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It’s almost that time of year again. The new Formula One season is just days away, and if you believe the rumors the battle is set to be closer than ever. Sebastian Vettel is looking to win his third consecutive world championship, whilst the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher and even the returning Kimi Raikkone will be looking to make sure that doesn’t happen.
2011 had to go a long way to match the drama of 2010, and despite Vettel’s dominance throughout the year, the season still provided some great racing and some great races. But people now believe 2012 could be even better. Minimal rule changes mean there’s not much to discuss on the technical side, but the biggest change is the one which could affect how the season pans out early on.
Blown Diffusers have been banned this year, causing the majority of teams to re-think the design of their cars and how to get the most out of what they are allowed to work with. There is also a new front wing height rule in place, meaning most teams, except McLaren, have gone for an ugly-looking front nose cone which significantly dips down past the driver’s feet. It doesn’t look pretty unless you are a McLaren fan, and most believe the cars will be back to normal in 2013.
Smaller, yet still important rule changes include a change to the proceedings behind the Safety Car. Something that had bugged me for a long time was thinking a yellow flag period would make the race more interesting, only to find two HRT’s and a Virgin stuck between Vettel and Hamilton, allowing Vettel to fly away whilst the Brit got stuck behind the lapped cars. This year, the lapped cars can overtake the Safety Car and re-join the back of the pack, meaning closer racing at the front.
Now, on to the men that matter: the drivers. There aren’t any major changes in the line-ups this year. We say hello to a couple of rookies, but at the front of the grid, all remains as it was. Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari & Mercedes have stuck with their 2011 line-ups, meaning Vettel, Webber, Hamilton, Button, Alonso, Massa, Rosberg & Schumacher will fight it out for the top spots.
But don’t rule out Lotus. Yes, Lotus. Not the ones who have been running at the back of the pack for the last two years. The Lotus team is now the old Renault team, but they may as well be a new team, as they have two new drivers this year. Kimi Raikkonen has returned to F1 with Lotus, and will be partnered by GP2 champion Romain Grosjean, who had a brief period in Formula One in 2009.
Pre-season testing would suggest Lotus had left the midfield trailing, and we may be talking about a top 5 team this season, rather than a top 4. But the fight in the middle should still be a closely run thing, with Force India, Sauber, Toro Rosso, Williams & Caterham (previously Lotus) fighting it out. Force India have retained rookie of the year Paul Di Resta, but Adrian Sutil is out and replaced by former Williams driver Nico Hulkenberg.
It’s as if you were at Sauber with Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez still behind the wheel. However, the biggest change comes at Toro Rosso. Everybody thought the drivers of Sebastien Buemi & Jaime Alguersuari were safe, particularly the young Spaniard, but both were dropped after 2011 and have been replaced by ex-HRT driver Daniel Ricciardo, and young Frenchman, Jean-Eric Vergne.
It was the end of an era at Williams, with Rubens Barrichello departing F1 for IndyCar after almost 20 years in the sport. His place has been taken by Bruno Senna, the first time a Senna has raced for the team since that fateful day at Imola in 1994. He partners Pastor Maldonado,who keeps his place with the team. At Caterham, things look much brighter for the former Lotus brand.
The team seems to have stepped up a gear for 2012, and could be ready to challenge the midfield this year. Heikki Kovaleinen has been kept on, and has been joined by former Renault driver Vitaly Petrov for 2012. It’s a strong line-up for Caterham, and they’ll hope for some good early outings.
At the back of the pack, it’s not looking so good for Marussia (formerly Virgin) and HRT. Both have once again had rocky pre-seasons, failing to test their news in any of the three testing sessions, meaning neither team has attended a pre-season test with a new car for the three years both have existed in Formula One.
It seems each year both teams manage to take a step backwards before moving forwards. HRT have signed up experienced Spaniard Pedro De La Rosa to partner Narain Karthikeyan, whilst Timo Glock remains at Marussia, and is joined by rookie Charles Pic.
It’s all set for another bumper F1 season, plenty of close racing should be guaranteed, for the first time ever we have six world champions on the grid, and even a new race. Formula One returns to the USA after a stint away from the states, with the pack heading to Austin, Texas towards the end of the season.
Image Courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/julien-reboulet/