Vettel looks hard to beat at Melbourne (Australian GP pre-race analysis)

Can anyone stop Vettel on Sunday?

Can anyone stop Vettel on Sunday?

After losing a likely win at Bahrain due to a car problem Sebastian Vettel starts from pole position again at Melbourne. Can he win this time?

With a chance of rain, first-lap crashes and safety car appearances the Australian Grand Prix presents a challenging conundrum for race strategists.

The start

Two thing usually happen at the start of the Australian Grand Prix.

First, there’s usually a crash. Last year Heikki Kovalainen was the victim after Rubens Barrichello and Mark Webber got together at turn one. The year before that five cars were knocked out on the first lap including three of this year’s top four – Webber, Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button.

Second, the pole sitter almost always keeps his lead. In fact the pole sitter has only lost the lead at Melbourne twice in the 14 Grands Prix that have been held there. The only ones who didn’t keep their leads were – you guessed it – involved in accidents…

It’s not hard to see how either of these things could happening this year. Pole sitter Vettel starts on the clean line and Mark Webber is not likely to risk a careless lunge on his team mate.

And with Melbourne hosting its largest-ever grid of F1 cars, the chances of a first-lap crash are particularly high. Especially when everyone saw how difficult overtaking was at Bahrain, and the first lap presents a rare opportunity to gain places.

Strategy

With the high likelihood of a first-lap incident comes a good chance we’ll get a safety car deployment early on in the race. The crucial question here is, if the safety car makes an appearance on lap one, will anyone be able to get their mandatory change of tyre compounds out of the way and make it to the end of the race without another stop for tyres?

It looks likely. Bridgestone have brought harder tyres to the race this year after criticism over how quickly the super-softs degraded at this track last year.

We already know the top ten starters will all be on the soft compound to begin with, so they could pit and change to the hard tyres and potentially get to the end of the race. But there’s a risk involved. They could get stuck behind other cars that don’t pit early. And other drivers who stay on the soft tyres might be able to lap quickly enough to pull out enough of a gap to make a pit stop later on.

On Saturday track temperatures at Melbourne were much lower than they had been on Friday, and tyre degradation was less severe. That could also play into the hands of anyone contemplating a long stint tomorrow.

The highest-placed driver on the grid to have a free choice of tyre compound is Lewis Hamilton in 11th. Though starting on the hard tyres might be the strategically prudent thing to do, allowing him to use the soft tyres later in the race when they will work better on the rubbered-in track, it could leave him vulnerable to losing more places at the start at exactly the time when he has the most places to gain.

As ever, teams will face difficult choices if their two cars are running together. Because the earliest car to pit is the first to get the benefit of fresh tyres, whichever pits first will gain an advantage over the other.

Teams’ strategic calculations may also be upset by the weather forecast, which predicts light showers in Melbourne tomorrow afternoon. Any driver who uses a set of wet tyres during the race does not have to use both types of dry-weather tyres.

The grid

Red Bull have locked out the front row for the first time in their short history. The start is theirs to lose but Ferrari stand most likely to profit with both their drivers starting from the clean side of the grid.

Further back, much attention will be focussed on Hamilton to see what progress he can make from 11th. Will we see the kind of skill he demonstrated on his debut here three years ago, when he deftly passed Fernando Alonso around the outside of turn one? Or a repeat of his less successful attempt to recover from a poor starting position at Magny-Cours in 2008?

And right at the back are the HRT duo, who will start from their grid positions instead of the pit lane as they did in Bahrain.

Read more: 2010 Australian Grand Prix grid

How do you expect the Australian Grand Prix to unfold? Will we see a better race than we did in Bahrain?

Have your say below and don’t forget to join us during the race for the live blog tomorrow.

And for those of you in Britain, remember the clocks go forward one hour tonight so take care when setting your alarm!

2010 Australian Grand Prix

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70 comments on Vettel looks hard to beat at Melbourne (Australian GP pre-race analysis)

  1. BasCB said on 27th March 2010, 18:14

    I am looking forward to the start. I expect to see at least one crash during the first 1-2 laps, so that would mean some nice action.

