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. wasiF1 said on 28th March 2010, 2:31

    History tells that we may see some action in turn 1.So all Alonso have to do is to out drag Webber in the start line then follow Vettel up to turn 4.If things happens it will happen from P5, so then Alonso will have 57 laps tp attack Vettel. I think we may see some overtaking.

    • wasiF1 said on 28th March 2010, 2:53

      Four hours still remains the formula1.com website showing forecast of rain, now is this forecast for now or when the race starts??

  2. I’m in Melbourne now with four hrs to go to race start. Very cloudy and rain is trying hard to do more than spit. Temp is about 27 degrees and cooler than this morning. Not sure if it will bucket though. Light drizzle is all we got yesterday in quali.looking fwd to a great race but I don’t reckon it will rain that much. Vet, Web and Alo is my pick. Safety car to come out for sure when and if someone ventures offline onto damp grass. Rookies be ware!

    • carlos said on 28th March 2010, 3:34

      it is 10;30 pm in miami. I am going to bed to watch the race at 7am..on TIVO of course. Can’t make the 2am thing anymore.

  3. Theoddkiwi said on 28th March 2010, 3:08

    http://www.bom.gov.au/products/IDR021.loop.shtml

    I disagree, there is light rain on the way already and two larger bands building from the west. The live radar above is pretty reliable.

    I think we will get some form of rain in the second half of the race.

    I am expecting some aggresive stuff from Webber who will be desperate to beat Vettel, despite all his denials, he knows he is his biggest threat, and his only real chance is to beat him into the first corner.

    I am 99% sure there will be a first coner incident.

    At this stage this is anyones race.

  4. Plink Plonk Plunk said on 28th March 2010, 3:13

    If qualifying is any indication of how things will go tomorrow, I suspect it to be a hectic race with fast cars catching the slower cars. Especially if there’s rain, look out.

    And I suspect Lewis would do rather well, even from eleventh, if it rains.

    Cant wait – bring it!

  5. Ben said on 28th March 2010, 3:14

    Looking at the weather radar, looks like a decent sized rain band on its way. Its currently about 100km away, moving at what looks like around 30km/h, so we’re looking at that reaching that track about 1 hour before race start. Doesn’t look too heavy, but heavy enough.
    As for weather expected during race-time, there is one large rainband which is looking moderately heavy about 160km away, but at the moment looks as if it may pass to the south, but as its so far out can be a little hard to work out its track.

    • That’s one piece of precise weather report there! I hadn’t seen one like this in the comments in a long time really!
      Good one Ben.. :)

  6. Kremer said on 28th March 2010, 3:47

    A few periods of light rain would create an interesting race, teams and drivers scrambling and gambling on tyres.

    My prediction (FWIW): Massa, Button, Schumacher(!)

  7. matt90 said on 28th March 2010, 4:18

    At this point sleeping before the race seems a bit pointless.

  8. polishboy808 said on 28th March 2010, 4:47

    I think Kubica will make a good start but will make contact on lap 2 with sutil, who will also make a good start. Sutil, feeling racier then ever with a competative car, will want to push it hard and coming into turn 1, he’ll clip the back of Kubica. Kubica will continue but Sutil will have to pit for a new nose, just as it starts to rain. He’ll be the first on the wets and will somehow finish within the top 5. Webber will keep second, but then under pressure will make a mistake pushing him back to 3rd. Alonso, will be quite far behind vettle and will finish second, while vettle wins. Hamilton will want to make up for everything and will be part of a smaller accident mid way through the race and will finish 20th.
    I’m sure at least one of these things will happen. =D

  9. Theoddkiwi said on 28th March 2010, 5:00

    Looks like its already rained on the track. That next band looks pretty interesting, but might just skirt to the south.

    The radar does attenuate quite bit the further out from the center of the scan, so it can mask the real intensity quite a bit.

    The best scale is 128km to get a good feel for the rain intensity. I use BOM alot as my work can be heavily dependent of rain, so i study the radar quite a bit.

    I think at best we will get some light sprinkles, at worst i think it will be a damp circuit at some point and put it in that really tricky inters vs slicks range and potentially quite greasy.

  10. F1Fan said on 28th March 2010, 5:03

    Vettel is far from certain to win this race. Alonso will pass Webber, if not at the start, then sometime in the first 2-3 laps. It could be a repeat of Bahrein, w/ FA right behind Vettel for the first stint. Once they switch to the hards Ferrari has the advantage. If the race is entirely normal (10% chance of this happening) then I like Alonso. If the race involves SC periods then … I like Alonso again. Better race management, more experience. Until Vettel can win a race that requires the full distance, I will not be convinced that the RBR is a reliable enough car.

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