A giant step into the unknown (Australian Grand Prix preview)

Will Mark Webber's run of bad luck at home come to an end this year?

Will Mark Webber's run of bad luck at home come to an end this year?

Every first race of a new F1 season his hard to predict. But this is different. This is a revolution: the most radical new rules in a generation, and testing form which suggests the world champion’s team are nowhere, and the outfit that was sold over the winter could win the race.

Is Lewis Hamilton?s title defence over before it has even started? Is KERS hype or the future? Can ugly cars bring beautiful racing? Just some of the questions we’ll be asking during the Australian Grand Prix.

An unpredictable race

A lot has changed over the winter but one thing stays the same: the season kicks off at Melbourne?s popular parkland circuit for the Australian Grand Prix.

Albert Park has a knack for producing unpredictable races. The tight first corner invites a lap-one melee ?ǣ Felipe Massa and a handful of others tripped up here last year.

After that, what happens beyond that first corner is pretty much anyone’s guess. We?ve spent months poring over the testing times at F1 Fanatic and a poll of our readers revealed Ferrari, BMW and Brawn GP are the three most fancied picks.

But we all know how difficult it is to judge real speed from testing, and we won?t know anything for sure until the dust has settled on Sunday evening.

KERS, safety cars – and twilight

As ever the start will be crucial and it will be fascinating to see what role KERS plays here. At the moment only Renault and Ferrari have said they will use KERS this weekend (see the forum for more) ?ǣ and it could hand them a significant boost at the start of the race.

With much of the circuit hemmed in by barriers safety car periods are regular occurrences. These have been robbed of their power to destroy one driver?s race while virtually handing victory to another as they have in the past, thanks to an overdue outbreak of common sense in the regulations. But it could still play a decisive role.

Another significant change for this year is the timing of the race, moved back several hours to make the race?s broadcast time suit European audiences better. As Doctorvee has pointed out, this could lead to the unusual sight of a race ending in dusk conditions. The race organisers are even calling it “The world?s first twilight Grand Prix”.

Drivers are likely to struggle with low light in the later stages of the race. More seriously, a major hold-up in the running of the race could cause it to be finished before the full 58 laps have been completed.

Drivers to keep an eye on

Lewis Hamilton – Two appearances at Melbourne, one win and one podium – but is the MP4-24 even up to making Q3?

Mark Webber – Sensational debut in 2002 netted fifth place but appalling luck at home ever since.

Fernando Alonso – Ended 2008 looking very strong – if he’s in the mix at Melbourne a title bid is definitely on the cards.

Jarno Trulli – Of all the drivers, he seems the most pleased with the return to slicks. I have a hunch he might be in for a very good year.

Essential links for the race weekend


In the run-up to the race we’ll be launching the F1 Fanatic Predictions Championship with prizes to be won. Keep an eye on the site for more information – here’s details on how to subscribe: Get the latest from F1 Fanatic

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61 comments on A giant step into the unknown (Australian Grand Prix preview)

  1. Antifia said on 24th March 2009, 17:08

    A question to anyone who would have an answer to it: Is there any danger of a driver getting hurt or worse by an electric discharge from the KERS mechanism during a crash (in case the equipment come in contact with the driver)? I know it is not exactly the theme of this discussion, but since KERS is gonna be used for the first time in Melborn…God forbid, but we could be in for a rather “stunning” event.

  2. Two days baby!
    Me think the OZ will not be a reflexion of the whole season. First battle with does cars?! There are gonna be xxx
    Let the underdogs start with something brilliant :)

    I saw predictions on pf1
    Nice one Keith :]

  3. roser said on 24th March 2009, 17:47

    If BrawnGP was legal:
    1. BrawnGP
    2. Ferrari
    3. Renault

    If not:
    1. Ferrari
    2. Renault
    3. BMW

  4. Toby said on 24th March 2009, 17:54

    All of the teams with a race ready KERS must of been simulating using it in the race, so surely if teams like Mclaren, Ferrari, Renault are saying they will be using their system, then the pro’s outweigh the cons on a track like Melbourne to use it. Im pritty sure BMW will use it as a result of this. Maybe not Kubica :/
    As Dr Mario says its a “track by track, driver by driver situation”

  5. Jess said on 24th March 2009, 17:57

    There is a lot of hype on this race. I hope it dose not dissapoint. This season is going to make or break me on F1. I enjoy it but if it dose not deliver I will have to move on. Last two seasons were great but this year with all the changes and drama have put a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. We will see.

  6. kieth, good man! i really like your prediction on who would win the championship on PF1

  7. Arthur954 said on 24th March 2009, 18:31

    I wish there was an article on how drivers are going to use KERS when they are not passing :
    — are they going to only use it on the main straight ?
    — will some software activate the system to maximise acceleration throught the appropriate parts of the track to improve lap times ?

    It would be very interesting to see how it can be used as part of a driver´s and team´s tacticts.

    • Toby said on 24th March 2009, 18:37

      yeah i see where your coming from
      i can definatly see the drivers using the KERS system in consistent places around the track to maximize track times once the cars are further apart towards the end of the race (if they are spaced out at all!)
      But i totally do not know if that tactic would be computerized or not

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 24th March 2009, 19:05

      I’m pretty sure the system can’t be used automatically, it has to be operated by the driver.

