Text: Alex Yoong / Photos: | posted March 16, 2012 08:57
2012 Australian Grand Prix
Finally after 4 months without Formula 1, the season kicks off again this weekend in Melbourne, Australia. The winter has been pretty quiet; with no driver changes at all for the big four teams. The technical regulations have also been stable with not too many new rules.
One of the smallest changes on paper has led to one of biggest visual changes for the year. In a bid to stop cars getting airborne ala Mark Webber over Hekki Kovalainens car in 2010, the FIA have lowered the height of the front nose for safety reasons. One side effect of this is that you decrease the size of the space from the nose to the front wing and therefore the amount of air passing though that gap.
Now a modern Formula 1 car likes to get a certain amount of air under it, so it feeds the floor and diffuser. The diffuser, which is at the back of the car and part of the floor generates about 40% of a cars overall downforce, so you can imagine the engineers working to try and keep a healthy amount of air fed to the floor.
In a bid to claim back this lost airflow the designers have resorted to making the front noses skinny by dropping the top of the nose. This has resulted in a car with a huge step where the nose then joins to the top of the chassis, creating a platypus look.
The only cars not running these “ugly” platypus noses are McLaren and Marussia (who also have a technical partnership with McLaren Applied Technologies and therefore probably have similar theories on how to get around this particular problem).
The other major rule change is to ban the blown diffusor. Last year, the teams were blowing exhaust gas directly into the diffusor to speed up airflow and therefore increase downforce.
To prevent this, the FIA has made it compulsory for the exhausts to exit further forward on the car via the sidepods pointing backward but 10 degrees up. How the teams claw back this loss, has been interesting and we have seen quite a few different examples in pre season testing. Rest assured, this will be one area that will see teams trying a few different configurations during the year as they figure out their optimum solution.
At the end of last year Pirelli decided that the gap in laptime between their compounds in tyres was too big. So for this year they have aimed to make the gap between each type of compound to around 0.8 seconds per lap. Other than the wet and intermediate tire, Pirelli have four compounds for their dry tires. Super soft, Soft, Medium and Hard. At Melbourne this weekend, the Soft and Medium tires will be available. With this smaller gap in laptime, we should see different strategies from team to team.
So who will be quick at this week? Well this years preseason testing has been very mixed, with no one team dominating the top of the time sheets. On paper it looks like there could be plenty of surprises, as it all looks very close. The problem is, we do not know who has done low fuel runs to make a quick time and who may just be sand bagging with a bit of extra weight in the car.
Having said that, during long endurance runs in testing, we have seen RedBull looking very strong with McLaren right with them. Ferrari seemed to have struggled a bit and while I do think they will eventually get on top of their radically designed car, it will take a few races.
Also look to Mercedes to throw a surprise and the Lotus cars too. Kimi Raikkonen makes a return to F1 again after rallying for two year and has looked sharp in his black and gold Lotus. With his return we now have an unprecedented 6 world champions on the grid and that will surely make this year a closely fought one.
Melbourne is a tricky street track and the cool conditions coupled with the fact that it is the first race of the year, should throw a few surprises. As for my predication to win the race on Sunday, I have to go with the driver I think will be favorite for the championship and that is Vettel. He has the car and obviously the ability and confidence to do the job.