It has been some time since we last saw Sebastian Vettel flash his signature index-finger salute. We might see that very soon as Formula 1 fans rub their hands in excitement with the new season kicking off this weekend in Melbourne, Australia.
A brief recap of last year: Vettel largely dominated the season with 11 race wins, making him the youngest youngest-ever back-to-back world champion. He also achieved a record of 15 pole positions in a season, beating Nigel Mansell’s record of 14 in 1992.
The Formula One 2011 season saw five world champions on the grid, contesting over 19 races, with the top four teams retaining the same driver line-up from 2010: Vettel and Mark Webber at Red Bull; Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button at McLaren; Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa at Ferrari; and Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg at Mercedes. Robert Kubica of Renault met with a serious accident during a rally he competed in during the off-season period, costing him the drive for 2010. The four top teams enter 2012 with no change in their driver line-up again.
Looking forward to 2012, here are some new things about the upcoming season:
1. Six champions on the grid
With the return of Kimi Raikkonen (who last raced in 2009 and was replaced by Fernando Alonso in Ferrari), this is the first time that there are six world champions on a Formula One grid. We have Sebastian Vettel (2010, 2011), Jenson Button (2009), Lewis Hamilton (2008), Raikkonen (2007), Alonso (2005, 2006) and Michael Schumacher (1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004). Vettel will be aiming to achieve his third consecutive world champion title and pundits are betting on him again.
2. 20 races this season with the return of Bahrain and USA
Last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix was cancelled due to political troubles in the country, causing a delay to the start of the season as that was to be the opening race. India held a successful inaugural Grand Prix though. This year, Bahrain is back on the calendar, as well as USA with the 2012 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas scheduled for November at the all new Circuit of The Americas.
3. New team names
Three teams changed their names this season: Lotus Renault becomes Lotus, Team Lotus becomes Caterham, and Virgin becomes Marussia after the Russian sports car brand bought into the team last year. There was a huge dispute over naming rights last year between Group Lotus (Lotus Renault GP) and Tony Fernandes’ Team Lotus, where the court settled in Team Lotus’s favour and so the two teams had to share the Lotus name. Malaysian-owned Team Lotus got the name from Lotus’ parent company Proton, and Renault was named Lotus Renault after the British sports car company from Hethel became the main sponsor for 2011. Fernandes bought out British sports car company Caterham last April and decided to drop the Lotus name and change to Caterham this year.
4. Key driver changes
The biggest driver news for 2012 is undoubtedly that of Raikkonen returning to F1, as Kubica is still not ready to come back to the sport after his horrible rally crash. We see test driver Romain Grosjean promoted to take the second race seat next to Raikkonen. Nico Hulkenberg lost his seat in Williams after his debut F1 season in 2010, but is now back as a main driver with Force India, having replaced Adrian Sutil. A complete Toro Rosso revamp sees Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari making way for Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne. Veteran Rubens Barrichello finds himself with no drive this season, having raced 329 Grands Prix, as Bruno Senna takes over his seat at Williams. Vitaly Petrov takes out the remaining Italian of the grid as he replaces Jarno Trulli at Caterham.
5. ‘One-move’ rule
Drivers are now only allowed to make one change of direction when defending their position. If drivers move back towards the racing line after having defended the position off-line earlier, there must be at least one car width between the car and the edge of the track. For example, if they move back onto the racing line to take a corner, that is deemed as a second move and will not be allowed.
6. Race restarts for backmarkers
During safety car periods, lapped cars will now be allowed to unlap themselves and rejoin at the back of the field. Drivers can only overtake after they have passed the pit entry twice, so those who want to pit can do so. Race leaders have to stay on the racing line once the order is given to allow the backmarkers to overtake and get back in line. Once informed safe, race leaders can then do the weaving in and out to get heat into their tyres.
7. Four-hour race time limit
This year, all races will face a maximum four-hour time limit to prevent over-running and boredom. Last year’s Montreal race was four hours and four minutes! Moving forward, if any races go beyond four hours, drivers will be signalled a last lap before the chequered flag.
8. In-season testing back
For the first time since 2008 — three years since in-season testing was banned — teams will have a mid-season three-day test session at Mugello, Italy in May.
9. Goodbye exhaust-blown diffusers
DRS and KERS remain for 2012, but off-throttle exhaust-blown diffusers — effectively engaged by Red Bull last year — are gone now as the FIA ensures exhaust gases have a minimal effect on aerodynamics. The FIA has banned trick exhausts that send airflow over the diffuser by insisting that the exhaust tailpipe must exit the bodywork upwards in a vertical periscope-like manner. This causes loss of rear-end downforce. There are also restrictions to limit engine modes that teams can use.
10. Tyre changes
Part of the exciting action last year is attributed to Pirelli’s creation of short-life tyres. This year, Pirelli has introduced even softer — hence less durable — compounds that will affect tyre conservation, as well as pit-stop strategy. Tyre markings are also improved so spectators can have an easier time visually differentiating between compounds.
Each driver is given 11 sets of dry tyres (six hard ‘primes’ and five softer ‘options’), four sets of intermediate tyres and three sets of wet tyres for one weekend. Three sets have to be given back after the second practice session on Friday and another two sets are to be returned after the third practice session on Saturday. Drivers were previously restricted to only using just three sets for Friday’s practice sessions, but now they can use any of the 11 sets on the first day of practice.
11. Lower nose height
To ensure that the nose is lower than the cockpit sides so as to protect drivers’ heads in times of ‘T-bone incidents, the maximum height of the chassis’s front bulkhead has been reduced to 550mm (from 625 mm). Doing so will help to dissipate energy during crashes and eliminates chances of cars going over each other, but it has unfortunately led to some rather unsightly cars from some teams!
12. No more helium wheel guns
Wheel guns are not allowed to be powered by compressed helium anymore and this would result in slightly slower pit stops with a loss of some fractions of a second.
*This was first published on Yahoo!