After what seemed like an eternal out season, the 2011 Grand Prix series kicked off in Melbourne at the weekend. The wait to see who has it, and who doesn't, was finally over.
So is it going to be better than 2010? I think it definitely is.
There was no surprise that Red Bull were fast. Sebastian Vettel dominated qualifying by eight tenths, a massive difference between pole and second place. What was surprising was the pace of Mclaren, and the relative lack of pace of Ferrari.
Testing seemed to point towards a difficult start to the season for McLaren, who never once looked like they were comfortable with the MP4-26. But what a different story their season opener turned out to be. After ditching their zany octopus-style exhaust system and going back to basics, they seem to have more than pulled it out of the bag. Even though Red Bull are rapid, it would be wrong to say that McLaren can't develop their way, very quickly to race wins, especially if Red Bull suffer any of the gremlins from 2010. The delay to the start of the season could be the Saviour that Mclaren needed. How different it could have been in Bahrain?
Ferrari on the other hand, who looked like the most likely RB7 contender leading up to Melbourne, drove like they had strapped McLaren's discarded octopus exhaust system on the back of the car. Despite Alonso qualifying fifth, he struggled from the off to keep the car under complete control. He had a very ropey start yielding a number of positions, going into the second half of lap one around eighth place. Massa did far better pushing his way up to fourth from eigth place on the grid.
The big shake up came from Vitaly Petrov who stole and maintained third place from the start. He became the first Russian to stand on an F1 podium and after the criticism he received last term, he fully deserved his place. He very much picked up where he left off last season, fending off a frustrated Alonso right up to the end of the race. Lotus Renault should be really pleased with what they have produced for this year, just a shame that a heavily-backed Heidfeld didn't do better. It would have been interesting to see how Kubica would have fared?
The new Pirelli tyres delivered a mixed result. Some teams destroyed them quickly, while the likes of Perez went 58 laps without a change. The new manufacturer is definitely going to deliver the edge going forward. Even though the likes of Red Bull are distinctively quick as a car, rubber management is going to be the key to the title this year. Three and four stops are not going to be uncommon, especially on the more demanding circuits.
Still Vettel for the title? I think this season could be in the hands of more than just five people.