Australian Grand Prix – Season Preview

Under 4 days to do and counting until Lights Out!
Under 4 days to go and counting


It only feels like yesterday that we watched the epic dénouement to the 2012 season that was the dramatic and enthralling Brazilian Grand Prix. Spell-binding races like that do not come along every week and it was totally fitting that it was Interlagos where the curtain fell on an incredible season.


Also I’m not sure my shredded nerves could have taken much more drama. Just as with the drivers and the teams, even we the fans needed time to recover and repair our nervous system and realise how interminably pointless and boring Sundays are without F1 races. And now after what has seemed like an ETERNITY, we can prepare ourselves for a new season and that utterly spine-tingling moment at 06:00 hours on Sunday morning when its Lights Out in Melbourne.


I’m sure people say it Every Single Year (sometimes truthfully and sometimes with a keen eye focused on the All Important TV Ratings) but for the life of me I can’t predict how this season will play out. In a way its not very surprising as last season threw up 7 different winners in the first 7 races (as Sky hysterically told us over and over again) and the title race went down to the wire. Also with the return of turbo engines in 2014, a cynical team principal might decide to steer the R&D focus heavily in that direction. But actually I’m not sure the advent of turbos is as great as it sounds. Say what you like about V-8 engines (done to death etc) but the engine freeze in recent years has made for some really close racing (barring those mind-numbing races which Vettel led from start to finish, obviously). Turbos will obviously favour the giant engine manufacturers and possibly spread out the field much more. But that’s for another blog!


The car that grabbed most of the headlines in pre-season testing (to almost everyone’s surprise) was the new offering from Mercedes. Lest we forget, their last car was an utter abomination for most of the season bar the first few races where it looked da business. Will it peak early or flatter to deceive again?



What does the season hold for Lewis Hamilton?
What does the season hold for Lewis?


The F1 landscape has seen quite a few changes since the end of the season and in addition to there being one less former World Champion in the field, what else is different? At the risk of sounding a bit Top Gear (blame the husband), Its Time for The News:


Drivers:

Unless you’ve been living in Outer (or Inner) Mongolia for the last 7 months, the big driver move has been Lewis Hamilton defecting from McLaren to Mercedes. Its safe to say big Ron Dennis probably sees it in traitorous Soviet defection terms as well. The Mexican wunderkind/wild (delete as appropriate) Sergio Perez has been lured from Sauber to replace Hamilton. An appointment that seemed quite savvy when it was made but was increasingly seen as bordering on criminally insane by the end of the season.



Sergio Perez - how will he cope with the weight of expectation at a big team?
Sergio Perez – how will he cope with the weight of expectation?


The experienced Adrian Sutil returns to Force India after his spot of bother with the law that we don’t talk about. Bizarrely, of all things, this met with great approval by Mr Eau Rouge Snr (father not husband!). Still not fathomed exactly why but that’s par for the course. Charles Pic has moved to Caterham after his excellent season with Marussia. Pic is a great prospect but is Caterham really a step up? My money is on a resounding no.


We also welcome five rookie drivers to the grid this season (Charlie Whiting had better get that Safety Car serviced pronto) namely:
  • Valtteri Bottas at Williams – He is tipped for big things and has had a meteoric rise but I’m not sure he’ll be appearing on a Montezemolo Wishlist anytime soon.


Bottas
Valtteri Bottas – one of 5 rookies on the grid this year
  • Esteban Gutierrez at Sauber – Well its safe to say the Hulk will probably be running the show at Sauber this season.

  • Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi at Marussia – Two rookies at the SAME team. That’s brave or mad or both. The colourful Pat Symonds (their new technical director after serving a lengthy ban due to that whole messy Renault cheating business we also don’t talk about) will have his work cut out. Generally I like the cut of Marussia’s jib and the way they are run so will watch their progress with interest.

  • Giedo van der Garde at Caterham – Its just possible he might squeak into Q2 once. If he is lucky. Actually I have no idea why I said that. He has the New Narain written all over him. And I still need to find my plucky underdog (ie. under as in 10 feet under) for the season. Giedo might be just my man!
Giedo
Giedo van der Garde – the new Narain?


