With only 10 days to go before the official start of the 2010 Formula One season at the Bahrain International Circuit, it is about time to see what can be expected from the Formula One teams this season. Unfortunately it is, at this moment, not ...
With only 10 days to go before the official start of the 2010 Formula One season at the Bahrain International Circuit, it is about time to see what can be expected from the Formula One teams this season. Unfortunately it is, at this moment, not clear of what the situation for the Campos Meta and US F1 teams is. Collin Kolles, Campos team principal, has vowed to bring two cars to the circuit of Bahrain in time, US F1 has major problems and are struggling to keep their Formula One hopes alive.
However, if everything goes according to plan, the pinacle single-seater series will be welcoming four rookie teams and four rookie drivers this year. Two drivers are returning to Formula One, after three years of absence: seven times world champion Michael Schumacher will return to the circuits with the Mercedes GP team. And the former McLaren test and reserve driver Pedro de la Rosa will make a season long race return with the Sauber team. The Spaniard's career appeared to end with Jaguar at the end of 2002.
If everything does go according to plan, also a number of familiar names from the past will make their return this year; Mike Gascoyne (Lotus), Colin Kolles (Campos), Daniele Audetto (Campos) and Ken Anderson (US F1). Engine builder Cosworth, with an incredible 176 wins between 1963 and 2006, the most successful engine builder ever, also makes a comeback to Formula One. They will supply engines to Williams, Lotus, Virgin, Campos and US F1. And after 16 years of absence, the legendary Lotus team, now a complete Malaysian team with a Malaysian license, will be back this year.
The governing body of Formula one and other racing series welcomes new Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) president Jean Todt, who has reformed the FIA organization during the winter, let's see if he has succeeded in improving the interaction between the FIA and the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA).
There are number of changes in the regulations, not as many changes as in 2009, but there are a few significant changes. About the tyres; the number of dry-weather tyres has been reduced to 11 sets (14 sets in 2009), 6 sets of prime tyres and 5 sets of option tyres, and for wet-weather 4 sets of intermediates and 3 sets of full wet-weather tyres. To get a better balance between the grip of the front and rear tyres, the size of the front tyres has been reduced to 245/55 R13 (270/55 R13 in 2009), so the front tyres will be narrower compared to 2009. The teams who make it to Q3, will have to start the race on the same tyres they used during Q3.
The second major change is the refueling ban, strangely enough the refueling ban wasn't imposed to make the cars and engines more fuel efficient or to improve overtaking, but the FIA hopes to reduce the costs for teams, they won't have to ship the large and heavy refueling equipment anymore. Unfortunately he FIA will not publish the car weights this year, a pity, because without those weights we cannot tell which engine is in fact the most fuel efficient engine. Less fuel in the tank is of course a huge advantage, and sofar it is believed Renault has the most fuel efficient engine, but drivers themselves can also save fuel by adapting a more fuel efficient driving style.
The use of engines and gearboxes has been tweaked a little compared to last year, a driver can still use 8 engines per season and a driver may use no more than one gearbox for four consecutive races. Exceeding these limits will result in a grid penalty, 10 places for an engine, and 5 places for a gearbox. In addition the regulations now also state: "If two such additional engines are used during a single Event [race] the driver concerned will drop ten places on the starting grid at that Event and at the following Event."
At the request of the teams, because there are now more teams in Formula One, the points system has been tweaked as well. The new scoring system of 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 for the first 10 drivers in a race should, according to the FIA, be an incentive for drivers to fight for the first place in the race instead of just picking up points, and the teams at the back of the field will fight harder to end in the top ten.
Take it to the limit
Teams are already exploring the loopholes in the new regulations, wheel covers have been banned, no devices may be physically attached to the wheel anymore, but during testing in Spain wheels with aerodynamically shaped inner rims were spotted on the Ferrari F10. In an attempt to prevent teams from building all kinds of complicated and expensive pit equipment, the new regulations also state: "Powered devices which assist in lifting any part of a car are forbidden in the pit lane during a race", which means pneumatically, hydraulically or electrically powered jacks to lift the car are not allowed, but Mercedes has already experimented with a jack system which uses mechanically spring loaded jacks.
The design of the double diffuser, which will be banned after this season, has also been stretched to the limit, some teams feel that some of their colleagues have crossed the limits, and it is very well possible that teams will ask the FIA for clarification of the rules concerning the diffuser, just like last year. Persistent rumors say Mercedes has developed a 'super diffuser' and deliberately hasn't used it during testing and will only fit the diffuser on the Thursday before the race at Bahrain. On that day the teams will have to bring their cars to the FIA Technical Commission for inspection, and only then we will know if all the designs are legal or not.
Tyre and pit stop strategy
The tyre compound gap will remain and Bridgestone will supply Hard, Medium, Soft and Super-Soft tyre compounds. In dry weather teams will have to use both of the two allocated tyre compounds, the softest compound will be marked with a green band on the sidewall of the tyre. In some cases it will be possible to make only one pit stop, start the race on the hardest compound, and finish the race on the softer compound, but computer pit stop simulations indicated teams will be on a two or three stop strategy, just like last year. Because of the increased weight (due to the refueling ban), the condition of the tyres will be the most important factor for the teams to determine when and how many pit stops they will make. Drivers will have to look after the tyres, if they don't, it might cost them an extra pit stop.
