with a great triumph in Abu Dhabi.
While McLarens massive developmental rate saw it capable of matching and beating Red Bull, Ferrari struggled. Alonso was mighty, leading in Spain and winning at Silverstone, but the 150° Italias overwhelming problem was poor performance on the harder compound Pirellis. That, and Massas failure to back Alonso and a history of collisions with Hamilton (where the fault was pretty evenly distributed on both sides), meant that the Scuderia had a tough year.
It was not as bad as Mercedes, however, as the silver arrows never threatened the leading three teams to any great extent. Nico Rosberg showed strongly, and one had to feel sorry for him that the season yet again failed to give definitive answers about his overall level of ability, but though there were definite signs of promise from Schumacher, who closed the gap to Rosberg significantly compared to 2010, the veteran German continued to make more mistakes than one would expect of a seven-time champion.
Renault failed to live up to the pre-season hype, and though the aggressively innovative R31 with its forward-facing exhausts was a car with which Kubica could undoubtedly have launched a spectacular challenge, Heidfeld was lost in it bar a third place finish in Malaysia, and Petrov and Senna made little significant impression.
Force India had a great season which resulted in sixth overall, as they saw off and outdistanced the challenge from Sauber and Toro Rosso. Though there was competition at times from Perez, Di Resta was clearly the rookie of the year. The taciturn 25 year-old Scot let what he did at the wheel do all his talking for him. Straight away he started to out-qualify Adrian Sutil, himself one of the fastest men over a single lap, and he could beat him in races too, confirming the potential that Mercedes-Benz and manager Anthony Hamilton had seen in his F3 days when he used to beat Vettel. His confident and mature performances were complemented by some excellent drives from Sutil, who surely deserves to retain a seat somewhere for 2012.
Williams had a bitterly disappointing year, and though Maldonado often matched Rubens Barrichellos speed, the Venezuelan rookie showed himself to be a hothead on occasion. For Barrichellos part, it remains to be seen whether the veteran Brazilian has reached the end of his long F1 road.
Team Lotus emerged the best of the new teams, winning the lucrative 10th place overall. Kovalainen was brilliant there, Trulli less so. Virgin also made progress, especially after the split with technical boss Nick Wirth and his digital-only design approach, as did HRT as they regrouped around new Spanish ownership for 2012.
On the technical front Pirelli listened intently to everything that team bosses and drivers had to say to them and acted on their suggestions. Thus when their tyres reached their limit, the performance drop-off was so marked that pit stops were inevitable. At some races there were as many as four per driver, but things found their level as the season progressed, and generally there were two or three. Tyre conservation once again became part of the drivers art. The smooth Button was arguably the best at it. By season end, the brave experiment had had no discernible negative effect on Pirellis marketing image, and was adjudged to have been a major success.
DRS, too, had its moments, though at times it also disappointed. Much depended on where the zones were located, and this was a work in progress all season as the FIA learned more about car behaviour with the system. Overall, however, it too was a big success. It might have been artificial, but effectively it gave drivers back the age-old advantage of the slipstream which had been lost to turbulence-inducing diffusers.
Beyond question, there were more overtaking moves in 2011 than ever before. Prior to Brazil, Mercedes estimated there had been 1436 of them. Excluding those categorised as 'Lap One' or because of damage, there were 1180 manoeuvres. The combined total of 'Normal' and 'DRS-assisted' moves - the indicator of what most observers consider to be 'clean' overtaking - was 804 overtakes, giving an average of 45 normal and DRS overtakes per race.
Within these totals, Mercedes further estimated that there had been 441 normal overtakes and 363 DRS, and that from that total of 804 clean overtakes, 55 percent were normal and 45 percent were DRS. 300 overtakes were on the three slowest teams by faster cars, with passes between team mates accounting for 76 overtakes.
The highest number of clean overtakes were recorded in Turkey (85), Canada (79) and China (67). The races with the fewest were Monaco (16), Australia (17) and India (18). Nine races featured fewer than 50 clean overtakes; eight races featured more.
DRS greatest influence came in Abu Dhabi (89 percent of overtakes), Valencia (81 percent), India (78 percent), Turkey (59 percent) and Spain (57 percent). The lowest was in Monaco (13 percent), Hungary (20 percent), Canada (22 percent), Japan (26 percent) and Britain (27 percent), though three of these races featured wet or mixed conditions, and use of DRS was restricted for portions of the race in Canada and Britain. DRS overtakes outnumbered normal moves in eight of 18 races, but overall it accounted for 45.5 percent of clean overtakes.
Indias first Grand Prix was a huge success, as the country welcomed F1 with open arms and put on a great show that won it universal accolades. For 2012, Austin in Texas hopes to emanate that success and bring Formula One back to the United States for the first time since 2007.
The new season will be one with relatively few major rule changes and all of the teams will be able to go into it with evolutions of their existing designs (albeit without blown diffusers, at least in their traditional sense), which will inevitably close up the field a little more and promote even better racing.
Formula Ones latest golden era shows every sign of continuing.
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