It’s safe to say that no one really knows who is going to win the season opener. Belting out laps over and over again may prove that your car is reliable, but it doesn’t reveal the most important part: speed. While testing has clouded our judgement of the cars rather than clear it up, the fans can rest assured that whatever happens come Sunday, they most likely will not have expected it.
For the teams, preparing for the race will involve some new and interesting challenges. First off, not everyone completed their testing programs entirely. The rain and cold temperatures made sure of that. This means that rather than just getting re-aquainted with the smooth surface of the Melbourne track, all the teams will still be testing new parts. The significance of all of their impacts is yet to be deciphered, but it would be a good bet to say that the Friday practices will be hectic; more so than any other time we will see this year.
For the top teams, they will also have to prepare for the possibility of the midfield teams springing an early surprise. No one was expecting the fight between Sauber and Ferrari in Malaysia last year (although the rain made sure of a mixed race). Regardless, Red Bull, Mclaren, Ferrari and Lotus will be on the lookout for the likes of Sauber, Williams and even Force India to force their way to the front.
Another part of this preparation will be coming to grips with the relationship between the tires and the track surface. The rough tarmac of Jerez and Barcelona will make way for the smooth surface that characterizes the Melbourne street circuit. Pirelli have been brave to bring the Supersoft and Medium tires to Australia. This will be the former’s first appearance Down Under, prompting many to question the Italian company after the tire debacle we saw in testing. Pirelli assures the paddock, however, that despite all the concerns from testing, two to three stops should be expected this Sunday.
With the step in tire compounds comes an increased importance in strategy. Long gone are the days where drivers drove flat out until they got low on fuel and then pitted. Now, there is a huge degree of tire management that often defines the outcomes of races. The step between the Supersoft and Medium tires is expected to offer more than a second between lap times. Indeed, starting position, along with what tire you start on, will be major factors that influence race strategy.
With all the unknowns surrounding strategy and the running order, the season opener promises to be even more unpredictable than last year’s. The only certainty in uncertainty! Only 58 laps are allocated for the race, ensuring there will be an epic battle for supremacy this weekend.
I feel a shoot-out between the top-5 teams is entirely possible. This doesn’t mean, though, that the midfield teams will be left out of the top-10 entirely (although that might be good for strategy). For pole, though, I am not going to discount Mercedes and expect Lewis Hamilton to come out on top.
I expect an entirely different narrative for the race. Despite all their flashes of speed and brilliance, I am not convinced Mercedes have what it takes to win right off the bat. With a Ferrari that is much improved compared to last year’s and a driver that is only more determined, I don’t see why Ferrari and Fernando Alonso won’t come out on top. Look out, though, for the likes of Vettel, Button and Raikkonen to fight it out to the checkered flag.
Track distance: 5.303 Km (3.295 miles)
Race distance: 58 laps or 307.574 Km (191.11 miles)
Expected weather: Sunny for practice and the race with rain predicted for qualifying. Temperature is set to drop over the course of the weekend.