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 GP (MotoGP) – Preview

It was another well-managed race by Marc Márquez at Motegi to claim the 2019 Japanese Grand Prix, and in the process helped Honda to their fourth-consecutive Constructors’ Championship, their eighth in nine seasons, and their 25th overall in the premier class.

However, with Márquez just 33 points behind the record for most points scored in a season, a record incidentally held by his current teammate Jorge Lorenzo (383 points), which was set back in 2010, and the Teams’ Championship very much up for grabs for the Repsol Honda Team, and Mission Winnow Ducati, there is still a lot to play for as the grid heads to Australia, and to the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit for the 2019 Australian Grand Prix, Round 17 of the 2019 MotoGP World Championship.

Márquez (350 points) leads by 119 points for the Repsol Honda Team over Andrea Dovizioso (231 points) from Mission Winnow Ducati, who looks as if he has got second in the championship under complete control, and can officially secure second in the standings for the third-straight season if he can not be outscored by Álex Rins and Maverick Viñales by five points or more, by Danilo Petrucci by 12 points or more, and by Fabio Quartararo by 18 points or more.

Behind the Top Two in the standings, there is a four-way battle developing for third in the championship between Rins, Viñales, Petrucci, and Quartararo.

Rins (176 points) is third in the world championship for Team SUZUKI ECSTAR, level on points with Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP rider Viñales (176 points), but ahead of Viñales on the basis of having two wins to the lone race victory that Viñales had at Assen.

Petrucci (169 points) is fifth in the championship for Mission Winnow Ducati after a seventh-straight finish outside of the Top Five, while the rapidly-rising Quartararo (163 points) is sixth in the standings for Petronas Yamaha SRT after a second-straight podium finish, his fourth in six races, including three in his last four.

Valentino Rossi (145 points) is seventh in the world championship for Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP after suffering his fourth Did Not Finish (DNF) result of the season, the most DNF results he has had in a season in the premier class, with Jack Miller (125 points) in eighth for Alma Pramac Racing, Cal Crutchlow (113 points) in ninth for LCR Honda, and Franco Morbidelli (100 points) completing the Top 10 in the championship for Petronas Yamaha SRT.

As far as the Teams’ Championship is concerned, the Repsol Honda Team (383 points) is remarkably 17 points behind Mission Winnow Ducati (400 points) with three races remaining in a battle which will surely go down to the final race in Valencia.

So, who is going to win the 2019 Australian Grand Prix?

On paper, Phillip Island should suit Marc Márquez perfectly, but has only won twice at Phillip Island in the premier class, and despite the fact it should suit him, the track characteristics of Phillip Island tend to bring the grid closer together, and make it such a tight fight.

Outside of Márquez, the rider that is deserving of a race victory in 2019 is Fabio Quartararo, especially after claiming the Rookie of the Year award last weekend in Motegi, and if Márquez isn’t the one to claim victory this weekend, I think Quartararo will claim his first premier class race victory.

2018 Australian GP (MotoGP) – Preview

Marc Márquez at the age of 25 years and 246 days became the youngest rider to win five world championships after winning the Japanese Grand Prix last weekend, surpassing the record that was held by Valentino Rossi, who was 26 years, 221 days when he claimed his fifth premier class world championship after finishing second at the Malaysian Grand Prix back in 2005, and joining Giacomo Agostini, Rossi, and Mick Doohan as the only riders to win at least five premier class world championships.

Márquez also became the youngest rider in history to win seven world championships across all classes, surpassing Mike Hailwood, who was 26 years and 140 days old when he claimed his seventh world championship across all classes back in 1966, and joins John Surtees (7), Phil Read (7), Carlo Ubbiali (9), Hailwood (9), Rossi (9), Angel Nieto (13) and Agostini (15) as the only riders to have won at least seven world championships across all classes.

