Well, this should be interesting.
It's standard fare at this time of the year to declare that we stand on the verge of one of the most exciting Formula 1 seasons in recent memory.
AUTOSPORT's F1 editor Edd Straw wrote of "unprecedented interest" in the 2010 curtain-raiser in Bahrain, what with Michael Schumacher coming back, Fernando Alonso making his Ferrari debut and McLaren wheeling out an all-champion line-up of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. And in light of the way that last year unfolded, Edd had a point.
The problem is that he's left us nowhere to go this year, which is tricky because all signs point to a spectacular few months ahead starting with this weekend's Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park.
Intrigue awaits at every turn. Pre-season testing has been even more hazy than usual, partly because of the sheer bafflement that appears to have descended upon pitlane with the arrival of Pirelli.
The Italian manufacturer was charged with creating a tyre that would significantly degrade, and the signs from preseason point to it having succeeded. If the last few weeks are any guide, the teams will still be getting their heads around the finer points of the new rubber in Melbourne.
Things have been relatively stable on the driver front as far as the main contenders are concerned, but that doesn' t mean that there aren' t some subplots to look for. Has Mark Webber left all of the baggage of his Abu Dhabi disappointment behind? Can Felipe Massa rediscover his pre-2010 form? Will we see more of the pre-retirement-spec Michael Schumacher? Will the new tyres give Button a leg up on Hamilton?
Melbourne will also tell us something about the other end of the grid, too. Lotus's claim to have closed the gap up to the midfield will be tested, Virgin will find out whether it has shaken off its reliability glitches, and HRT's drivers will get their first sense of what their 2011 car actually feels like with the engine running.
All up, there's no shortage of things to watch out for. And that's without taking into account Melbourne's propensity for funky weather.
Expect a fair bit of variation in strategies during the opening few races while everyone gets their head around the tyres. Most teams seem to be expecting three stops, although that could blow out to four if someone does a particularly good job of killing their tyres. There's also scope for someone to roll the dice in qualifying and sacrifice a few grid positions in order to give themselves an advantage with the tyres during the race.
One final thing worth keeping in mind is that Albert Park tends to ask a lot of the rears, whereas most of the pre-season test venues have been harder on the fronts.
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|Paul di Resta|
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|Paul di Resta|
From the forum
I think with the ambient temperatures, Pirelli tyres, KERS, DRS, reliability, rookies, etc. etc. we are in for one of the greatest races of all time. Let's hope I haven't jinxed it with such a hype filled build-up!.
I definitely think that this will be the race with the potential for the biggest shocks. Not only will the teams be on a totally different tyre with different handling and degrading characteristics, and which will hopefully be in its operating range. They will also have to contend with the fact that it may also rain through qualifying and the race weekend, which will not only affect the two, but will also wash away any rubber laid down, thus increasing the degradatiion of the Pirellis, with little improvement.
I am pumped up. Webber will be fighting for the win and Michael hopefully fighting for a podium (or a win - who knows!). My two favourite drivers in the mix. Cannot ask for much more than that by way of build-up...
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