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Welcome to the 2010 Season

March 12, 2010

After four and a half months without it, Formula One returned to our screens today, with the first two practice sessions for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Adrian Sutil was the first to top the timesheets for Force India in Practice One, while Nico Rosberg posted the fastest time in Practice Two for the newly-named Mercedes team and reigning constructors champions.

So while the season kicks off this weekend, what has changed, who’s who on the grid, and what is the first controversy of 2010?

BMW Sauber were the first to announce mid-way through the 2009 season that they would be leaving Formula One. Soon after came Toyota’s decision to follow suit and quit the sport. Then came the 2009 world champion’s switch to McLaren, and after weeks of where will Kimi Raikkonen go now Fernando Alonso has taken his seat at Ferrari, the 2007 world champion announced a sabbatical from the sport. And that was all in the midst of digesting the new 2010 rules and regulations. But what happened to last year’s teams and drivers? Here’s a quick recap…

– Despite BMW’s planned exit from the world of Formula One, the team were eventually taken over, and returning to the sport under the wing of Peter Sauber once more, the team were pulled from the precipice, and with the exit of Robert Kubica to Renault, Pedro de la Rosa was confirmed as the veteran driver for the team after making a return to a race seat, with Kamui Kobayashi, who impressed at Toyota in the last two rounds of 2009, replacing Nick Heidfeld. Heidfeld is now a reserve driver for the newly-named Mercedes team.

– Toyota pulled out of the sport at the end of the 2009 season, and it was, as it were, replaced by not one, not even two, but three new teams. The Lotus name makes its return to Formula One, and Richard Branson and the new Virgin Racing team join the grid. HRT (Hispania Racing Team), despite no pre-season testing, head to Bahrain for this weekend’s race, rounding off the three new teams.

– Brawn GP came back from nowhere at the beginning of 2009 to take both the drivers and constructors titles after an impressive season, and in fact it was so impressive, German car manufacturer, Mercedes, ended their partnership with McLaren taking a 75% ownership of the Brawn team, which was quickly remained. The team, having parted company with both Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, signed Nico Rosberg, and eventually delighted fans when they announced their second driver would be none other than seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher.

– Button departed Brawn for McLaren to team up alongside fellow Brit, and 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton. The new all-British team with its back-to-back world champions meant that Kimi Raikkonen, who had been looking at signing with McLaren, after parting with Ferrari, was left with no race seat, and he eventually announced he would be leaving F1 for rallying.

– Fernando Alonso was confirmed as Raikkonen’s replacement at Ferrari before the end of the 2009 season, and he begins his quest for his third title alongside Felipe Massa, who returns to the driving seat for the first time since his horrific accident in Hungary last season.

– Fernando’s old seat at Renault was given to Robert Kubica, while Alonso’s former teammate, Romain Grosjean, leaves the sport to be replaced by Russian Vitaly Petrov.

– Button’s former teammate, Barrichello made a straight-forward swap with Rosberg, leaving Brawn for the Williams team. GP2 winner, Nico Hulkenberg joins the veteran at the team, making a step up to an F1 race seat.

– For Force India, Red Bull and Toro Rosso, not much has changed between the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Adrian Sutil and Vitantonio Liuzzi return for Force India, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber remain at Red Bull, and Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari stick with Toro Rosso.

– In the three new teams, Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen join Lotus, while Timo Glock joins Virgin with newcomer Lucas di Grassi. At HRT, Ayrton Senna’s nephew returns the Senna name to F1, with Karun Chandhok taking the last confirmed race seat for 2010.

– With the mixture of old faces returning, and the new faces joining F1 for 2010, several of last year’s drivers have either left the sport or stepped down from their race seat to become reserve drivers. Raikkonen, Grosjean, and Kazuki Nakajima have all left the sport, while Heidfeld joins Mercedes from BMW as a reserve driver, and Giancarlo Fisichella takes up his post as reserve driver for Ferrari.

So that’s the teams and driver changes for 2010. Other changes this season see the return of the refuelling ban and an amendment to the points system, among other things. The refuelling ban has posed the biggest problem for teams as it has meant changing other parts of their cars. As well as the larger fuel tanks, and the extra race fuel, the brakes and the tyres have to be taken care of, particularly in the early stages of the race when the drivers will have more weight as they brake to slow down the cars.

A change to the points system means the top ten finishers will be awarded points, with the winner taking 25 points, the second-placed driver taking 18, third 15, fourth 12, and fifth down to ninth, ten, eight, six, four and two points, with the tenth place finisher taking one point.

And then for the first controversy of 2010. McLaren are at the heart of the latest debate, with their rear wing design being called into question. The air vent, which stalls the rear wing and increases straight-line speed, has been confirmed to be legal by the FIA, but some of the teams are still unsure about the design. A change to the regulations and the introduction of homologated parts means it will be hard and very costly for the other teams to create a similar design to keep them in line with McLaren. As the rest of the weekend develops, expect to see this controversy continue…

For now, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes all look to be in a good position for the first pole and first win of the season. Button and Hamilton finished FP1 in fifth and sixth respectively, with Hamilton second and Button fourth in FP2. Alonso and Massa featured highly in the top ten in both sessions, while Rosberg was faster than teammate Schumacher in both, finishing fastest in FP2, with Schumacher in third.

The third practice session begins at 8am (GMT) on the BBC Red Button tomorrow, with qualifying on BBC1 at 11am (GMT), and the race at midday on Sunday.

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