The formula one season is now seven races done and what a season it has been so far. 2011 saw the introduction and re-introduction of a few major, possibly game changing components.
DRS, or Drag Reduction System is designed to temporarily reduce the downforce of the cars by reducing the angle of and 'opening' the rear wing of the cars at particular locations on track. DRS only becomes an option when the car is within 1 second of the car in front and it is only available to the following car. This is intended to allow overtaking in the braking zone and spice up the show. DRS activiation is also limited to within the specified DRS zones, two laps after the race has started.
DRS has had mixed reviews amongst the fans. Yes it is a great tool for passing but the long time and hard core fans, as well as the drivers themselves, complain that it takes skill out of the mix, that these are just passes, not hard fought overtakes. DRS is pretty much exactly push to pass. If you're less than a second behind a driver, you push the button and it's highly likely you'll be past him before the next braking zone. It's playstation racing at it's best.
KERS, or Kenetic Energy Recovery System is designed to store energy generated by the braking forces of a car and return that energy to the car in the form of a 6.8 second per lap 80HP power boost. KERS can be activated at any time, including off the line.
The start of this year saw the return of Pirelli, replacing Bridgestone as tyre supplier to the series. They entered with the brief to supply tyres that would offer excellent performance but degrade very quickly. Each grade of tyre, super soft, soft, medium, hard, must offer markedly different performance characteristics. At each race Pirelli nominate which two types of tyres will be used, with the provision that they must be two grades appart (eg super soft and medium) and each car must run each dry race with both availble, prime and option tyres.
As it's shaped up so far, the tyres are the most dominate factor and have provided the most variability in races. Drivers have struggled with how to best manage their tyres and when to come in. Such is the race tyre strategy game that it has to a significant extent invalidated qualifying, as evidenced by Mark Webbers drive from near the back of the grid through to third place and only a few seconds from winning the Chinese grand prix this year. The number of pit stops have increased, but not by the amount many were expecting before the season began. The usual is now 3 or 4 stops, rather than the old 2 and occasional 3 stop race.
Based on the number of wins so far this season it's hard to fault Vettels tyre management, except maybe at the Chinese GP where he pitted early and tried to run on 2 stops, nearly being beaten by a four stopping hard charging Webber. The other obvious candidate is the silky smooth Jensen Button, winner of one the most exciting grand prix I've seen in years. It was second only to Webbers hard charge through the field in China this year, but that race was brilliant for me because I was backing my fellow country man for the win. Buttons win in Canada was so deserved I was cheering for him rather than a hard charging Webber once it became apparent what he might do. That and I'd like Vettel not to completely run away with it.
How are the drivers standing up at this point in the season?
Sebastian Vettel - So many poles. So many wins. How can he not be at the top?
Fernando Alonso - Performing very well in an ordinary car
Lewis Hamilton - Should be above Alonso but he's losing it a bit in his frustration to keep pace with Vettel, and Button is on occasion making him look silly.
Jensen Button - So hard to put Jensen behind Mark, especially after Montreal and his pace relative to his teammate is solid. He seems really happy at Mclaren and it works well for him. As a Mclaren fan I like Jensen at Mclaren more than Lewis.
Mark Webber - Should be going faster he his. His qualifying performances have let me down and I would have expected him to win at least one race so far.
Nico Roseberg - The forgotten man. Has made Schumacher look silly at all but Montreal. Still he needs a race winning car to really show us what he can do. And it would be mega. He has to be careful though because time is running out.
Fillipe Massa - Started off the season in nowhere. The last couple of races have seen a marked improvement. It might just be enough for him to keep his ride next year.
Michael Schumacher - Consistently slower than Roseberg but getting better at each race. Needs to work on his qualifying pace and as the most pole positions record holder, he doesn't have excuses for qualifying behind his teammate.
Vitaly Petrov - I'm surprised. I thoroughy expected Nick Hiedfeld to dominate Vitaly but it hasn't looked like happening this season. Not even a little. The big question is "What would Kubica have done?" :p
Nick Hiedfeld - Needs more pace. That's about it.