    With some rain expected, it would be great to see battles between drivers trying different tyres to get ahead.

    Makes me think a little bit of the battle between Hill and Schumacher shown in the video biography of Schumacher this week.

    • Schumacher said on 27th March 2010, 22:44

      This race should be amazing… Yesterday before qualy, one of the support races was the Australian GT championhip. It had about a 30 car field that was a mix of mainly lambos and porches with some ferraris Aston martins an r8 a corvette a viper and what looked like a zonda thrown into the mix. Anyway there was contact between 2 cars at the first corner and the result was that about 1/3 of the field was wiped out. It was scary and amazing to watch. So 24 f1 cars through that sequence of corners will be awesome. Just hope that it won’t be as bad as the other race. it was red flagged. The damage would have cost about 5 mil they were saying.

  2. If this race isn’t good, Formula One really is in trouble.

    • Fernando said on 27th March 2010, 18:31

      Why? Too early to say so.

    • GeeMac said on 27th March 2010, 18:38

      F1 has survived for 60 years. I don’t think 2 dull races will result in the end of the series.

      • Ned Flanders said on 27th March 2010, 18:45

        I don’t think he means F1 will implode if it isn’t any good, but if a pile up ridden, safety car affected wet GP is still boring then there is little hope for the rest of the season.

        I’m going to be positive (for a change!), cross my fingers and say ‘tomorow will be a great race’. Let’s hope it is

      • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 27th March 2010, 19:07

        Three if we count Abu Dhabi :-)

        • Maybe I exaggerated a bit on what I said.

          What I meant was that if the race turns out to be “boring”, then F1 are going get a lot of stick. Australia generally puts on good races, and we have come to expect great races in Australia. But, if tomorrow turns out to be an exception, The FIA and Bernie, better prepare for a lot of critism.

          Basically, I meant F1 will be in trouble with the fans and critics.

      • Surviving and flourishing are two different things! That said, I’ll hold on until the European season to really judge if this is going to be a dog of a season. As for tomorrow’s race, Lewis in 11th and Adrian in 10th will give us some good stuff to watch, hopefully. I’m expecting some good overtaking and a good race tomorrow. Fingers and toes crossed…

  3. panache said on 27th March 2010, 18:17

    If webber loses position to Alonso at the start( which i suspect will be the case ), he may well become the sacrificial lamb to take on the harder tires first( before vettel ), whose data would obviously be monitored by RBR to see if it makes lap time difference and if so, to bring in vettel too rather than let alonso pit for the harder ones and take the lead away, after all a maniac alonso and albert park do not exactly promote overtaking – but then again, baby schumi wud hardly sit back and watch ! So, i dont know what to wish for !!!

  4. We’ll struggle to see a worse race than Bahrain! Australia will inevitably be more eventful but I think it’s Vettel’s to lose. Mechanical failure can’t be ruled out with the Red Bulls but he’s sure footed in the wet if the rain comes.

    Jenson vs Alonso should be entertaining. Hopefully Lewis can get up to Schumacher, could be fun.

    My podium prediction is for a pretty dull 1. VET, 2. WEB, 3. ALO though.

  5. I think Massa will try out Alonso at Turn 3, after the latter’s failed attempt to breach the RedSwill wall at turn 1, and that the manuever will end in tears.

    Hamilton will be focussed on the fact the Mercedes have hard tires and he will go all out to out-launch and then out-brake them both. We will see the father of the start-line chop show his best pupil what a proper bit of nasty blocking looks like.

  6. Reliability notwithstanding, Vettel should have this in the bag. He’s an absolute beast with Newey’s Red Bull.

    And I do hope Lewis can forget about the last two days and puts in a good drive.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 27th March 2010, 20:39

      I would like to see how Webber compares directly with his team mate if Alonso doesn’t beat him off the line.

      And if he stays within range, and sneaks into the pits a lap before Vettel, that could be lots of fun!

  7. vettelfan said on 27th March 2010, 19:24

    Can’t wait for this race, even if I am getting up ridiculously early for it. Should be more exciting than Bahrain, because of traffic, chance of safety cars, crashes, and the predicted rain forecast. And obviously I will be hoping Vettel can stay in 1st :D

    • gpfan said on 27th March 2010, 22:04

      “Can’t wait for this race, even if I am getting up ridiculously early for it.”

