A brave new world of Formula 1 kicks off this weekend and never before has there been so much expectation and uncertainty about what might happen. We will definitely see a very different style of racing, much of it linked to the maximum 100 kilos of fuel per car. Saving fuel is nothing new as we have seen it before, back in the last turbo era and even in recent times.
The difference today is that, rather than seeing cars slow towards the end of the race when a team tells a driver he needs to save juice, this time, a far more complex strategy will come into play. It might be wise to save fuel right at the start of the race, or at any point when a driver finds himself stuck in traffic and race engineers, more than ever before, will be “driving” the cars from the pit wall.
Slipstreaming, when one car sits in the wake of the one in front, will be a key factor and not just for overtaking. For example, a driver might choose to use the DRS when he’s within a second of the car in front, as demanded by the rules, but he might not try and overtake. Instead, he will sit behind saving fuel by being able to lift off the throttle, because of the slipstream effect. If you the viewer/spectator could see the fuel usage of each car in the race, you’d have a good chance of understanding the strategy, but although the FIA will have access to ‘live’ fuel use figures, that information won’t be shared, as it would put an end to anyone using truly unusual fuel strategies.
Winter testing has shown that the new cars are still quite fragile and the Albert Park track will be really challenging, with tight corners and short straights that will see the cars accelerating hard in short bursts. At least recovering energy is helped by all the heavy braking. The fact that Albert Park is also one of the most demanding when it comes to fuel consumption will only add to the puzzle of when to push and when to go on an economy drive.
Alongside all the new features, some opening round traditions remain and, this morning, Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat headed to the end of the Albert Park pit lane for the obligatory photo shoot, lining up for the massed ranks of the F1 snappers. All the drivers look fresh faced, fit and happy. Which ones will still look the same when they line up for the end-of-year photo on race morning in Abu Dhabi in November?