Some big changes are coming in the 2010 Formula One season.
There was a major push to implement a harsh spending cap, in order to attract more teams to enter F1. The cap was on the order of $50 million, where teams typically spend more than $100 million in a season. FIA chief Max Mosley was the person in power who was pushing for this the most, while the top F1 teams like Ferrari of course resisted this change because that would take away one of their big advantages—that they could outspend their opponents. The idea was to get back to the full grids of 13 teams and 26 cars. So numerous teams applied for four openings, and the winners were US F1 (a new US-based team started by Ken Anderson and Peter Windsor), Campos Meta, Manor Grand Prix, and the Malaysian-backed Lotus F1 Racing. Campos Meta had financial difficulties leading up to the 2010 season, and was eventually taken over by one its major shareholders and renamed Hispania Racing (HRT). HRT's cars are supplied by Dallara. Manor Grand Prix eventually made a sponsorship deal with Richard Branson's Virgin group, with Virgin becoming a major shareholder, and the team was renamed Virgin Racing.
Eventually the established teams, through their FOTA organization, threatened to leave F1 and form their own series unless the cap was lifted, and Max had no choise but to agree to scrap the cap (although everyone did agree to some cost reductions). This immediately put the new teams at a greater disadvantage, as their teams were formed and budgets developed around that spending cap.
From very early on, Bernie Ecclestone expressed doubts about US F1's ability to get to the grid in time for the 2010 season. Ken Anderson and Peter Windsor confidently asserted their progress and readiness to enter the season, but they were otherwise somewhat secretive about their financial arrangements. They hired one driver, and showed off their car development with fancy YouTube videos:
They maintained that everything was fine, until they started missing the pre-season tests. At first they said they would still make the grid at Bahrain, then they said they were going to request to miss the first four "flyaway" races, and start their season in Barcelona. BTW, this is against the rules, which state that teams must show up at every race. Eventually they said that they would miss the entire 2010 season, but would ask the FIA to reserve a spot for them on the 2011 grid. They still acted confident that the team was viable. The reality was that the team eventually completely folded. Apparently there were a lot of bitter engineers who were fed the same confident BS from Ken Anderson. Aside from the financial problems, engineers also blamed Anderson for micro-managing and slowing down the pace of development too much.
A proposed team called Stefan Grand Prix was one of the teams that lost out on a bid for the 2010 season, but they were determined to get on the grid. When the Toyota F1 team withdrew from F1 after the 2009 season, Stefan GP purchased the rights to use their 2010 chassis and engine. When US F1 admitted that they would not make the grid at Bahrain, Stefan GP reportedly sent their equipment to Bahrain, intending to replace US F1 on the grid. Eventually the FIA rejected Stefan GP and said they would not be able to race in 2010. So now with an open entry for 2011 left by US F1, Stefan GP announced their intent to apply for the 2011 grid.
The major technical change for 2010 is that refueling is now banned, which means that the cars must start the race with enough fuel to last the whole race. Teams have had to adjust their designs to accommodate a fuel tank capacity that is twice as large as what they ran during the refueling era. According to Formula1.com, a full tank of fuel adds 150 kg (330 lbs) to the weight of the car, and that the major concern with the extra weight is excessive brake wear. There should also be a concern with tire wear, as the drivers will surely have to take care of their tires when the car is heaviest at the start of the race. The requirement to use both tire compounds during the race is still in effect, so there must be at least one pit stop.
After the troubles that almost every team had in implementing kinetic-energy recovery systems (KERS) in 2009, the teams all agreed to not run KERS in 2010, although they plan to have everyone run KERS in 2011. The rules will be adjusted, e.g., raising the minimum car weight, to eliminate the "weight penalty" of using KERS.
Like seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, who couldn't stay retired and re-entered his sport at a relatively old age, Michael Schumacher could not stay away after he almost substituted for the injured Felipe Massa last year. Some pundits have questioned the wisdom of an older Schumacher potentially damaging his reputation if he struggles to regain his form. Some people think that after a short adjustment period to shake the rust, Schumacher will be the same fast Schumacher of the past, and his new teammate Nico Rosberg might have trouble matching his pace. I personally believe that Rosberg is now a top driver, after some spectacular performances last year with Williams, and he will easily match the pace of his experienced but old and rusty teammate.
