We preview the first F1 race weekend of 2017. Find out who our scribe is backing to come good ‘Down Under’.
And it’s go, go, go, go! Yes, that’s right F1 fans, those maniacs and their speed machines are back this weekend and we could be in for a really competitive start to the season if the pre-season testing times are anything to go by. We will delve further into that particular subject in the next segment of this piece, however.
The Albert Park Street Circuit in Melbourne – as is customary now – will play host to the opening round of racing. Mercedes have dominated at the track in recent years, winning the last three events. Will the revamped Silver Arrows team continue to reign supreme in Melbourne or will the Ferraris or Red Bulls usurp Hamilton and Co?
Australian Grand Prix | Sunday 26 March | Albert Park Street Circuit | 05:30
It was an extremely interesting off-season with reigning Drivers’ Champion, Nico Rosberg’s shock retirement setting the tone at the outset. I found it an extremely weird decision initially, but I suppose one can only stomach the view of Lewis Hamilton’s tail wing for so long. Props to Nico, though, he had a great season and I think he realised that he was unlikely to repeat the trick again. He’s gone out on a high note, which is something that doesn’t often occur in F1. I would not bet against the former Mercedes man making a comeback in a few years time, however.
So the annual round of Formula 1 musical chairs got underway with Valtteri Bottas sliding into Rosberg’s cushy Mercedes seat. There were a few more interesting switches which you can view below:
Mercedes: Nico Rosberg Out – Valtteri Bottas In
Williams: Valtteri Bottas Out – Lance Stroll In
McLaren: Jenson Button Out – Staffel Vandoorne In
Force India: Nico Hulkenberg Out – Esteban Ocon In
Haas: Esteban Gutierrez Out – Kevin Magnussen In
Renault: Kevin Magnussen Out – Nico Hulkenberg In
*Manor Racing will not compete this season due to financial constraints.
*Sauber will use the 2016 Ferrari power units this season.
*Toro Rosso have reverted back to the Renault power units.
*The Grand Prix hosted in Baku will now be known as the Azerbaijan Grand Prix rather than the European Grand Prix.
*The Chinese and Bahrainian Grands Prix have swapped dates with China hosting the second race weekend of the year and Bahrain hosting the third.
*There will be no German Grand Prix this year.
So, as you can probably deduce by the above, it has been a rather hectic pre-season for all those involved. There is one team who has had a more frenetic off-season than all the others – no points for guessing here.
Yes F1 fans, McLaren have once again endured a miserable pre-season which has led veteran driver, Fernando Alonso, to state “After a difficult two weeks of testing we’re prepared for a difficult weekend in Melbourne”.
These certainly aren’t the sort of comments Mclaren-Honda fans would have been hoping to hear after years of disappointments. The issue seems to be the power unit which has caused all sorts of blowouts between the McLaren team and engine supplier, Honda. It’s actually amazing that this unhappy marriage has lasted so long and I’ll be shocked to see the contract between the two prolonged.
While McLaren struggled throughout the pre-season testing period, Ferrari made great strides with Kimi Raikkonen setting the quickest time on the final day of pre-season testing in Barcelona. It must be remembered, though, that Mercedes are notorious for keeping their cards close to their chest when it comes to pre-season times. I would not be surprised to find out that the Silver Arrows cars were tuned down to 80% during the runs in Barcelona.
The other team that are likely to challenge Mercedes this term is Red Bull, who are still getting to grips with their new car, the RB13. The team have done well in Australia in the recent past so I wouldn’t discount their chances this weekend despite the pre-season struggles.
Measuring in at 5.303 kilometres in distance, the Albert Park Street Circuit, which encircles the man-made Albert Park Lake, has been a mainstay on the F1 calendar for the past twenty years. Despite being a street track, it is considered to be one of the smoother tracks on the calendar, which is mainly due to the revamp it underwent in 1996.
It’s quite a strange layout as there are none of the long racking straights that the upper echelon of the field dominate on. Don’t be fooled, though, this is not a Monaco-esque track, where race craft is the flavour of the day, as there are still some segments of the circuit where drivers are able to give it a full go.
The DRS zones are located at the pit straight as well as between turns two and three. Drivers will face 16 turns this Sunday, with the most challenging of which being turn 3 – 90 degree right hander which is taken at incredible speeds – as well as the segment between turns 11 and 12, which is the fastest turn segment on the track.
The weather forecast for the weekend looks rather promising. Partly cloudy conditions and temperatures in the mid to high 20’s being predicted throughout the weekend.
In terms of tyre selection for the weekend, Pirelli have opted to nominate the yellow Softs, red Supersofts and purple Ultrasofts. This will be the first time the Ultrasofts are used in Australia. There have also been changes to the size of the tyres with the rears being enhanced to 405 millimetres from 325 millimetres and the fronts going from 245 millimetres to 305 millimetres.
As I made mention of in the introduction, Mercedes dominated this track last year claiming a one-two finish, while the podium was rounded out by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel who claimed third.
To Win Outright
Lewis Hamilton 11/10 | Sebastian Vettel 33/10 | Valtteri Bottas 5/1 | Kimi Raikkonen 8/1 | Daniel Riccardio 10/1 | Max Verstappen 10/1 | Felipe Massa 100/1 | Fernando Alonso 200/1
Fastest Qualifier: Lewis Hamilton 11/10
This is likely to the biggest price offered on the Brit to claim pole this season. Hamilton is the undisputed master of qualifying. He claimed pole in twelve out of the 21 race weekends last year, including the last four races. He has a healthy qualifying record at Albert Park, claiming pole in 2016, 2015, 2014 and 2012. This will be my biggest strike on of the weekend!
Podium Finish: Daniel Ricciardo – Yes 7/4
While Hamilton to claim pole is my bet for the weekend, Ricciardo to get himself on the podium is another market that stands out. Yes, Red Bull have had their issues with the new car but I think most of those gremlins will have been ironed out by the time Sunday rolls around. Ricciardo has claimed a race victory here before and he knows the track like the back of his hand. I will be having a moderate strike on this 7/4 shot.
To Win Outright: Sebastian Vettel 33/10
Although Hamilton has dominated qualifying at Albert Park, he hasn’t set the world alight when it comes to the main race, with the Mercedes man only claiming one victory at the track during his illustrious career. While Sebastian Vettel has also only managed the one win out in Melbourne, I feel that he has a better chance here than Hamilton. Ferrari showed some decent speed during pre-season testing, and if the car can live up to the hype, then Vettel could well be primed to land the first race victory of 2017. While I will be having a decent strike on Vettel to win, I will also be bombing 20 bucks on local lad, Daniel Ricciardo, who is currently priced up at 10/1.