DIEZ: Formula 1 kicks off this weekend

Formula 1 opens its 2011 schedule this weekend at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, Australia, after aborting the scheduled season opener in Bahrain due to political unrest in that country.

Testing over the off-season indicates that Red Bull and Ferrari will be the teams to beat, although team manager Russ Brawn is very encouraged by recent changes made to the Mercedes cars, and the McLaren team finished first and second in Friday's second practice, with Jensen Button and Lewis Hamilton the only drivers with lap times below 1.26.


The Australian race will see teams dealing with new cars, new sporting regulations, and most of all a new tire supplier, Pirelli. With a chance of rain, that component is even more variable, with brand new wet and intermediate tires as well as the hard slicks and the optional soft slicks. Limited testing makes the tires a big variable in the first race. They seem to lose grip suddenly, costing as much as 5-6 seconds per lap, making multiple pit stops a likely scenario.

Another significant change is the return of the kinetic energy recovery system (KERS), in use by all the teams except HRT, Lotus, and Virgin.

And the movable rear wing is expected to add 10-12 miles an hour to straightaway speeds, although its use is not allowed in conjunction with rain tires.

The drivers will be very busy in the cockpit managing the KERS and rear wing controls in addition to throttle, brake, steering and gear changes. In addition to the technical changes, the 107% rule is back in play, meaning that to start the race a driver must qualify at no more than 107% of the pole time. So for instance if the pole time is 1:30, the slowest driver must turn a qualifying lap no slower than 1:36.3. Some of those who might struggle making those lap times are drivers new to the series: Force India's Paul DiResta, Williams' Pastor Maldonado, Sergio Perez Mendoza of Sauber, Jerome D'Ambrosia of Virgin, and HRT's Narain Karthikeyan, whose last race was in a NASCAR Camping World truck at Talladega.

It is entirely possible that we will see fewer than 24 cars starting the race, although commentator David Hobbs is skeptical that the sanctioning body will enforce the rule if the grid gets too small.


In contrast to the technical changes in F1, the IndyCar season opener at St. Petersburg this weekend will see the same old Dallara/Honda/Firestone combination for all teams. It is the final year for the formula, with multiple engines and aero packages on tap for 2012. However, this season will see changes to race procedure. Prime among them is the new double-file restart, which will be in place at St. Petersburg this weekend.


Last week's NASCAR races at Bristol were surprisingly free of incidents, as Kyle Busch swept both the Nationwide and Cup events.

The biggest controversy of the weekend didn't even occur on the track, but before the start of the Nationwide event. If you were watching, you saw Jennifer Jo Cobb out of her car prior to the start, and a subsequent interview with her when she said that she refused to start and park, and that car owner Rick Russell had broken his contract with her for this weekend's California event.

Russell declined an interview at the track, but has been busy this week filing a police report accusing Cobb and crew chief Steve Kuykendall of stealing $16,000 worth of parts. Cobb insists that the parts were merely moved from one storage location to another, both owned by Russell, and that he is merely trying to stir up trouble and position himself for a lawsuit. Meanwhile, Cobb has secured a one-time ride for today's Nationwide race at California Speedway with Rick Ware Racing.


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