Season Preview: F1 ready to start engines on 2006 season

 by Jose Arrambide
March 1, 2006

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Bahrain starts the 2006 F1 season

With all this talk about a merger, quite a few open wheel racing fans in North America have forgotten that this weekend is the first race of the season of Formula 1. Eleven teams, twenty two cars, will take the green flag on the track of the island of Bahrain this Sunday.  With all the changes the only sure thing is that nothing is sure for the 2006 season.

One of the biggest changes for the 2006 season is the engine, as of last year F1 cars used V10 engines with 3000 cc.  This year they will be using a V8 engine with 2400 cc, (with the exemption of Scuderia Toro Rosso who has a special permit from FIA to use a restricted V10 engine, the engine will not be allowed to turn at more than 16,700 rpm). This practically sends every team back to square one.  Forget the engine performances of 2005, all bets are off.  We will have to wait a couple of races to see who will dominate in 2006, IF there will be a team that will dominate in 2006.

Another big change this season will be the qualifying format.  This will be the fourth season in a row that F1 changes the qualifying format in an effort to find a more exciting format.  In my opinion they are only confusing fans. The new format is called KO for Knockout.  All 22 cars will be on the track for 15 minutes.  The six cars with the worst time will be eliminated and they will occupy the last 3 rows of the grid. The remaining cars will be again on the track for 15 minutes and again the six cars with the worst times will be eliminated and they will occupy rows number 6, 7 and 8. The remaining 10 cars will be on the track for 20 minutes, the fastest lap of each car will decide positions 1 through 10.

Sounds complicated? There's more.  The last 10 surviving cars will start the race with whatever fuel they have left over in the tank from qualifying.  After qualifying F1 officials will calculate how much fuel they use and will give that amount to each one of the 10 cars, the other 12 cars can start the race with a full fuel tank if they choose.

There are more changes.  Cars will be able to change all 4 tires during their pit stops.  Remember that in 2005 tires were supposed to last the entire race and qualifying.  Teams could only change one tire at a time in case of a failure, and you couldn't change that tire and put fuel in the car at the same time.

This will be the last year F1 will be using 2 tire suppliers.  In 2007 Michelin will leave F1 and Bridgestone will become the only tire used in F1.  After the 2005 USGP fiasco everyone knew Michelin's days in F1 were numbered. Although many believe Michelin will not put a real effort in 2006 I think they will want to say farewell with a bang, so expect to see another tire battle this year, especially since the number of teams using Bridgestone increased.  Five teams will be using Bridgestone (Ferrari, Toyota, Midland, Williams and Super Aguri), Six teams will use Michelin (McLaren, Renault, Honda, Red Bull, BMW-Sauber, Scuderia Toro Rosso).

Rules weren't the only thing that changed.   Three teams disappeared to give birth to new teams, Jordan was bought by Russian businessmen to become Midland F1.   Sauber was bought by carmaker BMW to become BMW-Sauber, and Minardi was bought by Red Bull corporation to become Scuderia Toro Rosso.   Red Bull corporation now owns 2 different F1 teams.  Remember they are also the owners of Team Red Bull, formerly Jaguar. And one new team was built from scratch - Japanese Team Super Aguri became team number 11, incrementing the car count from 20 to 22.

And, as usual, F1 had its share of driver changes. Some changed teams.  Some were replaced by new faces. But if you are from the US the biggest change for you was the arrival of American Scott Speed.  He will be driving one of the Toro Rosso cars along with Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi. Yes it's true that Toro Rosso is not one of the super power teams.  In fact, last year as Minardi it was probably the worst team in F1.  Nevertheless this is a chance for Scott to prove what he can do in an F1 car.  We also have to remember that there is a rumor that Red Bull Corporation sent Speed to Toro Rosso as a learning process and if he shows he is the real thing he will probably get one of the driving seats in the A team (Red Bull Team) in the near future.

With so many changes let's hope that 2006 will be an exciting season.  A season where hopefully no team will dominate, or at least will not dominate completely.  Here's to a great 2006 season.

The author can be contacted at feedback@autoracing1.com

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