My personal opinion is pretty much in line with their reputations, that Hamilton might have better skills when it comes time to be aggressive, but Button is maybe better when a smooth, measured approach is advantageous. Senna vs. Prost, anyone? In the end I think Hamilton will be prove to be the better driver, but Button can still win the championship if things fall his way.
This year sees a new event, the Korean Grand Prix. But like all new events, we don't know if it's gonna happen until it happens. Each new event means a new track has to be built, and it always seems like the track won't be ready until the very last minute. So we'll see if there is a Korean Grand Prix this year.
In the wake of controversial and inconsistent rulings by race stewards at many of the events, the FIA has decided to bring in a former F1 driver to each race to act as a steward, and bring a driver's perspective to the decision-making process. For the first race in Bahrain, four-time World Champion Alain Prost will be the guest steward.
|F1 2010 Results|
The New Teams. The new Lotus, Virgin, and HRT teams were expected to be slow, but they are all atrociously slow—typically qualifying six seconds slower than the pole time. Next year's re-introduction of the 107% qualifying rule will put pressure on these teams to make a big gain in performance. In general, Lotus has been the fastest, and HRT has been the slowest. Not a single finish by any of the six new cars has been on the lead lap. Out of 60 potential finishes (6 cars X 10 races), only four finishes have been just one lap down. There have been 28 finishes and 32 DNFs, but there was a breakthrough at Valencia and Silverstone: in each of the last two races, five of the new cars have finished, and all six might have finished at Valencia if Webber hadn't taken out Kovalainen. Out of 20 potential finishes per team, HRT has 10 finishes and Lotus and Virgin have 9 finishes each.
No Refueling, and Tires. I thought that with no refueling, we would see a return to the old days of races starting in a shower of sparks as the bottom planks dragged along the ground. But there no sparks—I don't know if it's because the minimum ride height is so high now that the extra weight doesn't make the cars drag, or maybe it's because the materials at the bottom of the car have changed. And I thought that the extra weight would make preserving tires a big issue. Teams are obliged to run at least one lap on both the prime and option tire. But with a single tire supplier, Bridgestone has made the tires very conservatively, so now the prime tires can last almost a whole race, and the single pit stop is determined by how long the team wants to run on the option tire. So has the show improved? Looks about the same to me. Pit stops are slightly faster, and there is generally only one pit stop instead of two. I would prefer that the tires last a lot fewer laps, forcing the teams to do two pit stops; that way the drivers can drive more aggressively the whole race without worrying about saving the tires.
Team Results. Red Bull has proven to have the fastest car, winning 9 out of 10 pole positions so far, yet Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button lead the driver's championship and McLaren lead the constructor's championship. Red Bull should be dominating, but a combination of reliablity problems and driver issues have sabotaged the race results. Mercedes has not been as competitive as expected, and Renault has perhaps been more competitive than expected. Towards the halfway point, Williams and Sauber have shown strong improvement.
Driver Results. The star of the season so far is Lewis Hamilton, who had a few glitches early in the season, but after a series of very strong performances now leads the championship. Jenson Button was expected to struggle next to Hamilton, but he has held his own with steady performances, and if not for a mechanic's mistake at Monaco causing an early DNF, he might be leading the championship. Of the Red bull drivers, Mark Webber has been surprisingly strong, apparently even taking his bosses off-guard, who just assumed he would play a supporting role to Sebastian Vettel's championship run. The gap between Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa has been a bit bigger than expected, and the gap between Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher has been much bigger than expected. Last year I felt Rosberg showed that he had become a top driver, with some excellent races at Williams. But few expected Schumacher to be so thoroughly outperformed. Schumacher must be considered the biggest disappointment of the first half of the season. Outside of the top four teams, Robert Kubica must be considered the star of the season so far, with very steady results and two podiums. Adrian Sutil has also been very steady, scoring points in seven races so far, but with little fanfare. In the last two races, two drivers have come on strongly as Rubens Barrichello and Kamui Kobayashi finished both races in a much higher position than usual, so we'll see if they can keep that up.