Friday, February 17, 2012

2012 Formula 1 Preview

Contributed by David Raybould.
Regional Director, USA Sport Group.

The two biggest talking points prior to the 2012 season kicking off on March 18 in Australia have to be the regulation changes (as always) and a staggering 6 world champions competing this year. Long gone are the days of ground effect aerodynamics and Michael Schumacher dominating the top step of the podium as teams look for millisecond advantages over their opponents.

The return of Michael Schumacher to Formula 1 in 2010 after a 3 year hiatus saw a record-tying 4 world champions lining up on the grid together. The 2010 season was closely fought with fellow German Sebastian Vettel narrowly edging out Spaniard Fernando Alonso in the final race in Abu Dhabi to take the Driver’s Championship. 2011, therefore, saw a record 5 world champions lining up on the grid together with much uncertainty over new tire supplier, Pirelli.

Pirelli did not disappoint, providing a mixed bag of tires resulting in some exciting races in 2011. However, Vettel stole the show dominating the season and being crowned world champion for a second consecutive year. With the 2012 season just around the corner, we are set to see a new record 6 world champions lining up on the grid, with Finn Kimi Raikkonen returning after a 3 year spell in the World Rally Championship (WRC) and NASCAR.

Over the past few seasons there always seems to be one regulation change that becomes the deal breaker for some teams. McLaren’s F-Duct innovation, Red Bull’s exhaust-blown rear diffuser and KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) all spring to mind, with certain teams clearly getting a better grasp than others. This usually sparks controversy between the teams mid-season as one accuses the other of cheating, and the end result being the ban of such innovations for the following season.

A close look at the Ferrari nose
KERS will remain (for now) for 2012, as will DRS (Drag Reduction System). The 2 biggest changes to the regulations this year are focused around the front and rear of the cars. The front of the cars will feature a radical new step-design as the regulations stipulate that the nose of the car must be a certain height above the ground. Only McLaren have produced a smooth looking nose whilst keeping below the maximum height. Exhaust-blown diffusers are gone and the exhausts must exit the rear bodywork much higher and further away from the rear diffuser to nullify any aerodynamic advantage.

So, with the first test of 2012 behind us, and the second one around the corner, there remains some big, unanswered questions. Will teams manage to dial in their cars in time for the season opener? Will Kimi Raikkonen flunk like Schumacher, struggling to get to grips with the new breed of F1 car? Will Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel dominate both the Driver’s and Constructor’s Championships this year like in 2011? Which team will exploit the new regulations the most to gain advantage, and have McLaren dropped the ball by not following suit with a step-nose design? And which team will design something new and unseen to gain those extra milliseconds?

On a personal note, I am sad to see that Rubens Barrichello will not be competing in 2012 after 19 solid years in the sport.

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