Autralian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

The last time Sebastian Vettel took pole position, a spark plug failure cost him a probable victory. This time, he will be hoping for better luck in Australia. Before the race begins, let’s have a look at what might happen during the race.

The traditional first-corner Melbourne crash - expect another this year

The traditional first-corner Melbourne crash - expect another this year

First of all, with an extra 4 cars on the grid, and the notorious Turn 1, there will almost definitely be a first-lap crash. In 2009, Heikki Kovalainen, Mark Webber and Rubens Barrichello all collided. The year before, Felipe Massa spun, and Webber, Button, Vettel, Heidfeld and Fisichella all got involved at the first corner. Also, with the much heavier fuel loads at the start, I am sure that someone will be caught out and understeer into someone else.

Another factor to consider is that the pole sitter has a very high chance of keeping their lead. In the last 14 years in Melbourne, only 2 of the pole sitters did not win. They were both involved in accidents in the race. The driver in pole position generally can cut out a huge lead for himself, as Jenson Button did last year. Even better, they are on the clean side of the track, so a good start is very likely. With all of this in mind, Vettel has a good chance of keeping his lead.

But, what about his well-known reliability problems? Two-thirds of the lap in Melbourne is spent at full throttle, which could be a strain on the engines. However, this could be countered by the colder-than-normal conditions we have been having across the weekend. If it rains, for example, the Renault engine would hardly overheat.

Next up is strategy. If the conditions were dry, then it would be a simple 1-stop strategy for most of the field. But, theĀ  imminent first-lap crash will cause tyre problems if the safety car is deployed. If Bernd Maylander is called out, then drivers who started on the softer tyre will have less time to get the most out of them. Drivers who start on the harder compound can go much longer in the race, when added with the durability benefit. The one problem is that the harder compound takes about 3 laps to fully warm up, which would suit them well if the safety car came out on Lap 1, and they were heated then. For the front-runners, however, most will have to start on the soft tyre, since their fastest lap was set on them in Q3. Therefore, those in the top 10 who are starting on the hard tyre (unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be an official list of who is on what tyre, but I’m pretty sure that Sutil is one of the drivers on the harder tyre) will have a good chance in the race.

There will not be the tyre-wear issue that we had last year. A few days back, I incorrectly reported that the super-soft and medium tyres were being brought by Bridgestone. It is in fact the soft and hard tyres that are being used. This means that the super-soft tyre problem that we had last year will not be happening this year, which means that the soft compound can be used for about 15 or so laps this year, compared to the 10 laps last year.

Then of course there is the weather. Unlike many other years, showers are being forecast for tomorrow. If rain does fall, then the two compounds of tyres do not have to be used in the race. Depending on when it falls, it may give an advantage to the front runners who start on the soft tyre. The perfect time for it to rain, in the eyes of the leaders, is around Lap 14-16 or so. The BBC are predicting heavy rain at points tomorrow, with moderate visibility. Temperatures will be between 12 and 20 degrees. The colder-than-normal temperatures will hugely disadvantage the harder tyre, because it will be harder to warm them up when they are first put on.

Drivers to watch

Mark Webber – The local boy, woho has never finished higher here than his 5th in 2002 with Minardi. He is 2nd on the grid this year, with the best car on the grid. with the crowd behind him, expect him to push Vettel for the win until the last lap. Unless his terrible luck catches up with him…

Robert Kubica – an upgraded front wing and other aerodynamic updates have resulted in a much better R30 than in Bahrain. Kubica starts P9, and on the clean side of the grid as well, so he could make up 1 or 2 places at the start. The Renault seems to pick up speed very well as its fuel burns off, so if the weather stays dry then he could perform well. The one thing he needs to be careful of is the first corner, with several aggressive drivers ahead of (Schumacher) and behind (Sutil and Hamilton) him.

Lewis Hamilton – I’m not expecting a good result from the Briton, but I am expecting fireworks. He is overly aggressive at starts sometimes, and he is bunched up in the middle of the field, so expect him to cause a big pile-up on Lap1.

Heikki Kovalainen – This may seem like an odd choice, but he has the best chance out of the new teams. He lines up 19th on the clean side of the grid. He has the best new car, so he may possibly get a chance of keeping the pressure on the drivers in front. The only thing that would stop him is reliability.

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