      But when it comes to questions like “are they going to only use it on the main straight”, even at a track like Melbourne you have a couple of options – do you use it on the straight before turn one, three or 13?

      And yes, I think it’s entirely possible that drivers will use it defensively as you’ve described.

      What I still want to know, though, is whether TV viewers will be shown when each driver is using their KERS?

    • Patrickl said on 24th March 2009, 19:55

      It has to be done manually and they can start it whenever they want for a total of 6.66667 seconds (400/60) per lap.

      Apart from that the driver can use it whenever they want.

      I’ve read in interviews with drivers that KERS can only be used when the car is doing at least 100 km/h, but I haven’t seen this in the regulations.

  8. Damon said on 24th March 2009, 19:07

    Jarno Trulli – Of all the drivers, he seems the most pleased with the return to slicks.

    Haha, well Keith, he’s one of only three drivers left in the field who remember slicks in F1.

  9. Rob R. said on 24th March 2009, 19:37

    It’s the first “twilight grand prix”, so I predict the top 3 will be Barrichello, Fisichella, and Trulli. I hope they installed a Stannah Stairlift on the podium for these guys.

    Hopefully after that last moment of glory they will finally quit and let someone interesting and new fill their seats.

  10. Toby Thwaites 93 said on 24th March 2009, 19:40

    Haha ^^^^

  11. BNK Racing said on 24th March 2009, 19:52

    this is goin to be a tricky one to pick! i’ve changed my fantasy drivers about 3 times on yahoo in the last day. lol. if there’s rain massa is def goin to be removed from my winning pick. but i guess it all comes down to whos on pole n whos next to him….because the rest of the middle pack will lose their wings in turn 1. lol..unless of course those using KERS can get by and avoid it all. we’ll see!

  12. Cameron said on 24th March 2009, 20:09

    I have read that several teams were threatening to boycott the Australian Grand Prix over money issues. Does anyone know if there is any truth in this?

  13. Cameron said on 24th March 2009, 20:41

    Thanks for that Keith. :)

  14. Hounslow said on 24th March 2009, 21:22

    Cameron, this is from today’s Times

    Two team principals have allegedly threatened to wreck the start of the Formula One season following dispute over cheque.
    Bernie Ecclestone has had much on his plate in recent weeks but, even by Formula One’s standards, a meeting at his London office last week was unusual. The Times can reveal that two team principals got so hot under the collar about money that they claim he owes them that they threatened to organise a boycott of the opening race of the season in Melbourne on Sunday.

    In the confrontation, Flavio Briatore and Ron Dennis, the team principal of Renault and the chairman of McLaren Mercedes respectively, allegedly told Ecclestone that they would not put their cars on the specially chartered freight planes last Sunday if the billionaire did not write them a cheque. And, according to Ecclestone, they said that other members of the Formula One Teams Association (Fota) would follow suit.

    A leaked account of the meeting, which was also attended by John Howett, the team principal of Toyota and the vice-president of Fota, was confirmed in detail by Ecclestone yesterday. The dispute was about money that Ecclestone has agreed to pay the teams, but only after they sign the next Concorde Agreement under which they agree to race, something they have so far failed to do.

    “Flavio said, ‘we’re not going to put our cars on the plane, we’re not going to Melbourne,’ ” Ecclestone said. “He — Flavio — started it, aided and abetted by Ron Dennis.” The apparent threat to wreck the start of the Formula One season was countered by a classic Ecclestone ploy. “I picked up the phone to our people that handle all the freight to ask them to cancel the aeroplanes,” the billionaire said. “They were saying, ‘all the Fota-schmota are not going — nobody’s going to go.’ So I said what I’d better do is cancel the aircraft obviously. It costs a fortune to charter those things and almost as much to cancel them.”

    The manoeuvre seems to have settled the matter because the Renault and McLaren cars have arrived in Australia, but neither Briatore nor Dennis got their money, which would have been a substantial sum.

    Howett is not thought to have joined in with the others and Ecclestone observed: “Poor John was sitting there a bit confused about life in general.” Ecclestone does not mind, in the least, people coming in and threatening this or that, but he said he hates it when they then fail to deliver. “If they come in here with a gun and hold it to my head, they had better be sure they can f***ing pull the trigger,” he said. “And they should make sure it’s got bullets in it because, if they miss, they better look out.”

  15. teamorders said on 24th March 2009, 21:47

    In tracks where the start/finsh is on the main straight I guess that means potentially a driver can use KERS for over 10 seconds at a time (a few seconds before the line and then 6.6 secs after).

    How do the FIA know how many seconds each drvier has used KERS per lap? Is it real time?

    What it the penalty if a driver uses it for over the legal amount? Stop Go??

    So many questions….

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 24th March 2009, 21:54

      In tracks where the start/finsh is on the main straight I guess that means potentially a driver can use KERS for over 10 seconds at a time (a few seconds before the line and then 6.6 secs after).

      But would the batteries hold enough charge for more than one use? If not, would the KERS be able to re-charge while the driver is going down a straight and not braking?

      How do the FIA know how many seconds each drvier has used KERS per lap? Is it real time?

      I suspect it’s all done through the standard ECU.

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