2020 Australian Grand Prix – Preview

Welcome to a brand new year and decade in world motorsport, and to a brand new year and decade of Formula One, and after MotoGP (although Moto2 and Moto3 raced) was cancelled in Qatar due to the impact of coronavirus, our first real taste of the pinnacle level of motorsport comes at the 2020 Australian Grand Prix, Round One of the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship, and after plenty of intrigue during pre-season testing, the main questions that are being asked (aside from technical issues) are: Is Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes still the driver and team combination to beat? And, can the likes of Red Bull Racing-Honda and Ferrari challenge Mercedes consistently in 2020?

In regards to the first question, based on the information that I have looked at from pre-season testing and my interpretation of it, Hamilton and Mercedes are still very much the driver and team combination to beat, and although they had some issues reliability wise on the penultimate day of pre-season testing, you would expect Mercedes to have the bullet-proof reliability that has come to define their dominance of the sport since 2014.

And, this is before we talk about how quick the car is!

In my view, the 2020 Mercedes is about seven tenths of a second quicker than anything else that was seen in pre-season testing, and if that is the case, that gives Hamilton the perfect platform to drive towards equalling Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world championships, as well as towards surpassing Schumacher’s records of most race victories (Schumacher: 91, Hamilton: 84), and most podium finishes (Schumacher: 155, Hamilton: 151) in Formula One.

It would also give Hamilton the best possible platform to launch towards becoming the first driver to claim 100 pole positions. With Hamilton currently on 88 pole positions for his career, and if I am right in thinking/interpreting that Mercedes have the advantage that they have, this is within reach in 2020.

And, given that Hamilton has taken pole position at Albert Park in each of the last six years, and in seven of the last eight, he could start this charge in Australia, and it could very well be a Mercedes front-row lockout with Valtteri Bottas joining the great champion and legend at the very front of the grid.

In regards to the second question, I think that Red Bull Racing-Honda is the best position to challenge Mercedes throughout the course of 2020, but if they are seven tenths off the pace, then it is going to be difficult for Max Verstappen to challenge for a first world championship, and become youngest-ever world champion in Formula One, and for Alexander Albon to challenge for podiums and race victories on a consistent basis.

As for Ferrari, I think they are about 1.3 seconds away from Mercedes, and closer to the midfield than they are to Red Bull Racing-Honda, and if that is the case, then it is a very disappointing result, not only for Ferrari supporters, but also for Charles Leclerc, who is looking to build on his impressive first season with Ferrari with a season full of podiums, race victories, and a world championship challenge, and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, who is looking to rebound back to his best after a disappointing season by his standards in 2019, in which he had one race victory and a further eight podiums, although he only finished 24 points behind Leclerc in the championship.

As far as the midfield is concerned, Racing Point-BWT Mercedes with a Mercedes-inspired car from a technical point of view is leading the charge with Sergio Pérez and Lance Stroll, about 1.6 seconds behind Mercedes, followed by McLaren-Renault (+1.8 seconds) with Carlos Sainz Jr. and Lando Norris, AlphaTauri-Honda (+1.9 seconds), formerly known as Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda, with Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat, Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari (+2.1 seconds) with 2007 world champion Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi, and Renault (+2.2 seconds) with Daniel Ricciardo and the returning Esteban Ocon.

And, behind the midfield and completing the grid for 2020 will be Haas-Ferrari (+2.7 seconds) with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, and Williams-Mercedes (+2.8 seconds) with George Russell and 2019 Formula Two Championship runner-up Nicholas Latifi.

So, who is going to win the opening race of 2020?

Based on the evidence that I have, and my interpretation of the evidence, I have good reason to believe that Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes are the combination to beat once again, and I think Hamilton will claim a seventh-straight pole position in Australia, which would equal Ayrton Senna’s record of most consecutive pole positions at the same Grand Prix (San Marino), and a ninth overall, which would be the most by a driver at any Grand Prix, and go onto claim his third Australian Grand Prix race victory!

Behind Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas will finish a comfortable second, while Max Verstappen will finish a distant third, with Alexander Albon, Charles Leclerc, and Sebastian Vettel in no particular order fighting for fourth, fifth, and sixth.

