The first set of fly-away races has produced great results with four different drivers emerging as winners. Unlike last year when Sebastian Vettel was running away with the championship right from the beginning, this season's race is more tight with only ten points separating the top five drivers in the drivers' points table. Yes, Vettel is leading the championship again but only marginally. More importantly, McLaren, Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus have been as strong as Red Bull.
The scene will now shift to Europe starting with the Spanish GP in Barcelona. Though there is a three week gap between the race in Bahrain and Spain, a lot of action will be taking place on the three days during this time.
From May 1 to May 3, the track at Mugello will be playing host to the in-season testing session, the first since such tests were banned from 2009. The ban was brought into effect as a part of FIA's cost-reduction exercise. The teams, particularly those with big budgets, weren't too amused by this ban as the in-season testing sessions have played a crucial part in refining the aerodynamic design and testing new systems.
Only having pre-season tests was not enough. The reason being that if a particular team came up with an ingenious solution, the lack of in-season testing meant other teams could come up with an answer only on the racing weekend when the stakes are so high and there is not enough time to experiment with new solutions. All the teams could do during the three years was run computer simulations which clearly wasn't enough. There is simply no substitute to the carry-out tests on the track.
In the three years since the ban came into effect, two teams have run away with the championship because of innovative aerodynamic designs. Brawn GP sprinted away with the championship with their innovative double diffuser in 2009 and Red Bull were uncatchable last year because of their superior exhaust blown diffuser. Perhaps, other teams would have been able to catch up to them quickly had there been in-season testing. Interestingly, ever since the in-season testing ban came into effect, Ferrari and McLaren have failed to win drivers' or constructors' titles even once. The last three years instead, were dominated by Brawn GP and Red Bull Racing.
This year, Mercedes GP had come up with what is called the Double Drag Reduction System or DDRS. The results were there to see in China when Nico Rosberg dominated the race, leading it from start to finish. Unlike the past three years, other teams can now test their own version of a particular system - in this case, the DDRS - right in the middle of the season. The return of in-season testing has meant that teams won't run away with the championship if they possess an aerodynamic innovation. Other teams now have time to catch up.
Similarly, Mugello gives teams a chance to try components that may not have worked up to expectations in the first four races. Some teams may look at exhausts, others with the issue of tyre degradation and so on.
Normally, a number of teams introduce upgrades at the start of the European races. Testing these upgrades would be an important objective at Mugello. The three days next week, therefore, would be extremely interesting as the teams try to find that extra bit of pace. It would surely make the rest of the season even more thrilling.