F1 2011 Preview – The Drivers

Two weeks later than planned, it’s finally time to get the 2011 Formula 1 season underway this weekend in Australia. All this week, I’ll be posting articles previewing the upcoming season which is already looking like it could be a lot closer than last years. I’ll start with the drivers.

Last year saw a thrilling 5 way battle for the title, it was great to see so many contenders and we can only presume that we’ll have the same tight battle this year. The five involved – Sebastien Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button – are staying at their respective teams and so will likely be in a great position to challenge for the top spot. And of course a shared podium, means a closer battle. It would be fantastic to have another season going straight down to the wire and these five aren’t likely to give anyone else an easy time.

But at the same time, there’s a potential contender from the tope teams who seems to be forgotten. I really hope that this year is the ear that Felipe Massa can get back up to speed and really challenge for some race victories again, hopefully showing his team mate Alonso a few things! Since his accident in 2009, The Brazillian has never really got back to his old self which I think is a great shame. Before the incident there was clearly a champion in there which seems to have been lost in the last year. Felipe’s a great guy and I really hope 2011 could be the season he bounces back instead of staying in Alonso’s shadow. If not, it could be his last real chance.

Someone who’s had his last chance and is on the way back into the sport is Michael Schumacher. Last year was seen by many as a disappointment for the 7 time world champion. He didn’t even make it onto the podium with his best race position being 4th in Spain and Korea. However, Michael has remained upbeat throughout and after some positive testing with the new Mercedes in the past few weeks, it looks like Schumacher could be coming back into contention. I don’t see him winning the championship, but expect some podiums and maybe a race victory. Having the German back in the mix will certainly have interesting knock on effects for those in contention for the title.

And don’t rule out Schumacher’s team mate. Nico Rosberg grew a lot last year and easily outshone his more famous colleague. If the Mercedes is as good as it looks, he could be one to watch in 2011.

There are a few new drivers joining the grid this year. Pastor Maldonado has taken Nico Hulkenberg’s seat at the rejuvinated Williams F1 Team. The Venezuelan is the current GP2 champion winning six races in last years series.

His main competitor from GP2 has also made the leap to F1. Sergio Perez from Italy will be joining the BMW Sauber F1 Team alongside Kamui Kobayashi who’s bound to give us another year of ridiculous kamikaze racing. He who dares wins!

Narain Karthikeyan will be making his return to the sport – after a 6 year break – with Hispania this year which has an entirely new line-up with Vitantonia Liuzzi joining the team as well.

Another driver making a welcome return is Nick Heidfeld. The German was left without a drive last year, but due to Robert Kubica’s horrific crash in February he’s making a return to the sport with Renault (or should I say Lotus Renault?). And Heidfeld’s progress will be particularly interesting as he has spend more time with the new Pirelli tyres than any other driver.

There’s a couple more new appointments, DTM star Paul Di Resta joins the vastly improving Force India and Jerome d’Ambrosio replace Lucas di Grassi at Virgin Racing. See the full line up of 2011’s grid here.

But the big question is: who is shaping up to be the best in 2011. For me it has to be Alonso again. He was the best driver of 2010 in my opinion (by a sliver) and lost out to Vettel due to bad luck. With Ferrari concentrating heavily on 2011 and some pretty good testing times, I think Fernando goes into this the favourite. But Vettel’s not far behind and those McLaren boys will also be fighting hard for a second title. It looks like more could be in contention than ever and that will hopefully give us a spectacular season.

Come back tomorrow for my take on the Teams of the 2011 F1 season.

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