How utterly wonderful it was to come down the stairs this morning, turn on the tv and hear the scream of F1 engines. Even the doof doof doof of the tools in the garages made me literally want to jump up and down with happiness. I know I can't be a proper fan if I didn't get up to watch practice live, but, honestly, I need my sleep too much so I only do all nighters for elections and party conferences. My body clock can't take any more disrespect of its rhythms.
After Bahrain was quite properly cancelled, hopefully not to reappear on this year's schedule at least, the last 2 weeks have seemed interminable.
But now we're here - this weekend sees the curtain raiser to 8 months of track action. This preview will come in 3 parts:
Part one: Rules and Tools - the technical changes for 2011
Part two: Teams and Drivers - an assessment of the runners and riders
Part three: Gadgets and Gizmos - a look at those internetty and techy things which enhance my race viewing
So let's have a wee look at the new rules for this year, which are summarised here on the official F1 website.
Farewell, Double Diffuser
For me this will always have the fondest of memories in F1 history, being the magic bullet that propelled Jenson Button and Brawn to victory in 2009.
Hello to Adjustable rear wings
At certain strictly regulated points in the race when a driver is within a second of the car in front, ( and never, ever when it's wet), drivers will be able to adjust their rear wing to reduce drag and give them a 10-12 kph speed boost which is supposed to be able to help them overtake. They are called all sorts of things. The "official" term is Drag Reduction System but Mercedes refer to it as the RFA - for Rear Flap Adjuster.
The Kinetic Energy Recovery System, first used in 2009, is back. Now, we have to remember that the championship was won by a car which didn't have it, so it's not a magic bullet. While that sort of technology is really important for the future it bothers me that the drivers who use it have to lose weight to compensate for what is quite a heavy system. There were a few who looked thinner and more gaunt than I would have liked to see in 2009. The weight limit has been lifted, but already on Twitter I've heard reports of drivers with KERS, notably Jenson, looking very thin.
The 107% rule
This controversial rule is back. The fastest time in the first qualifying session is the benchmark - and cars whose time is not within 107% of it will not be allowed to start the race. There will be flexibility, though - if a car performs well in practice and then has a spin in qualifying, then they might be able to start if the stewards agree.
I have to be honest. I hate this rule. The sport is supposed to be opening up to smaller teams, who will suffer if they're on the margins. If they don't get to the race, that affects their sponsorship and so on so there's no chance for technical improvements. It's wrong and it benefits the big players.
There are a few races last year where we wouldn't have seen the three new teams if that rule had been in place and I worry that it will suffocate them if they can't beat the clock. It's a rule which preserves the exclusivity of the big boys and as such I really don't like it.
Restricted working hours
There will be no more of this working through the night in the garage, which is bound to be kinder on the mechanics, but could prove disastrous to anyone taking a spin in practice or qualifying if the mechanics can't get long enough to work on the car. This could affect big teams as well as small as they will be deprived of 6 hours of through the night working.
I'm in two minds about this one. On one hand, you have less tired mechanics, who are less likely to make mistakes. On the other, if someone told campaign teams they had to get a certain amount of sleep the night before an election, it would often be impossible to get everything done and it's unfair to penalise teams for an accident which they may not have been able to avoid. The teams have four individual exceptions to this during the season - but there could be a time when this floors a championship contender.
Remember the race when poor Rubens Barrichello arrived back in at the end with his gearbox actually on fire? Well, this time, gearboxes have to last 5 races, not 4. This is bound to lead to more grid penalties at the end of the season, just to mix things up a little bit.
This is another change which has me foaming at the mouth. If I hear Felipe Massa being told, quite openly this time, not in code, to move over to let Alonso pass on race one, I will be furious.
I'm not entirely unreasonable - at the end of a season, it is not only legitimate but courteous and responsible for a driver who's out of the championship running to help out their team mate, but I don't like its acceptance. It's not good for drivers - what's their incentive to do well if their ambitions are crushed by a more powerful team mate - and it's not good for fans.
After too many scary moments when wheels went flying, there now has to be an extra wheel tether.
Another element thrown into the mix are the new Pirelli tyres, designed to not be quite as hard wearing and just to make it even more difficult, drivers now have 3 less sets for the weekend.
They are colour coded so it'll be supposedly easier to tell the difference. Yalla F1 has a pretty picture but the colours to get stuck in your head are:
intermediate: light blue
super soft: red
So basically, the lightest shade is the softer of the two on offer on any given weekend as the combinations will be red and white or yellow and silver as there's always a difference of two levels.
The last four seasons have had thrilling endgames - Kimi winning at the last gasp in 07, Massa just losing out in 08, the thrill of Brawn's year and then it all going down to the wire in 2010. This sport does not have to be made more exciting. Having said that, the combination of the new wings and tyres may add an extra frisson of tension and unpredictability.