Australian Grand Prix Preview

The F1 circus makes its way from the low key desert of Bahrain to the hustle and bustle of the F1 crazy city of Melbourne, Australia.  For some this is the natural starting place for the F1 calender and we will see if many of the questions that were raised after the first round of the season can be answered.

The Circuit

The race is held on public roads that form the perimeter access roads to one of the city’s most enjoyed points of interest: Albert Park.   Set around the lake, the tree lined 5.3km track is a curious track that offers just a few natural places to pass, but often produces interesting and surprising races.  Most of the tracks pits complex are temporary and what is permanent is a sports hall  used as a basket ball / indoor football facility.

The track winds its way past parking lots, a cricket and soccer ground, a sailing club house and also runs parrallel to the cities busiest roads that link the bustle of the city centre to the relaxing and vibrant St. Kilda area.

Questions from Bahrain

The most obvious and most over debated subject from Bahrain is the question over F1’s excitement factor.

  • Can F1 cars pass each other?
  • Do the new tyre rules create a stalemate over strategy?

Unfortunately with Albert park not being a “typical” F1 track, it is had to say if we will be able to come to any better conclusions this weekend.

Questions marks over drivers

Michael Schumacher will be going in to this weekends race feeling a bit of pressure.  He was beaten handsomely by his younger team mate Nico Rosberg in Bahrain, and Michael will need to put him in his place if he is to avoid being asked questions all the time about if he has lost it and if he was right to return to the sport.  Of course, this is doing Rosberg no harm at all and his stock will continue to rise while he is seen to out perform the 7 times world champion.

Jenson Button, like Schumacher will want to correct the balance of power between him and his team mate.  7th place compared to Hamilton’s 3rd, highlights the 2009 Champion has some catching up to do.  Jenson will be hoping the team can find him some more downforce at the front of the car, and he will also be pushing for more flexibility on the tyre strategy after having the rug pulled from beneath him last time out in Bahrain.

Mark Webber is on home ground this weekend and while this usually brings added pressure, the Aussie will be looking for a more consistent qualifying and practice to give him a better chance of fighting at the front on Sunday.

The teams under pressure

Mclaren carries a fairly large question mark at this time over the cars ability to generate enough down force as compared to their rivals.  Both drivers struggled in the race last time out, but the team have said that they lost their way slightly in Bahrain buy not putting enough wing on both drivers cars. With their car enjoying the highest top speed down the straights, the team will be hoping that a simple set up fix will bring them closer to Redbull and Ferrari.

Will Ferrari’s engines that seemed to get a little hot under the collar in Bahrain manage to see out another race.  While the temperature levels will be nowhere near as high as Bahrain, Ferrari might have to limit revs during practice and the race to see them through to the end.

Vettle will be hoping that Redbull have confidently fixed the engine problem that the car suffered in Bahrain in the closing laps that robbed the German of 25 points.  They won’t have to use the same engine here but it will put a lot of pressure on the team should reliability strike them down again.

A word for the new guys, Virgin will be looking to get to the bottom of their dreaded hydraulic problems that dogged both drivers in Bahrain, and HRT will be looking to get Karun Chandhok out for first practice on Friday morning.

Ones to look out for

My tips this weekend are for Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton.  Webber now with the confidence of winning races in 2009 he should have the best ever chance for a home win on Sunday.  Lewis Hamilton goes really well on this track. Even last year when he was driving a pig of a car was he able to get the car up in to the top points positions (less said about the lie-gate post race the better) I just feel even without a truly competitive car the Briton can deliver a result here.

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De La Rosa rumours intensify

The web if full of gossip this week that the former BMW team, now back in the safe hands of Peter Sauber, is set to announce that current third driver at Mclaren, Pedro De La Rosa is to be their driver for the 2010 season alongside Kamui Kobyashi.

This seems an odd choice for me, Pedro has been out of F1 for 3 full years, in fact his last race was back in 2006 when he deputised for the sacked Juan Pablo Montoya at Mclaren

Despite competing in some 72 races the Spaniard’s best result is 2nd place behind Jenson Button in the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix and has competed in just 9 races in 7 seasons.

He is by no means a ‘spring chicken’ and there are no indications in his previous form that he has the speed to lead the team towards top-level results, so why are the team interested in Pedro?

Firstly Pedro’s experience at Mclaren where he has spent the last 7 years as its official test driver, from which he would have gathered plenty of experience on how a top-level team operate – vital for Sauber.  He is also a mature head in that he has a strong presence on the GPDA and could be seen as a safe pair of hands on the track and not put added pressure on the team by crashing.

It is this experience and safe profile that I believe Sauber are attracted to in order to balance out the raw and potentially erratic nature displayed by the exciting prospect that is Kamui Kobyashi.

Hold on a minute though, Nick Heidfeld the driver previously employed by BMW and before then by Peter Sauber himself, is in limbo at the moment looking for a drive. He already fits all those criteria I previously mentioned but is able to boast continued experience of racing which De La Rosa cannot hold a torch to.

So what does this mean? Is Peter Sauber finally drawing the curtain on the nearly man Heidfeld? Are the team that has recently been saved tight on budget and unable to afford Heidfeld – This seems unlikely has one expects that Nick wouldn’t have been on superstar money, which leaves the only other possible option in that Nick is about to join Renault to complete his partnership with Robert Kubica.

With the car launches eminent and the first test under 3 weeks away it would be a worry for Sauber to have to rely upon Kobayashi who has zero experience in developing a car.

It will be interesting to see how this develops over the next week or so.