Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
Australian Grand Prix | Sunday 20 March |Albert Park | 06:30
Have your Sunday’s been a bit too mundane and quiet? Missing the roar of those turbocharged engines? Well, that’s all set to change this weekend. Yes, you guessed it, the 2016 Formula One season is about to get underway.
This Sunday will see the traditional season opener at Albert Park. Last year’s race was dominated by the Silver Arrows, with Lewis Hamilton claiming the race victory – which proved to be an omen of things to come – while Nico Rosberg ensured an opening round Mercedes one-two by bringing his car across the line moments after his teammate had. Sebastian Vettel made a positive start to his Ferrari career by claiming the last spot on the podium while local lad Daniel Ricciardo, who had performed so admirably at the track during qualifying in 2014, could only conjure up a sixth place finish.
What will the podium look like this year? Let’s try and see if we can find, shall we?
The team to make the biggest waves during testing seemed to be Ferrari. The Prancing Stag looks a much more threatening prospect to Mercedes' dominance than it did last term. Having set three of the quickest times out of the four testing sessions a fortnight ago, and having then put in the fastest time at the final testing session this past weekend, one expects the contest between Ferrari and Mercedes to more hotly contested this year.
While Ferrari were more than happy to signal their intentions from the outset, the Mercedes team seem to be playing their cards a lot tighter to the chest. Toto Wolff’s team opted to only use the medium compound tyres during most of the testing sessions. While this compound is significantly slower than the ultra softs that Ferrari used, while setting their blistering lap times, Mercedes reasoning behind using them seems solid; they wanted to focus on reliability, not pace. I suppose this is the luxury of coming into the season as defending Champions.
Red Bull opted to go the Ferrari route and ran the new ultra softs for the majority of the testing sessions. They set some decent lap times but their best time during the testing period was seven-tenths of a second behind Sebastian Vettel’s fastest lap time, which was 1.22.810.
The biggest shock to come out of the testing sessions was the lap time set by Nico Hulkenberg on the super softs. The Force India man managed to set a time only three-tenths of a second slower than Vettel’s, using a compound that is said to be about two seconds slower than the ultra softs. The testing sessions, seem to indicate that Force India could well be in with a shout of usurping Williams this season.
McLaren seem to be struggling to live up to the hype that surrounded them in the offseason. While this season’s car looks a hell of a lot quicker than its’ predecessor, it is still rather unreliable. The McLaren boys are going to come under pressure from Toro Rosso again this season. The Baby Red Bull seems a lot less twitchy on track and the talk coming from the Toro Rosso mechanics is that power unit package has been massively improved.
When it comes to the teams that are likely to dice it out at the tail of the field during the majority of the races, there were some positives to be drawn from the winter testing sessions. Manor managed to get a decent amount of laps under their belts, while Haas’s driver Ryo Haryanto impressed.
The 5.303km long track, which encircles the man-made Albert Park Lake, has been a mainstay on the F1 calendar for the past nineteen years. Although only a temporary track, it is considered to be the smoothest of all the road circuits due to the revamp it underwent in 1996. A firm favourite among fans and drivers alike, the Melbourne situated track lacks true straights so the DRS zones situated along the pit straight and between turns two and three may be of vital importance during the race.
With the Australian weather service forecasting thundershowers on Friday and Saturday, coupled with the close proximity of the barriers to the track, it is likely that the virtual safety car will make its first appearance in qualifying. The weather conditions for race day are perfect however, with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-twenties being forecast.
Drivers will now have three dry weather compounds to choose from during race weekends. Pirelli have issued the medium, soft, and super soft compounds for Melbourne, which means we’ll have to wait for the ultra softs to make their debut.
The Mercedes team will be hot favourites this weekend. They managed to put an end to one of those long-standing statistical quirks that are so common in F1 last season. No constructor had managed to win back-to-back Aussie Grand Prix's since Renault achieved the feat in 2005 and 2006. Lewis Hamilton’s victory at Melbourne last year ended this run, with Nico Rosberg having won the 2014 edition.
While all the signs may point to a Mercedes victory in Melbourne, I honestly think it’s going to be a much more open race than expected, particularly with Ferrari having made great inroads toward closing the gap between them and the Silver Arrows. You can’t discount the Red Bulls either at this track, with their talisman, Daniel Ricciardo, enjoying home ground advantage here.
To Win Outright
Lewis Hamilton 8/10 | Nico Rosberg 9/4 | Sebastian Vettel 5/1 | Kimi Raikkonen 14/1 | Valterri Bottas 50/1 | Daniel Ricciardo 66/1 |Carlos Saiz 80/1 | Max Verstappen 80/1| Nico Hulkenberg 80/1
Daniel Ricciardo: Top 3 Finish 6/1
The happiest driver on circuit had a bit of an underwhelming 2015 but that was down to his car and not his driving prowess. He managed a sixth place finish at last year’s event and put in a magnificent qualifying display at the track back in 2014 where he claimed a spot on the front row of the grid. The reliability issues that dogged Red Bull last year seem to have been sorted out. Their power unit has also been dramatically improved.
While Red Bull are still slower than the two front runners – Mercedes and Ferrari – they do have a driver who is gifted enough to compete with the big guns. I would not be at all surprised to see Ricciardo end up on the podium this weekend.
Fastest Qualifier: Lewis Hamilton 11/10
Mercedes are yet to reveal how quickly their new F1 W07 Hybrid actually goes, but I’m willing to put my house on it being faster than any of its’ competitors. Couple this with Lewis Hamilton’s fantastic qualifying record – the Brit claimed pole at 11 out of the 19 Grand Prix's held last year - and you’ve got a recipe for qualifying success.
11/10 may not be the most enticing odds but Hamilton is more than likely to claim pole on the grid this weekend.
To Win Outright: Sebastian Vettel 5/1
It may sound a bit contradictory to back Hamilton to claim pole, due to the speed of his car, and then go and back Vettel for the win, but hear me out before you grab the pitchforks or call the insane asylum. Vettel is a fantastic driver who can keep up with the quicker Mercedes boys by manipulating the track – as he illustrated at the Malaysian Grand Prix last year. He set some impressive lap times during the winter testing period and he's hungry to add to his catalogue of Driver's Championships.
The German is now behind the wheel of a much quicker car and I really think he’sin with a shout of winning this one. And at 5/1, he offers fantastic value.
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