New rules unlikely to halt Vettel’s winning ways

Australian GP pre-race analysis

Start, Melbourne, 2010

Start, Melbourne, 2010

Albert Park has a track record of producing unpredictable races.

And with the new Drag Reduction Systems, tyre compounds and the return of KERS, there is even more potential for surprises.

But with a performance advantage of almost a second, it’s hard to look beyond Sebastian Vettel as a likely race winner.

The start

We’ve seen many incidents at Melbourne’s first corner in the past – notably last year, when Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher came to grief.

The first corner could provide Lewis Hamilton with his best opportunity of getting in front of Sebastian Vettel. With Mark Webber poised to take advantage that sounds like a recipe for action.

Keep an eye on the occupants of row nine, Rubens Barrichello (17th) and Nick Heidfeld (18th), two drivers who hit trouble in qualifying and will be aiming to make up ground early on.

Another eye-catching cluster of drivers can be found in the middle of the pack: a trio of rookies, Sergio Perez, Paul di Resta and Pastor Maldonado, in 13th, 14th and 15th respectively

KERS

We haven’t seen a start with Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems since since 2009. At that time several teams didn’t have it, and we often saw cars with KERS passing several non-KERS cars at the start.

In theory all 18 cars with KERS on the grid are starting in front of non-KERS cars. But several drivers had problems with KERS during qualifying, and if their systems don’t work at the start they will be vulnerable.

Following Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber’s KERS-free qualifying laps it remains to be seen if they will use KERS in the race.

There has even been speculation the Red Bull’s system is designed to be used on the first lap only – something which the on-screen graphics should clear up very quickly once the race has begun.

DRS

DRS race restrictions - Melbourne

DRS race restrictions - Melbourne

During the race, drivers can only use their Drag Reduction System on the start/finish straight, and only if they’re within a second of a car in front when they cross the activation line at turn 14. You can see these areas in this FIA diagram, and it’s also painted on the circuit.

Remember, drivers can’t use DRS at all in the first two laps or in the two laps following a safety car period.

We will finally get our first insight into the question of whether the DRS will actually help increase overtaking. There was a half-four test of the system in second practice during which some drivers had the chance to activate their systems.

What will be crucial is how the teams have chosen to set their gear ratios. The DRS will be no help to them if their top gear isn’t long enough to get an advantage out of it.

It’s also worth keeping in mind the difference in top speeds between some of the cars. In qualifying the Saubers had the highest top speed (314.2kph), the McLarens were hitting 312kph, the Ferraris 309kph and the Red Bulls 308kph.

Strategy

How the new Pirelli tyres might affect tyre strategy has been a big talking point of the off-season. We’ll get our first look at the consequences of it tomorrow.

Significantly, all the drivers in the top ten qualified on soft tyres – and therefore will start the race on them. Not even Sebastien Buemi in tenth place thought it worth starting the race on hard tyres.

This suggests we might not see much in the way of strategic variety. We should see more pit stops, but perhaps not in the region of three-to-four as was predicted before this race weekend.

Due to the length of the pit lane and the reduced speed limit of 60kph, drivers lose 28 seconds making a pit stop (according to Williams) so the penalty of making an extra pit stop here is very high.

Tyre degradation has been less severe than expected, and Sebastian Vettel’s long stint on Friday raised the prospect of two-stop strategies.

However there is potential for some interesting ‘reactive’ strategy choices. With the performance difference between the tyres being so great and DRS raising the prospect of easier overtaking, doing an early switch to soft tyres might be an attractive prospect for some drivers.

How do you expect the Australian Grand Prix to unfold? Can anyone beat Red Bull? Have your say in the comments.

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90 comments on New rules unlikely to halt Vettel’s winning ways

  1. MattHT (@mattht) said on 26th March 2011, 21:36

    Something tells me even if tomorrow is a walk-over for Seb, there’ll be plenty to keep us occupied elsewhere. There’s gotta be a bit of madness first few laps what with everything the drivers have got to handle. Can’t wait.

    • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 26th March 2011, 23:08

      Amen to that! More often than not the action really worth watching is beyond the top 3.

      • Toro Stevo (@toro-stevo) said on 27th March 2011, 4:16

        The only hope is that the TV guys actually focus on this action. They have a bad record in missing most of the interesting bits.

        I want to know what’s happening across the field, not just what’s happening in first place and in the McLaren garage (Ted Kravitz…)

  2. sato113 said on 26th March 2011, 21:41

    so if Hamilton’s KERS broke down during Q3 in qualifying, surely it can’t be fixed before the race because of parc ferme?

  3. pking008 said on 26th March 2011, 21:41

    If anyone could take the fight to the Bulls and overcome them, i’d go for Hamilton

  4. LHJBFTW (@lhjbftw) said on 26th March 2011, 21:47

    Seeing massa spin while exiting the pits makes me wonder whether these tires have any grip before they’r up to temp. First few corners could be interesting ;)

  5. Darren said on 26th March 2011, 21:57

    This RBR KERS situation is fascinating. Rumour is they have built a smaller version, therefore lighter, just for starts, which they did have trouble with last year, especially Webber.

    Im no KERS expert I’m just wondering with these KERS units, is the energy they store esentially ‘empty’ when they car goes out onto the track and begins storing when the cars moves and brakes etc? If so does this mean the Red Bull only have the warm up lap to gain energy storage or is it full from previous qualifying?

  6. mags (@mags) said on 26th March 2011, 22:02

    “There was a half-four test of the” not sure how to copy and paste on this phone but I’m sure it’s “half-hour”, but I think it’s half-four when we need to get up! See you all in the morning!

  7. foleyger (@foleyger) said on 26th March 2011, 22:16

    intersting that Massa and Barrichello got caught out on their outlaps. I say Chandhok was smiling!

  8. Patrickl (@patrickl) said on 26th March 2011, 22:22

    The new rules might not halt Vettel’s winning ways, but if the new tyres means his position comes under threat a repeat of his 2009 Australia antics would be very likely.

    I guess we’ll finally know if the race will be completely determined by the tyres or not. So far its all the nr 1 drivers of the top teams (Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso, Rosberg) who seem to have gotten the most from the tyres. Question is if they wrecked their tyres in doing so or not.

  9. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 26th March 2011, 23:06

    I really don’t expect any less than for Vettel to win. It’s his to lose. They don’t seem to have anything in the way of reliability issues (at the moment!) and Vettel admitted he might get more out of the tyres than originally planned.

    Personally I’m going to be looking out for Petrov and Kobayashi alot tomorrow. Interested to see how they will get on. Renault could do with a good weekend and i’m sure Heidfeld will crawl his way up no problem.

  10. Vettel said that his KERS “wasn’t fully charged”, yet the infographic showed a full bar?

    • wigster (@wigster) said on 27th March 2011, 0:11

      The graphic shows how much of the drivers 7 seconds usage per lap is left rather then how much actual charge he has in the battery. It goes instantly from empty to full when he crosses the start line and doesn’t go up during a lap.

  11. Funkyf1 said on 26th March 2011, 23:27

    Referring to the track rubbering in, it appears to have very little grip from what i saw yesterday. The stewards were sweeping the track like crazy between sessions in an attempt to remove marbles.

  12. somerandomguy said on 26th March 2011, 23:32

    Maybe it will be a Vettel vs Hamilton season

  13. Shimks (@shimks) said on 26th March 2011, 23:37

    Have a great time tomorrow morning, everyone!

    Don’t forget:

    European Summer Time – clocks go forward by one hour tonight.

  14. Carlos Santos said on 27th March 2011, 2:07

    which is awesome!!!

  15. wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 27th March 2011, 3:22

    Formula 1 is going to the unknown & what better place to start it. Everything to play for. I am thinking to 2 if not 3 stops today.My top 2 Vettel Hamilton & someone from Webber or Button.Can’t wait.

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