The Bahrain Grand Prix, the first Formula 1 GP of the 2010 season kicks off this coming weekend at Sakhir.  I’m excited! The prospect of four world champions racing each other, three of those in teams where the other driver is a serious title contender, could make this the most dramatic F1 season in ages.

After pre-season testing in Barcelona, it looks like Red Bull and Ferrari are a bit quicker than McLaren and Mercedes.

Strategy

With mid-race refueling banned, it’s going to be interesting seeing how race strategies evolve. Cars are now starting off with at least 80kg more fuel, so will be heavier on their tyres early on, with a bigger differential between full and empty. This could favour smooth drivers like Jenson Button and hinder broncos like Lewis Hamilton. Keeping fuel tank temperatures down will also be a job.

Driver rivalry within teams can be a major distraction (Hamilton and Fernando Alonso at McLaren in 2007) or a major motivation (Button and Rubens Barrichello, Brawn GP, 2009), depending on how amicable the men are off the track.

As fun as watching the actual race is, I think you learn more about cars and strategy from the commentary over the practice and qualifying sessions on Friday and Saturday. I’ll be Sky-Plussing those babies for sure!

The constructor’s line-up has changed pretty radically in the global recession, with the departure of giants Honda, BMW and Toyota from the formula. Renault and Sauber may not stick around much longer either. But the remaining teams promise a fight to relish!

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Big players:

McLaren

1 Jenson Button (GBR): He only won one F1 Grand Prix in nine seasons before winning six in 2009 to become current world champion. Has being world champ quenched his thirst to win, or will he still give it everything? Can he make his silky driving style work in a new car and new team? A team with the last two world champs must be worth watching.

2 Lewis Hamilton (GBR): Can he handle Button coming into his domain at McLaren? He was a lot more comfortable with Heikki Kovalainen than Alonso as teammate. His 2008 victory, his second year in F1, was secured by a single point, with that overtake on the last corner of the last race at Interlagos, making him the youngest ever F1 world champ as well as its first black driver. Can he avoid F1 politics this year? Can he convert that prodigious racing talent into a second world championship? In a year’s time will we still call him the quickest driver in F1?

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Mercedes GP

3 Michael Schumacher (DEU): Back with king strategician Ross Brawn who led him to seven world championships. At 41 he is fit and attentive but was retired from F1 for three seasons. Will he dominate as he once did? Can he keep up with the young bloods? Does he still have the hunger? Brawn GP had a fairytale 2009, winning driver’s and constructor’s crowns despite only being salvaged from the ruins of Honda 3 weeks before the first race.

4 Nico Rosberg (DEU): A seat in a German dream team with Schumacher and Mercedes as constructor. The re-branded Brawn team have engineering brilliance galore. Can Rosberg give his laurelled teammate a run for his money? Will the ex-Brawn team start to miss Button and Barrichello?

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Red Bull

5 Sebastian Vettel (DEU): He won four GPs last year to come second in 2009 and mark himself out as a potential future world champ. Can he add himself to the hall of fame?

6 Mark Webber (AUS): He helped Red Bull become a major force in 2009, where they were the only real challenge to Brawn. He finally bagged two wins in 2009. Can he take Adrian Newey’s RB6 to further success?

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Ferrari

7 Felipe Massa (BRA): 2009 was a season to forget for Ferrari whose F60 lacked a decent double diffuser and only won once. But they’re looking strong for 2010 and Massa has bounced back with a titanium plate in his skull after being hit in the helmet by Barrichello’s suspension spring at the Hungaroring. Can he race at the highest level again? Will he have to make room for his new teammate?

8 Fernando Alonso (ESP): A dream come true: 2005 and 2006 world champ Alonso in a seat at the Scuderia. Can he excel again after his struggles at McLaren and Renault? Will the high-nosed F10 give him what he needs to vie for a third championship? It ought to- Ferrari have had plenty of time to work on it after stopping F60 development in August 2009.

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Of the other teams, I think Force India and occasionally Williams-Cosworth will be worth a watch. Of the new teams, Lotus seem the most optimistic. It’s all up for grabs!

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