Pit stops will be very fast this year, some teams have already been practicing pit stops during the test days in Spain last month and Williams test director Dickie Stanford claimed the Williams team had sofar clocked a record time of 2.83 seconds. To change the tyres even quicker, Ferrari has designed a new cone-shaped wheel nut that integrates better with the wheel gun. Ferrari has sofar not used the wheel nut during testing, but Spanish papers reported the team has done testing back in Italy. While previously the wheel nut safety fastener needed to be pulled out manually by a mechanic, the fastener will now be automatically engaged when the wheel gun has tightened the wheel with the correct amount of torque.
Also back is the 'traffic light' pit stop system, Ferrari has experimented with it in the past, and Mercedes has build a new version of it and intends to use it during races. The automated system has become less complex, because there won't be any refueling which has always been the most dangerous and time consuming part of a pit stop. The driver will not watch the lollypop man, but an overhead traffic light and can take off once it has changed from red to green. The automated system can be halted manually, which is necessary in case of an emergency, or when another car passes the team's pit box at the same time the driver wants to take off.
The implications of the refueling ban
The most notable change in the regulations is of course the refueling ban. Teams will now have to start the race with the fuel tanks completely topped up, and will be carrying some 180 kilo's weight in fuel at the start of a race. The extra weight will have an enormous impact on the behavior of the car during the first part of the race, and most teams had to redesign the front an rear wheel suspensions, and find extra space for the enlarged fuel tanks. The extra weight also means the wheel suspensions, tyres, brake pads, brake discs, springs and shock absorbers will be exposed to a lot more wear and tear compared to last year. Some teams are especially concerned about the brakes, last year we already saw a number of brake discs go up in smoke, so drivers will have to be gentle on the brakes this season.
Unfortunately this means all teams had to completely redesign their car, which from a cost saving point of view doesn't make much sense. And when the double diffuser will be banned next year, teams will again have to redesign their car. It would have been much better if the FIA would have, instead of the ban on refueling, promoted fuel economy by limiting the amount of fuel a car is allowed to use during a race. The costs of redesigning a car are much higher than the costs saved on transporting and operating the traditional fuel rigs, even on the long term.
The argument the danger of pit fires will be eliminated doesn't make much sense either. If a car catches fire in the pit lane, at least there are plenty of marshals and fire extinguishers at hand, if a car catches fire on track, it takes some time before marshals arrive at the scene, and by then it might be too late. And with over 200 liters of fuel in a car at the start of a race, the risk things might go wrong is in fact higher, the more fuel, the greater the risks will be.
The 2010 cars
Because of the new enlarged fuel tank all cars now have a longer wheel base, and the narrow and high nose with its characteristic humps just before the cockpit as introduced by Red Bull Racing in 2009 (designed by Adrian Newey) is now incorporated in almost all 2010 car designs. The raised nose is necessary to get a good airflow under and around the front of the car, which in its turn helps to guide the air to the rear diffuser. The introduction of narrower front tyres has also led to new front wing designs, and again the front wing design contributes to the airflow around the front of the car and therefore also has an impact on the working of the rear diffuser.
The rear diffuser is of paramount importance to get the necessary down force, and more down force means of course more grip and faster lap times. In fact, the whole front of the car is designed with only one thing in mind; to get the maximum performance from the rear diffuser. Ferrari has gone one step further, they have come up with the 'tilted engine' concept, the engine is mounted under a 3.5 degree angle to maximize the performance of the diffuser. The idea is not entirely new, the same feature was seen on the 1979 Arrow A2 design.
The side pods are even smaller now and are placed further to the back of the car, but still have the characteristic teardrop design to reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency. Because of the increased wheelbase, most exhaust pipes have been relocated, the exhausts have an impact on engine performance and fuel consumption as well. The shark fin shaped engine covers also seem to be larger and longer than ever, and in some cases they even extend over the top of the rear wing.
Also new is the CDF (Computational Fluid Dynamics) designed Virgin car, Nick Wirth, technical director of the Virgin team, firmly believes in designing a car solely relying on CFD technology, without the aid of scale models or wind tunnels. Without a doubt CFD technology will become common in Formula One, the technique is already in use by other teams, but only time will tell whether the technology of today is advanced and reliable enough to make wind tunnel testing obsolete. If Wirth is right, teams can certainly save a lot of money on wind tunnel testing.
Rivalry within teams
Many great drivers have paired up for 2010 and are racing for the same team; Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. All of them have of course the same ambition, they want to win the championship. Nico Rosberg has to watch out Schumacher will not dominate the Mercedes team, and Button wants to prove he's faster than Hamilton, while Hamilton wants to prove the opposite, the same goes for Massa and Alonso. At Red Bull Racing, Vettel is still the favorite to become the world champion, but Webber will certainly not sit back without putting up a fight, and simply watch Vettel win the title.
Of course there is also rivalry amongst teams, airline owners Tony Fernandes (Lotus) and Richard Branson (Virgin) have made a bet about who of them will be the fastest this year, the one who loses the bet will have to dress up like a stewardess and serve coffee and tea on the airline of the winner.
A new season
All the ingredients are there, new teams, new drivers, new team bosses, new regulations, and if everything goes according to plan, we will see 13 teams with 26 drivers on the start grid of the next 19 races. This year there are four world champions active in Formula One; Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and current title defender Jenson Button. The 2010 Formula One season looks very promising, lets forget about all the misery Formula One had to go through last year, and let's enjoy the 2010 season.
Editor's note: After Mr. Bouman posted his preview, it was learned that the Campos Meta team will change their name officially to Hispania Racing F1.
Stay tune to Motorsport.com the continuing saga of the US F1 team or other breaking news on the 2010 Formula One season, including the acceptance of Stefan GP entry for the Bahrain Grand Prix.