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Formula One and IndyCar Series begin their seasons Sunday

After the cancellation of Formula One's scheduled opener in Bahrain, the Australian Grand Prix kicks off the season. IndyCar starts its series in St. Petersburg, Fla.

March 23, 2011|By Jim Peltz
  • Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel will try to defend his Formula One title this year after becoming the youngest champion in series history in 2010. epa02623507 F-1 World Champion, German driver Sebastian Vettel, of Red Bull team, takes part in a team's training session at Circuit de Catalunya track on 09 March 2011 in Montmelo, outside Barcelona, northeastern Spain to prepare the upcoming Formula One World Championship. EPA/ALEJANDRO GARCIA
Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel will try to defend his Formula… (Alejandro Garcia / EPA )

Formula One and the Izod IndyCar Series kick off their seasons Sunday, with Formula One opening with the Australian Grand Prix and IndyCar taking to the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

The Formula One race at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne was supposed to be the second race on the calendar, but the opener in Bahrain scheduled for March 13 was canceled due to unrest in the Persian Gulf nation.

Reigning title holder Sebastian Vettel, who last year became the youngest champion in Formula One history at 23, returns with the Red Bull team along with driver Mark Webber. The pair combined to win nine of the series' 19 races last season.

Fernando Alonso, who fell just four points short of Vettel last year in his quest to win a third championship, again will drive for Ferrari with teammate Felipe Massa.

The McLaren Mercedes team will again have 2008 Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton plus 2009 title winner Jenson Button on board. Hamilton was a three-time winner last season.

Australia also will be an early test of whether Michael Schumacher, 42, can regain his luster.

The seven-time champion came out of retirement last year to race again for the Mercedes GP team, but he struggled throughout the season and finished a mediocre ninth in the title standings.

"We are well-prepared" this year, Schumacher, a four-time winner in Australia, told Formula One's website this week. "All of the hard work over the winter will start to come together over the first few races."

A key change for all the drivers is that Pirelli replaced Bridgestone as the series' tire provider and Pirelli deliberately is making tires that wear out faster, which could lead to more passing and pit stops that enhance competition.

IndyCar, meanwhile, launches its 17-race schedule at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The teams owned by Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske are expected to dominate the series once again.

Ganassi's Dario Franchitti won his third championship last year by five points over Penske's Will Power and by 55 points over third-place Scott Dixon, Franchitti's teammate. Franchitti won three races last season, including the Indianapolis 500.

IndyCar's start also means Danica Patrick, the sport's most popular driver, has left her part-time stint in NASCAR stock-car racing to rejoin her IndyCar series team of Andretti Autosport.

Tony Kanaan, the 2004 series champion, formerly drove for Andretti Autosport before losing the ride after last season due to lack of sponsorship. But KV Racing Technology-Lotus said Monday it had signed Kanaan to drive for that team this year.

james.peltz@latimes.com

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