2019 Australian Grand Prix – Preview

It has been an interesting off-season in Formula One, with a number of big changes. Daniel Ricciardo leaving Red Bull Racing-Honda to join Renault and being replaced by Pierre Gasly, Charles Leclerc joining Ferrari to replace Kimi Räikkönen, who has join Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari, Lance Stroll joining Racing Point-BWT Mercedes, and new driver pairing at McLaren-Renault (Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr.), Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda (Alexander Albon and Daniil Kvyat), and Williams-Mercedes (George Russell and Robert Kubica).

However, the most decisive change may well be the addition of a championship point for the driver who sets the fastest lap of each race in 2019, as long as the driver who sets it finishes the race inside the Top 10, and with an extra 21 points potentially on the line, could this decide who wins the 2019 FIA Formula One World Championship, which starts this weekend at Albert Park in Melbourne?

Possibly, but who are the championship contenders?

Realistically, based on the results of testing, three teams are capable of challenging for the world championship.

Mercedes are obviously going to be right up there, and are chasing an unprecedented sixth-straight drivers/constructors championship double. Five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton is undoubtedly in career-best form as he looks to hunt down a number of records held by seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, including most championships, most race wins (Schumacher 91 to 73), most podiums (Schumacher 155 to 134), and most races led (Schumacher 142 to 129), while his teammate Valtteri Bottas will be looking for a vastly-improved performance in 2019 after finishing fifth in the world championship in 2018.

However, Mercedes face a huge battle to maintain their superiority against Ferrari, who have been very quick in testing in the hands of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, and his new teammate Charles Leclerc, who will become the youngest driver to race for Ferrari since the late Ricardo Rodriguez (19 years and 208 days) in 1961 at the age of 21 years and 153 days.

Vettel, who is looking for a third-straight win in Australia, will be desperate to deliver Ferrari their first driver’s world championship since Kimi Räikkönen back in 2007, and the Prancing Horse have been quick in testing, leading the timesheets on four of the eight days of testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, and if that is anything to go by, Ferrari will be serious championship contenders to Mercedes in 2019, but the obvious question marks will be whether Vettel and Ferrari can sustain a championship challenge for a full season against the juggernaut that is Hamilton and Mercedes, and whether Leclerc will prove a handful for Vettel, and deny the German the fifth world championship that he has been seeking since joining Ferrari in 2015?

The third team that appears to be a championship contender is Red Bull Racing-Honda with Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly. Verstappen is perhaps the most natural talent in Formula One today with the possible exception of Lewis Hamilton, and if he and Red Bull can get on a good run, they can challenge Mercedes and Ferrari for the world championship. However, the jury is still out on Gasly, and whether he can fill the large shoes of Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull.

Talking about Ricciardo, he is now with Renault for the 2019 season, driving alongside Nico Hülkenberg, and on the face of it, they look like they may well be the fourth-quickest, and the best of the rest behind Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull. However, I don’t think Renault are quite at that level of being a championship contender just yet, but if there is a chance of a really strong result, you know Ricciardo will be there to take the opportunity, and maybe a race victory, which would be the eighth of his career, isn’t out of the realms of possibility!

However, a team that won’t be challenging anywhere near the front is Williams-Mercedes. It was a disastrous off-season for the great British team, with the team not getting their car out onto the track until the second half of the third day of testing in Barcelona, and appear comfortably behind the rest of the field, which is a shame considering the miraculous return to Formula One of Robert Kubica for the first time since 2010 after the shocking rally accident in February 2011, which he came close to losing his life.

Hopefully at some point in 2019, we can see Kubica and Williams in a competitive position, but that seems unlikely at the moment.

So, who is going to win the 2019 Australian Grand Prix, and perhaps the 2019 FIA Formula One World Championship?

In regards to both, it is going to be battle between Mercedes and Ferrari, as well as Max Verstappen from Red Bull Racing-Honda, and despite speculation that they have been knocked off their perch, I think Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes will rise to the top, and dominate the weekend at Albert Park, and the two times when he has won the Australian Grand Prix (2008, 2015), he has gone onto win the world championship, and if he gets off to the perfect start, it is going to be a tall order for anyone to stop him winning his sixth championship, and moving to within one of Michael Schumacher!