Technical Stuff:


The active double DRS has been thrown onto the scrapheap and this year we have ‘passive’ double DRS systems (seriously who thinks up these names?). I might put a tenner now on Red Bull’s DRS system not being as passive as all that and being investigated early doors. All that sandbagging nonsense and sheets thrown over cars in testing makes me conclude something shifty innovative may be afoot.


The Pirelli people have been busy revising their tyre compounds (they are heavier for one thing) but the general upshot of testing was that the tyres are as rubbish as last year’s. Certainly in the cold weather at the Barcelona tests, the degradation levels were chronically awful which in its own way can make for excitement in races but can also end up skewing results massively in random directions. So expect a totally random result come China.



But who will benefit from the tyre lottery?
Who will benefit from the tyre lottery?


There is no more free use of DRS in practice or qualifying. Drivers can only use it in practice/qualifying in those areas where they’re permitted to deploy it during the race. Basically this is bad news for Red Bull. Whoop!


Those nasty stepped noses that we had to endure in 2012 can now be hidden by a ‘vanity panel’. Again not my choice of words. Still lets be thankful for small mercies.



The beautiful new Ferrari. Will this be the title winning car?
The beautiful new Ferrari. But is it a title winning car?


Alas poor HRT, it bit the dust after the end of the 2012 season. No points in three years is probably a fair indicator it is definitely time to give up the good fight. So we’re down to 22 cars on the grid which means a rejig to qualifying – 6 cars will miss the cut after Q1 and a further 6 cars after Q2.


One more technical change of a legal nature – teams can no longer argue ‘force majeure’. Remember those cars which stopped on the in-lap of qualifying bleating force majeure (er, why, was there a sudden act of nature or God or small war that you accidentally drove into)? It was all very annoying and Not in the Spirit of F1 according to Bernie (apparently our moral compass). If they pull a similar stunt this year, they’ll be automatically disqualified from qualifying and will start from the pitlane. Fair do’s. Really great teams should not pulling this kind of stunt should they? Red Bull and McLaren I’m looking at you!



In-house lawyers at F1 teams will have to come up with something else this year!
In-house lawyers at F1 teams will have to think outside the box a bit more this year


There’s probably some more technical bits and bobs but I’ll quit while I’m behind or hide them in another blog and pretend I knew of it all along. To be honest we’re not going to see any earth-shattering developments this season. The new cars are by and large very very subtle evolutions of their predecessors. The game-changer stuff comes next year!


Turning then to predictions and thoughts for the coming season. I decided to dig out my 2012 Season Preview (partly out of curiousity and partly because it was my very first EVER blog post – so happy birthday to my little blog!) and I was amazed at two things:


1. The 2011 season was apparently a pile of crud. In amidst the relentless tedium of Red Bull dominance there was one (just one) stand out race – the four hour epic in Canada. My other memorable moment of 2011 was Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean face at the Indian Grand Prix. Dear God. It’s a wonder really I ever thought of starting a blog!



Mr Bean goes to an F1 race
Mr Bean goes to an F1 Race


2. My 2012 preview contained this sentence “Well for what it worth (precisely squat diddly) I think it would be a fight to the finish between Alonso and Vettel”. I now obviously feel under IMMENSE pressure to make a similarly stunning prediction. Not sure lightning can strike twice but I actually could see the same two slugging it out once again to the bitter end but (and it’s a BIG but) also for some reason (er I dunno maybe it’s the 3 successive constructors and world championship titles) I’m fearful that Red Bull will be harder to contain this year. But if anyone can cling on grimly to the Vettel juggernaut and fight to the death it is Fernando Alonso.



Alonso and Vettel - whose turn is it this year?
Alonso and Vettel – whose turn this year?


So the wait is nearly over. We move onwards and upwards into a Brave New Post-Schumacher World. Alonso says ‘it is his year’ but it would be a brave man to bet against Vettel for a fourth straight title. But I’m going to call it and predict the title will go to Alonso. Just.


Time to take your seats for the Australian Grand Prix folks. Its Show Time!



Melbourne, here we come!
Melbourne here we come!

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