Dominant Vettel cruises to second title
With aerodynamic regulations remaining relatively stable, the big change for 2011 was on the four corners of the cars as Pirelli took over as tyre supplier from Bridgestone. In an attempt to spice up the racing and facilitate overtaking, the return of KERS was also added to by a new aerodynamic aid: the Drag Reduction System (DRS).
After the first pre-season test the paddock was rocked by news of a serious accident involving Robert Kubica. He'd crashed his Skoda Fabia while competing in the Rally Ronde di Andora and suffered horrific, career-threatening injuries. He would not race in 2011, and was replaced at Renault - who had launched an innovative car with front-exiting exhausts - by Nick Heidfeld.
Other driver changes saw Paul di Resta promoted at Force India in place of Vitantonio Liuzzi - who moved to HRT - Sergio Perez replace Pedro de la Rosa at Sauber, Pastor Maldonado and his Venezuelan cash come in for the unfortunate Nico Hulkenberg at Williams, Jerome d'Ambrosio take over Lucas di Grassi's seat at Virgin and Narain Karthikeyan get the other HRT seat with the new Indian Grand Prix on the calendar.
HRT continued to struggle and failed to qualify for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix after little testing, but Red Bull remained the class of the field and reigning champion Sebastian Vettel sent out an ominous message as he took pole position by 0.8s from Lewis Hamilton. Vettel went on to take a dominant win despite a lack of KERS, while Hamilton was second and Vitaly Petrov an impressive and morale-boosting third for Renault.
Jenson Button pushed Vettel closer in Malaysia but it was two wins from two for the German, with Heidfeld third and Fernando Alonso and Hamilton enduring poor races. Hamilton bounced back with an enthralling win in China - overhauling Vettel in the closing laps as the rapidly-degrading Pirellis showed their strategic importance - while Mark Webber put in an exceptional drive to go from 18th to third.
Hopes Hamilton's win would ignite a title battle were misplaced, however, as Vettel went on to record three consecutive wins in Turkey, Spain and Monaco, the latter coming with help from a red flag after he'd come under immense pressure from Alonso and Button when a pit-stop error saw him try to one-stop. Hamilton's challenge was already failing as he appeared intent on being involved on incidents with Felipe Massa.
At Sauber, De la Rosa stepped in for Perez in Canada after the Mexican was concussed in a big qualifying crash in Monaco, and Montreal duly saw one of the most remarkable races in years. Vettel took pole put a deluge saw the race halted for more than two hours. Button collided with team-mate Hamilton and had to make six pit stops but came through from last on lap 40 to snatch victory from Vettel on the final lap as the championship leader ran wide off the dry racing line.
Vettel bounced back to win from Alonso and Webber in Valencia, but then lost out to Alonso at Silverstone and had a poor race to fourth on home soil at the Nurburgring behind Hamilton, Alonso and Webber. Button then won in another wet/dry race in Hungary as Hamilton threw away his chances with a spin when leading, while Heidfeld was replaced by Bruno Senna after being blamed by Renault for causing the exhaust fire which ended his race.
The back-to-back McLaren wins ahead of the mid-season break raised hopes of a fight back in the second half of the year, but when Vettel won in both Belgium and Italy the title was all but secure.
Button took second behind Vettel in Singapore to keep the championship alive for one more race and then was dominant in Japan to win ahead of Alonso, but third was enough to hand Vettel back-to-back championships. Although Hamilton ensured a Red Bull was not on pole for the first all season another Vettel win in Korea gave his team the constructors' title.
India was just about ready for its first race which saw Hamilton and Massa collide again - and Vettel dominate - before Vettel suffered his only DNF in Abu Dhabi courtesy of a first-lap puncture and Hamilton went on to win. Though the titles were long-since decided, Brazil delivered a fitting final result as Webber led home an ailing Vettel in a Red Bull one-two which summed up the team's dominance.