Last year's Formula 1 season was an unusual one, with the existing hierarchy upended by the new--and, early on, dominant--Brawn team. This year Brawn changes its name to Mercedes, Michael Schumacher makes his comeback and a new crop of teams, including one from the U.S., will see the starting line.
The 2010 F1 calendar will see 19 stops this year, with the most notable for those of us on this side of the Atlantic being the return to North America with the Canada GP at Montreal's Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve.
New, narrower F1-spec Bridgestone front tires are now mandated and a change to the scoring system will reward the first three places with 25, 20 and 15 points, with subsequent places starting at 10 points and working downward. The biggest change for 2010 is the ban on refuelling, meaning all the new cars will have larger fuel tanks. Pit stops will still be mandatory, however, as teams will have to use both compounds of tire for each race. The wheel 'spats' that clip onto the rim and aid ventilation are also now illegal.
The pages to follow take a look at the teams and drivers that will make up the grid for what is shaping up to be one of the most interesting seasons in years.
Mercedes-Benz MGP W01
Mercedes-Benz MGP W01
Mercedes GP Petronas F1
First up, we have the Mercedes GP Petronas F1 team, the name of the program that's taking over the Brawn (nee Honda) operations. With Nico Rosberg and the returning king of F1, Michael Schumacher, at the wheel of the team's two entries, Mercedes is primed for a serious run at the championship. The newly unveiled MGP W01, which hit the track in Valencia today, revives the Silver Arrow name.
In testing, Schumacher felt at home and natural, saying, "It felt just like at the very beginning of my career in 1991 when on the first lap, I thought ‘wow that was really fast’ and then on the second lap, I was just extremely excited. I feel like a young boy again and really enjoyed myself out there."
Peter Windsor and USF1 driver Jose Maria Lopez
Perhaps the most anticipated entry to the grid this year, the USF1 team, led by Peter Windsor, Ken Anderson and Chad Hurley, promises to bring an American-engineered and built car back to the F1 grid after an absence of more than 40 years. It doesn't look like American drivers will be part of the first-year run at the championship, though the team has committed to finding and promoting American racing talent. The team's only confirmed driver for the 2010 season is Argentine Jose Maria Lopez. The team is still hopeful that one American driver will be found. The primary stumbling block isn't talent, however--it's the need for an FIA Superlicense.
The car's construction is said to be on schedule, with an unveiling expected sometime later this month or in early March ahead of the 2010 season opener in Bahrain.
Ferrari F10 2010 F1 car testing at Valencia
Ferrari F10 2010 F1 car testing at Valencia
With Schumacher at the wheel of a Mercedes in 2010, Fernando Alonso's departure from Renault and arrival at Ferrari continues to shake up long-standing allegiances in F1. Driving alongside Felipe Massa, Alonso takes the wheel of the new Ferrari F10 in hopes of securing another driver's championship.
The pairing seems to be working well early on, though watch for friction to rise as both drivers are capable of winning the points race.
The typically taciturn Martin Whitmarsh, head of McLaren's F1 team, thinks there will be only one series to survive
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
Still powered by Mercedes engines, the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team retains the name as well, though the official unveiling of the car is yet to come. The driver lineup stands to be as potent as ever, with last year's Driver's Championship winner Jenson Button joining 2008 world champ Lewis Hamilton.
Testing of the new Renault R30 began in Valencia today, with former BMW Sauber driver Robert Kubica as the lead and Russian Vitaly Petrov making his F1 debut as the team's second driver. Kubica has already proven his ability among F1's best, and hopes are high for Petrov, who saw strong results in GP2 last year, finishing second to Williams' new driver Nico Hulkenberg.
Petrov is the first Russian to land a race seat in Formula 1, a fact not lost on his countrymen. What remains to be seen is whether Renault can improve upon the uncompetitive R29 chassis that plagued Fernando Alonso last season.
RBR gives us a rare behind-the-scenes look at how an F1 car actually gets made
Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber return as Red Bull's drivers for 2010. Last year Vettel made a strong run on the driver's championship, coming up just short of Button's dominant Brawn. The car and drivers alike proved their mettle, and as we await the unveiling of the RB6, scheduled for February 10th in Jerez, we can only speculate on whether the new car will be on pace this year. With legendary F1 engineer Adrian Newey heading the design, however, it's sure to be fast--as long as it can last to the finish.
Scuderia Toro Rosso STR5 2010 F1 car
Scuderia Toro Rosso
The Red Bull junior team unveiled its first-ever completely in-house engineered and built car and began testing today at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia with drivers Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari at the wheel. The two young drivers hope to make up for somewhat lackluster showings in their first seasons in F1 last year, with the new STR5 car as their ticket to a future in the sport.
Williams FW32 2010 F1 car
Fresh from proving that the oldest man in F1 still has what it takes at the wheel of the Brawn GP car last year, Rubens Barrichello continues his epic career at Williams alongside teammate and new F1 recruit from GP2 Nico Hulkenberg. The FW32 chassis gets its power from a new Cosworth engine, promising to deliver performance that was lacking in the Toyota-powered entry last year.
The brand new VJM02 will make its first on-track appearance in Jerez, Spain, this week
Adrian Sutil and Vitantonio Liuzzi return to the cockpit of the VJM03, hoping to push even farther into the realm of competitiveness after a strong showing toward the end of last season and gaining the teams first-ever pole, points and podium with Giancarlo Fisichella before the left to fill the injured Felipe Massa's seat at Ferrari.
Also powered by Mercedes-Benz engines, the team needs to design and construct a chassis that's capable of delivering the downforce and grip necessary to harness the power it will have on tap.
Campos Meta, Virgin Racing and Lotus
Three other new teams join the grid for 2010 along with USF1, though details on drivers and cars are still murky.
The Virgin Racing team has already lined up its two drivers with Timo Glock and Luca di Grassi taking the wheel of the Cosworth-powered VR-01. As an all-new team they are unlikely to see success in their first season, though with the technical assistance of Nick Wirth's Research Unlimited, they stand a chance of having a quick ride from the start.
The Lotus name returns to F1 this year, though without the official sanction of Group Lotus, the company that runs Lotus Cars and Lotus Engineering. Team Lotus and its name are a separate entity, headed up by Mike Gascoyne and Tony Fernandes, though they are headquartered out of Norfolk, U.K. Their drivers are proven, if not proven to be front-runners, with Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli piloting the as-yet-unannounced Lotus F1 car. Power for the car will come from a Cosworth engine, however, giving it a strong start.
Campos Meta is yet another unknown, based out of Madrid, Spain and with only Bruno Senna--nephew of the late and great Ayrton Senna, and himself a success in GP2 and Le Mans Series racing--confirmed as a driver. The Campos Meta team will also be powered by Cosworth engines.