New Formula 1 rules see cars changing dramatically

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Formula One will be quite different in 2010 thanks to a number of changes to the rules. The Kinetic Energy Recovery System is gone, front tires will be narrower (from 270mm to 245mm) and most significantly, there will be no refueling during races which will mean fuel tanks will need to be roughly three times larger than 2009. The changes have bred a different size and shape of car, as was evidenced over the last two days when we saw the first of the serious contender’s cars – the 2010 McLaren MP4-25 of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton and the Ferrari F10 of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso. Demonstrating the drawing power of the Prancing Horse, Ferrari attracted an audience of three million unique visitors to its web site for the launch. The season gets underway tomorrow when …

The first test of the season is scheduled for Circuit de la Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo tomorrow, February 1 and we’ll see the majority of the cars for the first time.

With in-race refueling banned, all cars will need significantly larger fuel-tanks and whereas most race stragety during the last few years has focused on fuel stop strategy, and leapfrogging drivers in the stops, races will become much more dependent on tyre strategy from now on, as no-one will know when the tyre changes will occur.

With no refueling through fixed width nossles, pitstops will become significantly quicker and we’ll see some lightning pit work, with four tyres being changed in under four seconds.

Though more race cars on the grid will mean slightly different qualifying rules (eight cars will be cut in Q1 and Q2, leaving ten to fight out Q3), all qualifying will be done on light fuel loads and then everyone will fill their cars to the maxium for the race.

This will mean that all cars will be very heavy and much slower at the start of races, and as none of these cars have been tested on track before now, the full effects of this enormous weight increase are not yet clear. Almost certainly, we’ll see a major impact on tyre wear, and brake longevity.

Other changes which have impacted the teams include narrower front tyres, the banning of aerodynamic hubcaps and the banning of wheel rim-heaters.

Tyre-warming blankets will still be permitted, but the inner core that heats the wheel rim will make tyre warm-up far more critical in 2010, particularly given the weight teams will be starting with on the grid.

The final major change in the car rules has been that the minimum weight of cars has been increased from 605kg to 620kg for 2010, which will give teams the opportunity to move ballast around the car to give optimum weight distribution.

One other factor which should see some desperate driving moves in the latter part of races has been the reordering of the points system, which now runs all the way to tenth place, but rewards a win with five extra points over second, with a similar margin to third. Hence instead of last year’s 10, 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 point distribution to the top eight finishers, this year will see the winner take 25 points, with second getting 20 and third awarded 15 points. The next seven finishers will score 10, 8, 6, 5, 3, 2 and 1 points respectively.

Fernando Alonso was the focus of most attention at the Ferrari launch, and surprisingly, when asked about the likelihood of who will win the championship, Alonso commented, "every season is exciting and interesting at the start; even last year I was very confident. It’s the same this year, although there are the expectations regarding Schumacher’s comeback, which is very good for F1, which might be well received by TV viewers. I think that there will be two teams fighting for the Drivers’ Title and two for the Constructors’ Title. Let’s hope we’ll be there. Winning the title. I’m not making a bet here, right now everything is too open.”

Alonso’s prediction is interesting, in that the book makers, the most accurate assessors of the odds, believe there will be three (Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes), maybe even four teams (Red Bull) fighting for the constructors title and five serious contenders for the drivers title (Hamilton, Alonso, Schumacher, Vettel and Button).

Quite clearly the new rules will make a world of difference and the die may already be cast in terms of the reliability of cars for the season as the new rules don’t allow modifications of internal parts during the season.

The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes 2010 car unveiled at Vodafone UK's headquarters on Friday looks noticeably different from last year's race-winning MP4-24. The most obvious features of the new MP4-25 are a radical aerodynamic overhaul and a significantly larger fuel tank.

Horsepower once again comes from Stuttgart in the form of a Mercedes-Benz's FO 108X V8, reportedly a subtle improvement upon an engine that has become the benchmark in Formula 1, winning the last two drivers' world championships.

The driving looks to be adequately catered for with the pairing 2009 world champion Jenson Button and 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton – this is the first time in Formula 1 history that the sport's two most recent world champions have been partnered. It is the first time since 1988 and 1989 - when McLaren ran Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna - that the team has fielded a joint-world champion driver line-up, and it should be noted that the marque enjoyed championships both years, with the 1988 year going down as the most dominant in F1 history.

McLaren was keen to point out that the driver line-up is more than just supported by the team's remarkable depth. Members of the design team who contributed to the development of MP4-25 can also trace their involvement back through seven of the team's 12 drivers' world championships, five of the team's eight constructors' world championships and 112 of the team's 164 grand prix victories.

Both the Marlboro Ferrari and Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team begin pre-season testing with MP4-25 at the Circuit de la Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo on Monday (tomorrow).

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