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

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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

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

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

    1. More predictions coming tomorrow… 8-)

  2. 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.

    1. 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

    2. 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?

    3. 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.

  3. Keith:
    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.

  4. 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.

  5. Toby Thwaites 93
    24th March 2009, 19:40

    Haha ^^^^

  6. 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!

  7. 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?

    1. It’s in an interview with Bernie Ecclestone in The Times, one of the interviews I bookmarked on Delicious today.

  8. Thanks for that Keith. :)

  9. 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.”

  10. 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….

    1. 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.

  11. Saw that there is more protest on the diffuser. Give me a break. If it were illegal, how did it pass FIA inspection when it was presented? I dont get it.

    1. My logic may be a little off, and my knowledge of diffusers may be ever so slightly limited – but the fact that three cars have interpreted the rule in roughly the same way suggests to me that it was a ‘loophole’ there to be used. Its just the other teams who didnt spot the ‘loophole’ that are annoyed because they might have a performance disdvantage because of it. I have read somewhere that a couple of the other teams might be working on making a similar one to the three up for debate – so surely they cant think it is illegal if they are trying to mimic it.

      Most irritating about it all though is the time its taking to sort it – it would be much better if they had declared it either way and if it was illegal then the teams could sort it before Melbourne, rather than risk being disqualified – wont be a good start to the season if six cars are removed from the first race result – as if F1 needs anything else to make it look like a joke at the minute!

      Aside from all that though, I really cant wait for the new season, its the most excited i have been about it for quite a while – think its because i cant predict whatsoever who is going to do well! Hopefully itll be right close all year!

    2. It also seems that the team protesting the loudest, Red Bull, wouldn’t be able to implement such a design due to the way they mount their rear wing and their pull-rod rear suspension… Sour grapes anyone??

      On a completely unrelated note, does anyone know what the parts shown in this picture are?

  12. I think Brawn is going to wipe the floor with the others, so I predict

    1. Jenson
    2. Rubens
    3. Kubica

    Lewis won’t make Q3 or past 10 laps of the race, he’ll crash pushing too hard in his slow car.

  13. Weather prediction for sunday 24 degrees, no rain. Of course, this being Melbourne it’s really anyones guess as to what the weather might do.

    Just about to leave work & head over to the track now, so I’ll see what I can suss out about the diffuser row, KERS, and the boycott rumour & report back. Any other controversies I’ve forgotten about?

    Sheesh, season hasn’t even started yet and already there are dramas. Is it too much to ask that we have a season of just pure racing & no 3 ring circus?

  14. Can drives use KERS off the start line?

    Makes me wonder if the drivers will be trying to charge their KERS in the formation lap – will we see them breaking heavily to do this?

  15. None of the drivers interviewed today would confirm if they will use KERS this weekend or not. Sounds like some are going to run with & without during friday practice & then decide.

  16. Just been reading into that KERS thing and it looks like renault and ferreri are the only two teams going to use it this weekend. So where does this leave the rest of them? are they going to be allowed to run at different weights or not??? was 605kg but dont know if this has changed.
    Oh yes, one other thing! no adverts, no adverts, no adverts…get in.

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