So, with three races to go in the 2018 FIM MotoGP World Championship, the title may have already been decided in favour of Márquez, but the battle for second (and third) in the world championship is starting to heat up with six riders mathematically in contention for the title of “best of the rest” behind Márquez as the field heads to the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, about 140 kilometres south-east of Melbourne for the 2018 Australian Grand Prix.

For the record, Márquez (296 points) leads the championship for the Repsol Honda Team by 102 points over Ducati Team rider Andrea Dovizioso (194 points), with Rossi (185 points) only nine points behind Dovizioso in third for the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team, and is realistically the only rider who can take second in the world championship away from Dovizioso.

Behind the top three, Rossi’s teammate Maverick Viñales (155 points) leads a group of five riders separated by 25 points, with LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow (148 points), Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider Johann Zarco (133 points), Alma Pramac Racing’s Danilo Petrucci (133 points), and Dovizioso’s teammate Jorge Lorenzo (130 points) all in the realistic battle for fourth in the world championship.

However, Lorenzo is the only rider out of the five who is unable to challenge for a top three finish in the championship after being ruled out of the Australian Grand Prix due to a wrist injury, and will be replaced by Ángel Nieto Team rider Álvaro Bautista (83 points), who will be joining the factory Ducati team in the World Superbikes Championship next year, and currently sits in 12th in the world championship. Bautista’s seat at the Ángel Nieto Team for the Australian Grand Prix will be filled by Australian Mike Jones.

However, the two riders behind Lorenzo in the championship, the two Team SUZUKI ECSTAR riders in Álex Rins (118 points) and Andrea Iannone (113 points) still have a mathematical chance of finishing third in the championship.

So, who will win the 2018 Australian Grand Prix?

Looking at the surface of the battle, and considering the race we saw last year, where the top seven riders finished within six seconds of each other, we could potentially have a 12-rider fight for the victory at Phillip Island when you count in the top 10 in the championship (minus Lorenzo), the teammate of Marc Márquez in Dani Pedrosa (95 points), who sits in 11th in his final season in the MotoGP World Championship, Bautista, and Petrucci’s Australian teammate Jack Miller (74 points), who has slipped to 13th in the championship, but is capable of a big performance in front of his home crowd.

Under normal circumstances, I would tip Márquez to win the Australian Grand Prix, but on both occasions when he has secured the world championship at the Twin Ring Motegi, he has crashed out in the following race, which on both occasions were at Phillip Island, crashing out at Turn 10 in 2014, and at Turn Four (Honda Corner) in 2016, and was leading comfortably on both occasions.

So, if it is not to be Márquez who wins the 2018 Australian Grand Prix, who will?

When you look at the last 29 MotoGP races, the two men that have stood out have been Márquez, who has claimed 13 victories within those 29, and Andrea Dovizioso, who has claimed nine wins within those 29. However, the Ducati strengths don’t necessarily suit the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, and if that is the case, does it suit the strengths of the Yamaha?

Maybe it does, but Yamaha have generally been not in good form in 2018, with no wins and only 11 podiums (five for Rossi, four for Viñales, and two for Zarco), so you couldn’t tip a Yamaha to win with any realistic confidence, so if you take Márquez out of the picture, I feel the only two riders that can take the Australian Grand Prix are Cal Crutchlow and Dani Pedrosa, and I don’t think they will have the consistent pace of the great Spaniard.

So, in my opinion, if Márquez can stay upright, he will win the 2018 Australian Grand Prix, but it will be a thrilling race!

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)

 

2017 MotoGP Australian GP – Preview

The 16th round of the 2017 MotoGP World Championship takes place this weekend from the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit in Australia, which is located about 140 kilometres south-south-east of Melbourne, and it is the second of three-straight flyaway weekends (Japan, Australia, and Malaysia), and from what we saw in Japan, we are set for some great racing at this breathtaking circuit.