      02:00 for me, Vettelfan. Eight hours hence. Going to bed now! lol (18:00 in Toronto).

      • Harvs said on 27th March 2010, 23:32

        you fans think that is bad! im up at 2am – 3am for every race thats in europe/ americas.
        and you complain about 1

        • I live in the UK, but I’m with you on that one! I think the best timings are in Asia. In India for instance, most races are in the evening, except the Australian GP which is at around 11 AM. But I can understand the pain if you’re in Aus or NZ!
          No timing has been awkward enough to make me miss a single race since 1990, through my years in India and then the UK.
          What fans are we if we choose sleep over the race! :)

          • sato113 said on 28th March 2010, 0:04

            what about Brazil or Canada though?

          • carlos said on 28th March 2010, 3:30

            Tivo the Asian, Aussie GPs and never turn computer on until 10 am Miami time.

          • All the european races are at 9am here at Brazil – couldn’t be a better time IMO. The only pain are the Australian, Japanese and Chinese Grand Prix (3am-4am). Malaysia is not much because it is a ‘twilight’ race (5am here).

          • Yeah, Asia usually has the best times unless Bernie meddles around with the race start timings. The European races start at 5.15, Asian races start in the mornings and North American races start at nights, though relatively early unlike what some of you guys have to make do with. But hey, we have to listen to Star Sports drivel for 2 hours, so I don’t think we’re better off or anything :D

      • Icthyes said on 28th March 2010, 0:09

        Same here. all those years getting up early for thew Australian Grand Prix, I then move to a part of the world where it’s shown at 10 pm and by then they’ve long changed the start time!

  8. Looking at the BBC weather forecast for the circuit and the satellite maps, it seems to be an almost certain thing that it will rain at some point during the race.

    • statix said on 27th March 2010, 20:18

      this would be so great! :)

      • wasiF1 said on 28th March 2010, 2:48

        I hope the rain will not be heavy then we may have a situation like Malaysia last year.

        • polishboy808 said on 28th March 2010, 4:38

          Well Australia isn’t known for it’s heavy storms so we can be pretty certain that if the race is to be red flagged at any point in the race, it won’t be because of rain or weather overall.

          • Mark Hitchcock said on 28th March 2010, 5:51

            The problem with the rain would be the darkness rather than the water.

  9. Also, if there is a safety car early in the race, will it be better to stay out on your qualifying tyres to maintain track position in the hope that it will rain later in the race? On the other hand, what if………..

    • statix said on 27th March 2010, 20:20

      SC on first laps could be a BIG trouble for top 10, but it would make race so interesting – lots of overtaking :)

  10. sato113 said on 27th March 2010, 19:58

    ‘the HRT duo, who will start from their grid positions instead of the pit lane’
    but how do we know this? i thought they had until late on sunday to decide…

  11. statix said on 27th March 2010, 20:16

    the only thing to stop vettel is – vettel :)
    He can do something stupid like he did several times during 2009 season. But most probably he will win, yet another boring vettels win.

    Low chance for a fight between vettel vs webber or vs alonso.

  12. MEmo said on 27th March 2010, 20:31

    The track is so great! I think the leaders might have a hard time with the new teams even with the blue flags! And if the leaders come close together lapping the backmarkers will be very interesting. I think the backmarkers will be a real problem for the top teams on sunday…

  13. Scribe said on 27th March 2010, 20:47

    Why did the Cosworth brigade of old beat the hell out of the early turbos? Clearly wasn’t all reliabilty. Definately wasn’t top speed, obviously it was cornering speed. Basically doing them all in downforce. The Redbull is the slowest car through the speed trap, an say waht you like about the legality of it’s lowering system, something as a fan of McLaren im rather concerend that they missed. It’s the downforce on there car that is destroying the oposition, it’s the way that they’ve gone about getting downforce that is going to keep RedBull in the lead. The fumes powered diffuser is inspired, it makes the f-duct look silly, why stall your rearwing if you can put your foot on the power 5m sooner.

