Time flies. Like many other clichés, this is undeniably true. And, believe me, the older you get the faster time flies by.
If you follow a sport your year is pretty much defined by the season, or calendar, and this seems to make the passage of time faster still. No sooner have you seen a person or team crowned champion than it all starts again.
It feels like only last week that the Formula 1 cars crossed the line in Abu Dhabi at the close of another season of Grand Prix racing. And yet, suddenly, it is launch time. Not in the Cape Canaveral sense of the word, but with stages shrouded in dry ice, covers drawn back dramatically and newly-groomed drivers blinking in the bright lights.
By the time we get to Valencia on February 1 we will already be familiar with the shape of the 2011 contenders. Gone are double diffusers, F-Ducts and Bridgestone tyres. New for this year will be the return of KERS, moveable rear wings and Pirelli tyres. But the cars will look pretty much the same as last year to the casual observer, and that’s why launches are not as dramatic as they used to be when the regulations were less prescriptive and designers had greater freedom to express themselves. As things are, the casual observer may find it hard to tell a Mercedes from a McLaren.
Speaking of these two contenders, we see two very different strategies ahead of the first Grand Prix in Bahrain on March 13. Mercedes will unveil its new MGP-W02 in the pitlane on the first morning of the three-day test in Valencia on February 1. Will this be the car that Michael Schumacher needs to prove he still has the old magic? Who knows? McLaren-Mercedes, meanwhile, will not launch its new MP4-26 until after the Valencia test on February 4. This, the team says, is because they will gather data from the new Pirellis before revealing what they consider to be the perfect solution to the media and, more importantly, their rivals.
Six days later, on February 10, the teams will transfer to Jerez for a four-day test before making the trek to Bahrain. Every team will have its own strategy, its own programme of development over the next seven weeks. But you can be sure that the 2011 Red Bull will be one of the last to show its face. Adrian Newey has always preferred to spend as much time as possible in research before committing his thoughts to carbon fibre. To match, or exceed, last year’s results will be a huge challenge. Especially as its rivals have had all winter to study where it was that the RB6 found a second a lap on them.
How much we will learn from Valencia and Jerez is debatable. Claims and counter-claims will be made, we may not be privy to fuel weights on every run, and a Brawn-type advantage, such as we saw in 2009, is a rare occurrence. There is, however, every reason to believe that we are in for another thrilling year and Ferrari, still smarting from the confusion of last November, will be throwing everything it has at the 2011 title.
Off-season? What off-season? Time flies.