 

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Preview

Formula One is back!

That’s right, the pinnacle of motorsport is back with the 2018 Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne to start the 2018 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship, and after a year where Lewis Hamilton won his fourth world championship, and broke Michael Schumacher’s record for most pole positions in Formula One, as well as Mercedes winning their fourth-straight Constructor’s World Championship, can Hamilton win his fifth world championship, and Mercedes their fifth-straight Constructors’ World Championship.

Looking at testing, Mercedes look like they have the best car once again in Formula One, with some estimates suggesting that they are around half a second quicker than anyone else! However, testing results can be deceptive, so it will be interesting to see if they can keep that kind of advantage over their rivals.

Talking about their closest rivals, Red Bull and Ferrari are Mercedes closest rivals again, with Red Bull looking to have marginally the better car in comparison with the Ferrari. Both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen will have high hopes of realistically challenging for their first world championship, but will need better reliability from their TAG Heuer (Renault) power-unit in 2018 if they are to have any hope of challenging Hamilton and Mercedes.

Ferrari also look okay, perhaps not as good as what they were at the start of 2017, but Sebastian Vettel was at his brilliant best throughout the majority of last year, but a number of issues, including the front wing damage on the opening lap in Canada, his brain fade in Azerbaijan, a tyre puncture at the British Grand Prix, Ferrari’s inability to be strong at Monza, the first lap carnage in Singapore, mechanical issues in qualifying in Malaysia, and more mechanical issues in Japan really cost Vettel any hope of winning the championship.

However, Vettel managed to finish second in last year’s championship ahead of Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, but will be looking to get Ferrari into a position to end their 11-year Drivers’ Championship drought, and along with Kimi Räikkönen, end their 10-year Constructors’ Championship drought.

If there is to be a surprise in 2018, it may well come from Haas, who have a Ferrari power-unit, and have two drivers who on their day can perhaps challenge for a race victory in Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen.

Grosjean has had 10 podiums in his Formula One career to date, with nine of those coming across 2012 (three) and 2013 (six), with his last one coming at the Belgian Grand Prix in 2015, three years after causing that massive Turn One incident which got him suspended for the next race, an incident which involved Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Sergio Pérez, and Pastor Maldonado.

However, Grosjean has well and truly come a long way since then, and you would expect him to lead Haas’ charge, along with Magnussen, who of course finished second on his Formula One debut at Albert Park back in 2014 after Ricciardo was disqualified for a fuel regulation infringement, but hasn’t come close to a podium since! If Haas have a decent car, as I suspect they have, they could really challenge for high point-scoring finishes, and perhaps the odd podium in 2018.

Behind those four teams, it appears to be a close midfield battle between Renault, McLaren-Renault, Williams-Mercedes, Force India-Mercedes, and Toro Rosso-Honda, with the order of these five teams in Melbourne will be determined by the overall strength of their car, their power-unit, and the developments they have added to their cars since testing, while Sauber-Ferrari look like they are going to bring up the rear of a strong 20 car field.

There will be many changes as well that you will see in 2018, including the ‘halo’, which should provide a great safety benefit despite it being unaesthetically pleasing, and the addition of the superhard and hypersoft tyres, although we won’t be seeing those tyres at Albert Park, with the ultrasofts, supersofts, and softs being the choice of Pirelli for the opening round of 2018.

However, the biggest change will be the start times of races, starting 10 minutes past the hour, and starting an hour later at most European races, as well as at the Brazilian Grand Prix.

So, who will win the 2018 Australian Grand Prix, and maybe the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship?

As much as I see Red Bull and Ferrari both putting up a very consistent challenge for the championship, I cannot possibly tip against Mercedes, and while Bottas was strong in his first season with the team, I just cannot see him beating Hamilton in both the Australian Grand Prix and the championship.

In my mind, Hamilton to win over Bottas, with Vettel to grab his 100th podium in Formula One ahead of a fighting Ricciardo in fourth.

 

Friday 23rd March

Practice One: 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Practice Two: 4:00pm to 5:30pm

Saturday 24th March

Practice Three: 2:00pm to 3:00pm

Qualifying: 5:00pm to 6:00pm

Sunday 25th March

Race: 4:10pm

(All times are AEDT)