    McLaren are suffering from a failure to understand the war of philosophy waged by Brawn and Redbull last year. The Brawn was infact a fairly average car in what it set out to do. However it was developed to a ridiculous level, the ultimate expresion of the manafactureres arms war, the diffuser and wings miles in front of the competition. The Redbull was not so developed, however it’s philosophy, being total air management across the car, made it not only adaptable to others innovations, but better able to take advantage of them, because of it’s complete airlow controll, it is a much simpler car to improve faster.

    McLaren have copied the BGP01, however as they’ve had less time to go extreme on development, they’re behind Redbull, who have had time to start developing the elements on a more versatile chassis, whilst McLaren have produced a brawn with less to throw at.

  14. Mach1 said on 27th March 2010, 21:17

    Regarding Schumacher, I don’t understand why so much attention in the press is focused on the fact Rosberg has qualified ahead in both races (and finished ahead in one) and that Schumacher has not out paced him yet….

    Dont’ get me worng I’m not a Schumacher fan, but considering the guy has not driven a F1 car for 3 years or raced professionally for 3 years, added to that he’s getting used to the new systems/proceedures of Honda/Brawn/Mercedes cars, systems and set-up + all the new rules and regs, and hes only a few 100ths of a sec off Rosberg….don’t you have to give the guy a bit of credit…I mean what do people expect…

    • Scribe said on 27th March 2010, 21:57

      given that he was three tenths of last race as well.

    • James_mc said on 27th March 2010, 22:00

      Ok, he’s ring-rusty I’ll give that and all the new regs but as for “getting used to the new systems/procedures of Honda/Brawn/Mercedes”, Rosberg has to do that too. I don’t think Schumi is performing badly, we just are so used to his extraordinary talent exhibited in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s. And Rosberg is better than people give him credit for

      • Mach1 said on 27th March 2010, 22:14

        Yeh I guess it is a fair comment that rosberg has to get used to new systems too. What I maybe did not make clear regarding this, was since he has been with Ferrari since 1996 – I would think it harder for and older driver, who had a F1 team literally built around him, to get used to a new team compared to a driver quite new to F1….again factoring three years out…crap i feel like i am defending him…I’m not …I just think the press should stop trying to make a story….. where as I am quite impressed he has got so close to Rosberg so quickly….again I am not really a fan of the guy…..

        on a side note, it was quite funny seeing the picture about him have words with alonso about impeding him in qualifying….monaco Michael….

        • Mike said on 28th March 2010, 2:07

          Haha your defending him ^^, on a more serious note, I have this slight yet very strong feeling that the press wanted him to do badly, as they seems as though they are just waiting for a mistake to jump up and down and say he’s too old, blah blah blah.

          I noted this once before Bahrain, and I’m glad he has done well,

          Actually it is funny, now the press are saying how he isn’t dominating and turning that into a story, If he did dominate they would all say it was boring. Hate the “press”. some of it is ok, but most is so sensationalist here…

          Is that just in Australia? please tell me other countries see sense!

          • wasiF1 said on 28th March 2010, 2:35

            Schumi will need some time to get in touch with the car.But I think credit should be given to the guy for so far he is driving without making any mistakes.

  15. theRoswellite said on 28th March 2010, 2:10

    The best thing that could happen to F1 right now, would be for the Red Bull drivers to have a race long duel for the win, and Webber to pull it out at the end. Unlikely? No doubt, but still it would put an end to the “nothing of consequence” crowd’s compaining (which has included me of course).

    The other element which may contribute to a less than stellar season, an element which has been talked about, but I don’t recall anyone stating it with absolute bluntness, is Vettel.

    If he is as good as I suspect, and you keep him in the dominant car for a majority of the season, we may be looking at a year like 1963, (Clark wins 7 of 10) or like 2004 (Schmacher wins 13 of 18).

    If this is our near future, we may see the beginnings of the story tomorrow. If he runs away and hides from the whole field, to include Webber (driving in his home GP…in the best car he may ever sit in), then we may all just have to sit back and applaud the new heir to the throne.

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