Exciting F1 season packed with thrills and spills

The Red Bull Racing team led the way for most of the 2011 season.

After the most action-packed Formula One season for years, TOM WILKINSON looks back at some of the thrills and spills of 2011.

AFTER nine months of thrilling Formula One action, the 2011 season finally drew to a close in Brazil.
In a season which saw the introduction of new tyres, new faces and new rules to the sport, there was great anticipation at the beginning of the year.
Let’s start by looking at some of these features.

Pirelli became the sport’s official tyre manufacturer Formula One after Japanese firm Bridgestone ended its involvement in the sport at the end of 2010. Pirelli tyres provided close action all year, with four different compounds available, the race strategy became much more important. It’s also added another dimension as drivers fight to make the tyres last as long as possible to ensure fewer pit stops. Jenson Button who is naturally a smoother driver, has adapted well to the new tyres. His team mate Lewis Hamilton found it more difficult, His aggressive driving style meant the tyres would degrade much quicker. Tyre degradation has been talked about all season. The Pirelli tyres have been one major exciting addition for F1.

New Faces
New faces to Formula One in 2011 included British rising start Paul di Resta. He secured a drive with Force India after successful tests in 2010.  His performances were good from the start. He was consistently matching and beating his much more experienced team-mate Adrian Sutil. His future in Formula One looks bright. I think we could one day see him in a top team, and not in the too distant future. Paul was the rookie of the season in my opinion.

The new rules in 2011 have been the topic of much discussion. The new Drag Reduction System (DRS) has been the most radical change. It seems to have divided the fans in their opinions. I asked many on Twitter what they thought to it, some said it made overtaking too easy and took the challenge of wheel to wheel racing away. On the other hand, others said it added excitement to the races. My view on DRS is that its new to F1, It’s worked well and it has had to be adapted through the year. But its main objective was to increase overtaking, It has certainly done that and in my view, is a good addition.

The Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) made a return to Formula One this season after being dropped in 2010. The system was only used by the teams who could develop it, which meant that only the top teams would have it. The Mercedes KERS power unit was the strongest once again which was also good for McLaren and Force India who both use a Mercedes-Benz engine. Along with DRS, the KERS power unit is designed to aid overtaking. This year we’ve seen more overtakes than we have in previous seasons. Michael Schumacher has overtaken more times than any other driver this year showing the strength of the Mercedes engine and KERS units.

The world champions + my verdict
The reigning world champions Red Bull started the season so dominantly once again. The world champion Sebastian Vettel has been simply brilliant. He’s dominated the season and the team from start to finish. His ability to drive the car on the ultimate limit has been epic to watch. In both qualifying and the races, he has been on it all season. The only blip on the season was the lack of performance from Mark Webber. I was left wondering, where did Mark go. In the past he’s been right on Vettel looking to pressure him and take advantage. This season he wasn’t even close to Sebastian.  The highlight of Mark’s season was a brave and thrilling overtake on Alonso at the foot of Eau Rouge in Spa. One of the overtakes of the season. The final round in Brazil saw Mark Webber take his only victory this year after an apparent gearbox issue on Vettel’s car, who finished in second place.

The crashes and memories
Before the season began, we learnt of the horrific accident of Robert Kubica while taking part in a rally. The popular Pole was seriously injured after colliding heavily with a wall at high speed. He was unable to race and the decision was taken by Renault to replace Kubica with the experienced Nick Heidfeld. The season started very well for Nick taking a podium in Malaysia. But things unravelled for the German later in the year. He was eventually replaced by Bruno Senna, who impressed.
This year saw many overtakes thanks to the DRS and Kers systems. But one system outside the car showed us that Formula One is the safest motorsport in the world. In Monaco during qualifying, the Sauber of Sergio Perez crashed heavily at the Nouvelle Chicane. The car slammed into the tech-pro barriers side on. Sergio remained motionless inside the car. This crash came just a few hours after Nico Rosberg crashed in FP3 at the same part of the track. Thanks to the safety in the cars and on the track, Formula One boasts a very good safety record. Tragically however, we saw the death of two motorsport greats this year. Indy Car and Moto GP suffered fateful weekends at the end of 2011.  The deaths of Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli came as a huge shock to the whole of the motorsports world. The stars of Formula One respectfully paid their tributes to these two great motorsport personalities.

My season Verdict
2011 saw more overtakes than ever before in the sport and much closer racing. Vettel has been unstoppable. Schumacher is showing improvements, he could be back on the podium next season if the car is good enough. Mercedes should be quicker than they have been. Ferrari needs to be much faster and Felipe Massa needs to buck his ideas up to stay with the team. McLaren have improved throughout the season, but it’s been a case of too little too late. Hamilton has to level his head and concentrate on his racing. This year has been awful with the collisions he has had. Both he and Felipe Massa have been in the wars far too many times.
Williams have had a dreadful season, the worst in their history. They will hope a new management and technical team can turn things around in 2012.
Race of the season
Canada was by far the race of the year for me. The comeback of Jenson Button was just fantastic to watch after being last at one point. The mistake from Vettel on the last lap showed us that he can be beaten. Jenson celebrated in style in what I thought was his best ever race.

Driver of the season
For me it has to be Sebastian Vettel, he has been so dominant throughout. The car was extraordinary and he took full advantage. This young man is a true champion and a great personality. He is a wonderful character to have in Formula One, he’s always willing to talk to the media and the fans. I think Sebastian Vettel is a brilliant ambassador for the sport.
Team of the Season
Red Bull have dominated again this year. What more can I say? Formula One is all about racing to win, Red Bull have won so many races this year. It has been an incredible performance.