The season opens - fingers crossed!

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The season opens - fingers crossed!

Postby meteorite » Mon Mar 10, 2014 10:07 pm

This weekend we'll be seven days from the vernal equinox (the start of spring here) or Down Under the autumnal equinox, the start of fall. Barring the Speed Week aberrations, this marks the start of serious racing in the northern hemisphere, with NASCAR doing their thing each weekend, Sebring, and Indycar soon, while Formula 1 gives us a preview with its equatorial races, Australia this weekend, Malaysia at months end, then Bahrain and China before April makes it too hot. (No, I know Bahrain is never what one mght call cool!) - after which the "serious" season opens in Europe.

But how "serious" the season will be is a question. The rules change this year - and everyone says they have not been allowed enough testing time to adapt. Christian Horner of Red Bull has opined we'll be lucky to have half the field make it to the finish line Sunday, while the head electronics honcho of Magnetti Marelli has voiced suspicion the dropout rate could be 100%. One opinion this is very widespread is that someone other that Vettel will be champion this year. But who and how?

The only clues we have are from testing, a few sessions a couple of weks between. Mercedes-powered cars have been doing well with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton patrolling the pits looking smug. McLaren have had issues but lately seem to have got them fairly swell sorted out and seem to be returning to their historic form. Everyone who looks at Force India's test sessions seem to turn away swearing a worried look; they are showing signs of being a serious threat. And Felipe Massa, discarded into Williams' lap, has seen the car develop rapidly under him to the point where a few podium positions would be much less of a surprise than a lack of same.

Ferrari have their car working, almost. Alonso and Raikkonen have been having their troubles but seem to think they are going to be competitive, almost. As for the Ferrari drivetrain, it's reported that Red Bull have been quietly going to their junior team, Toro Rosso, for advice and assistance while they try to get their Renault package to work, which it doesn't very well. Some pessimists are saying if you're running Renault power don't count on getting out of Q1, because even Marussia (who are looking very feisty indeed) are odds-on to beat you.

Where did all this reversal of form come from? Seems some teams cope with new rules better than others and for this year there is no shortage of new rules. The engines are smaller and slower - 15000 rpm rather than 18000 - but with twin turbocharging allowed they have no shortage of grunt. And the rules are set up to allow much more effective use of the kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS). But the cars must meet a heavier minimum weight and must carry a full fuel tank - which likely will not provide enough to get to the finish of an all-out race. Anyone who suffers an overdose of red haze will be out with a dry tank before the chequer, so strategizing will be the order of the day.

The wings are changed, front and rear. The high noses of last year are disallowed, and the rear airfoils are noticeably narrower, though the drag reduction slot (DRS) looks to allow better airflow. But they appear to provide less downforce, with drivers mentioning the strange experience of having more power than they can use on the exit from corners, and Kimi Raikkonen having executed a couple of highly spectacular ground loops as he tested the limits. As all of this suggests the appearance of the cars is most visibly changed, with many highly significant changes (such as new rules governing exhaust routings and undertrays) screened from spectator eyes but imposing clearly-seen effects.

Even the course will be changed, with Russia being added and neither India nor Korea on the list. Texas will run, but there is no provision for New Jersey, and Long Beach has been asking interested questions in high places. Turkey is among those who have gone quiet. And the last rae of the season will carry double points, in the hope that it will keep more drivers in at least mathematical contention later into the season (a decision I personally do not like).

But whatever happens there should be an awful lot fewer predictable parades, especially in the early parts of the season, and generate a lot of profitably mis-opinionated trade for the bookmakers, with those who guess wrong finding themselves making ruinous payoffs at long odds. And to cap it all, some day it might rain.

So stay tuned. This could be fascinating, and fun.
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