2010 Season Flag Off

2010 Season Flag Off image

Text: Alex Yoong / Photos: | posted March 12, 2010 12:26

And the Five Red Lights Illuminate

It's been a long time since Abu Dhabi last year and it seems like ages since we have seen a F1 car on the track. But the teams have not just been sitting still, while on holiday. In fact, last month saw them doing plenty of pre-season testing as they get ready for the new season.

The times have been very close with no one seemingly having a clear advantage, unlike last year where Brawn GP dominated testing. It's difficult to know who is the quickest because of the different fuel loads all the teams were running throughout testing.

On a full tank of fuel, a team could have as much as 160kg of fuel on board which would be roughly 5 to 6 seconds a lap slower than with qualifying fuel in. F1 teams are extremely secretive and do not reveal to people outside their team what fuel levels they're run on. Meaning, we had to look at runs where they would do many laps allowing us to reasonably assume how much fuel they were running.

What the long runs seem to show is that McLaren and Ferrari seem to be a bit in front, with Red Bull and Mercedes just behind. Maybe a couple of tenths of a second a lap from them are Sauber, Force India and Williams with Torro Rosso a tenth or two behind them and Renault a few tenths further back. In qualifying it should be very close and we may have all 9 teams within a second or two.

Of the new teams, Lotus has proved to be quickest with Virgin about a second behind them, although they will be bringing an update package to Bahrain which should allow them to close the gap. The 12th and final team H.R.T (previously known as Campos) launched their car last week, without any testing at all. It's safe to say that the first race in Bahrain will be more of a test session for these new boys.

With the official entry list out, it has shown how international the field has gotten. Most of the teams are still based in the UK, but a lot of them are now running under foreign ownership. You have Red Bull running under an Austrian entry, Mercedes under Germany, Force India under India and of course Lotus racing under a Malaysian entry. It's starting to look more and more like a World Cup of nations.

I believe 2010 will be one of those years we look back upon with fond memories. One of those years that the competition and quality of the racing was so high that it stood out amongst the rest. Years like '87 when you had Prost versus the Williams duo of Mansell and Piquet with a young Aryton Senna in a Lotus. 2007 was also a classic year when we had both Ferrari drivers versus the two McLarens with Kimi Raikkonen winning the championship by a single point.

This year we potentially have eight championship contenders fighting out, as four teams have been very close in pre-season testing (Ferrari, Mclaren, Red Bull and Mercedes). In previous years, there have sometimes been three or four teams capable of fighting for a championship but normally they would only have one driver capable of delivering the goods.

This year seven of these drivers are proven race winners and capable of mounting a championship challenge. Only Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes is a relatively unknown as he has never had a car capable to challenge for a title until now (we hope).

First of all we have the greatest driver ever back in the fry with Michael Schumacher reunited with Ross Brawn at Mercedes. Brawn has said it's the Michael of old, which means that if Mercedes can deliver the car, there could be an unprecedented eighth title for the 41-year-old German.

Then there are the last two world champions, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren. I would like to think that Jenson has the capability to take on Hamilton in his own team, although he will have his work cut out.

With Ferrari, there is two-time world champion Fernando Alonso back in a competitive car. He is raring to go and looks very relaxed during pre-season testing - he is relishing driving the scarlet car. We also have Massa back from a life threatening accident, which in a normal year would have been a great story to follow just by itself. Massa before his accident had shown that he had it in him to a true World Champion, and hopefully nothing has changed.

Red Bull were the form team in the second half of last year and have been reasonably quick in pre-season testing although there are some doubts whether they can take the fight to McLaren and Ferrari over the long runs when fuel loads are high. I would also put Mercedes in the same sub-group as Red Bull, and one thing is for certain: they are close enough to Ferrari and McLaren to be a threat. Mercedes brings quite a big update to the first race and Michael Schumacher has been talking it up as quite a big step. Let's see if it will be big enough to take a win.

One other team to look out for in the first couple of races could be BMW Sauber. Bridgestone have rated them as the best team to look at, after their tires on long runs - even better than the big four teams. Could this consistency allow them to spring a surprise?

Whoever is quickest at the first couple of races does not mean they will be favorite for the title in my book. It's a long season and whichever team can maintain the highest level of development throughout the year should be World Champions.

Whatever happens, I think it's going to be an epic year.