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.

2011 Australian Grand Prix


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

  1. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 27th March 2011, 3:40

    The circuit is currenty very, very dirty outside turn ten. There was a massive accident in the V8 Supercars support race that took out five cars and dumped a lot of oil onto the circuit. Sand has been put down to absorb it and the V8s are sweeping it aside, but the whole area will likely still be very dirty by the time the race comes around.

  2. nannini said on 27th March 2011, 5:30

    The safety car might, Keith. Cheers fans. Good year.

  3. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 27th March 2011, 6:06

    “Hello, Leg Warehouse? Yes, my friend Sebastian needs something to stand on. Can you help?”

    With a KERS device that only gets used at the start, Sebastian Vettel has no grounds to complain about having too many buttons, paddles and levers to deal with.

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