Exciting season in prospect
Buckle up, ladies and gents.
The 2011 Formula 1 season officially got under way this morning at the Albert Park in Melbourne, and we are but hours away from the year's first race.
We're in for a corker of a season with five world champions on the grid. Sebastien Vettel, the youngest of the lot, is gunning to continue his title reign with a blindingly fast Red Bull, but it won't be easy.
Three other teams are already looking good to challenge for wins, and Vettel's own teammate Mark Webber is looking to add himself to that list.
And then there are new rules, new tyres, new tracks and two new buttons on the steering wheel. As said, make sure those safety harnesses are fastened.
Image: This is would be another interesting season to look out for
In an alarmingly desperate bid to increase overtaking, the FIA has now introduced a movable rear wing to reduce drag and a 'boost' button deploying the KERS system to make that engine roar louder.
A driver is only allowed to use the Drag Reduction System -- making the car to go from 8 to 10 kmph faster -- when he is less than one-second behind the car in front.
The idea of aiding overtaking is interesting, but this all-out attempt is not just artificial but likely to result in some rather spectacular shunts as drivers give in to temptation and try to pull off overambitious moves.
Well, at least Juan Pablo Montoya isn't around these days.
Image: Team BMW Sauber car displays a warning sign for high voltage due to the new KERS energy system
Photographs: Getty Images
F1 fans to see colour coded tyres
Bridgestone tyres make way for Pirelli this year, the calendar-crafting Italians briefed to create rubber that degrades faster.
In practice sessions so far, the tyres seem to be falling apart very rapidly indeed -- so much so that we aren't likely to see the super-soft compound tyres being used at all anytime soon.
The enormous performance differential -- both between the compounds and between used and new tyres -- will mean multiple pitstops and a lot of strategic gamesmanship.
And while we all relish a masterfully played round of pitlane poker, it's highly probable that we'll see more than a few races being entirely randomised by it all.
Image: Pirelli tyres would be used this season
Photographs: Getty Images
Red Bull looks the strongest at the moment
Reigning champions Red Bull are at the head of the field, all their rivals claiming they "hope" to catch up soon.
Having said that, both Mercedes and Ferrari look quick and consistent, and in Friday's second practice session, the McLarens put in the fastest laps. Hold your hats, we might just be in for a four-way.
We also might be in for surprises. In a season where tyre-wear counts for so much, the smooth driving style of Jenson Button might win over teammate Lewis Hamilton at McLaren. Felipe Massa will be itching to prove himself against Fernando Alonso at Ferrari.
And Michael Schumacher, finally in a car developed to suit his strengths, always was the master at impromptu switching between strategies.
Image: Sebastian Vettel drives during a practice session
Legacies are at stake
As for the drivers, legacies are at stake.
Either young Vettel or Hamilton or not-so-young Button will become the first of this generation's two-time champions.
Or that ridiculously talented Alonso will equal Ayrton Senna's three world titles.
Or the seven-time champion will do the impossible and make us gasp like only he can.
Come on 2011, thrill us. We can't wait.
Image: Michael Schumacher