Marc Márquez (244 points) leads the world championship on his factory Honda, but his championship lead over factory Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso (233 points) has been cut to just 11 points after the Italian’s sensational victory at the Twin Ring Motegi in very wet conditions, overtaking Márquez on the final lap to grab his fifth victory of the season, which is the most wins Dovizioso has had in a season since he claim the 125cc championship in 2004. It was also Dovizioso’s seventh podium of the season, which is the equal most he has achieved in a season during his premier class career (2010, 2011, and 2017).

And while the lead for Márquez was cut to 11 points, the Spaniard could celebrate his 100th podium in Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing in just his 165th race, and with that podium, it is the seventh time in the last eight years that Márquez has achieved 10 podiums or more in a season across all classes.

Third in the championship is factory Yamaha rider Maverick Viñales (203 points), 41 points behind Márquez after a disappointing ninth-place finish in the Japanese Grand Prix, struggling in very wet conditions on his Yamaha, a bike that has struggled all season long in wet conditions, and after scoring three wins in the opening five races of the season, Viñales has only been able to manage three podiums in the last 10, a run of form that will surely cost him any hope of winning his first MotoGP World Championship in 2017.

Dani Pedrosa (170 points), the teammate of Márquez, is the last rider in mathematical contention for the world championship, but is 74 points (out of a possible 75) behind Márquez in the championship after retiring from the Japanese Grand Prix, and will need a miracle if he was to win his first MotoGP World Championship in 2017.

Valentino Rossi (168 points) is fifth in the championship on his factory Yamaha, but officially out of championship contention after crashing out in Motegi, struggling like his teammate Viñales in the wet conditions.

Johann Zarco (125 points) is ahead of Jorge Lorenzo (116 points), and Danilo Petrucci (111 points) in the battle for sixth in the championship, which will be battle outside of the championship battle that will be sure to captivate great interest among the fans as this season draws closer to the end.

Cal Crutchlow (92 points) is ninth in the championship, and is ahead of Jonas Folger (84 points) who missed the Japanese Grand Prix due to a mystery virus, and looks set to miss the Australian Grand Prix, as well as the Malaysian Grand Prix the week after.

As far as who is going to win at Phillip Island, Honda, Ducati, and Yamaha should all have strong bikes to handle the fast, sweeping corners around this iconic circuit.

It is important to note that Phillip Island is one of just five circuits on the current MotoGP calendar that run in an anti-clockwise direction, and at the three anti-clockwise circuits (Circuit of the Americas, Sachsenring, and Motorland Aragón) MotoGP has been to in 2017, Marc Márquez has won all three, while Andrea Dovizioso has struggled, finishing sixth, eighth, and seventh respectively at those three circuits.

However, Márquez has only won the Australian Grand Prix once since joining the premier class in 2013, but could have potentially won all of those races. Márquez was disqualified in 2013 after failing to pit within the prescribed pit-stop window in the first-ever dry flag-to-flag race, before crashing at Turn 10 in 2014 while leading the race comfortably, before winning a thriller in 2015 when he was out of championship contention, overtaking Jorge Lorenzo on the last lap, and then crashed at Turn Four (Honda Corner) while leading the race again in 2016.

Conditions this weekend are set to be fine, but cool, which should suit the Yamaha better, but I think the Honda and Ducati have been developed much further and better than the Yamaha, and given his record on anti-clockwise circuits, both in 2017 and in general, it is very hard to tip against Márquez moving a step closer to a fourth MotoGP World Championship, and his sixth championship across all classes.

 

MotoGP Practice on Friday at 10:55am, and 3:05pm local time (10:55am, and 3:05pm AEDT). MotoGP FP3 on Saturday at 10:55am local time (10:55am AEDT), FP4 on Saturday at 2:30pm local time (2:30pm AEDT), Q1 and Q2 on Saturday at 3:10pm and 3:35pm local time (3:10pm and 3:35pm AEDT). MotoGP Warm Up on Sunday at 11:40am local time (11:40am AEDT), and MotoGP race on Sunday at 4:00pm local time (4:00pm AEDT).