Melbourne will give first clues whether 2012 will be as close as it looks

2012 Australian Grand Prix preview

A shorter-than-usual off-season means the first race of the year has come around more quickly.

Will all the teams be ready for the start of 2012?

Testing indicated they will be more closely-matched this year and anticipation is building that this year’s championship could be much more competitive than last year’s.

It’s time to find out what the new season has in store.

What to expect in Melbourne

Melbourne circuit information

Lap length 5.303km (3.295 miles)
Distance 58 laps (307.6km/191.1 miles)
Lap record* 1’24.125 (Michael Schumacher, 2004)
Fastest lap 1’23.529 (Sebastian Vettel, 2011)
Tyres Hard and Soft

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Melbourne track data in full

Albert Park in Melbourne may give our first clues about how the season will unfold, but it won’t give us the full picture.

The circuit is not quite typical of modern F1 tracks. Being a temporary facility, it takes a while for the grip to develop over a race weekend.

The corners are for the most part quite slow, which doesn’t place the same premium on aerodynamic efficiency that most circuits do.

However the combination of a tricky surface and limited run-off in places can often make for exciting races and more than a few safety car appearances.

Last year’s race was unusual in that the safety car was never deployed – something which happened in the previous three Australian Grands Prix.

Red Bull

Mark Webber, Red Bull, Melbourne, 2011

Webber finished fifth at home for the third time last year

Last year Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull were the masters of locking out pole position on Saturday and then running off into the distance on race day.

Those tactics may not have made for spectacular races but no-one doubted their effectiveness.

This year tighter restrictions on exhaust-blown diffusers and front wing flexibility could undermine Red Bull’s ability to dominate races the way they did last year. Melbourne will give us our first indication whether that’s the case.

The race is the tenth anniversary of Mark Webber’s F1 debut. Yet his best result at home remains the fifth place he scored in that maiden appearance for Minardi, which he’s matched on two occasions since.

“The Grand Prix is one of the best sporting events that we have in Australia,” said Webber.

“It?s great to see the support and Australian flags in the crowd. I?ve incorporated more of an Australian theme into my helmet, which I?ll be using for the whole year, not just in Australia.”

McLaren

Testing suggested McLaren will be Red Bull’s closest rivals to begin with – but we all know how unreliable a guide testing can be.

But the team which made poor starts to two of its last three F1 campaigns look in better shape as they head into 2012.

Lewis Hamilton was a distant second to Vettel in last year’s race. The signs are it could be a closer contest between the two teams this year.

Ferrari

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Barcelona, 2012

Will Alonso's F2012 prove fast or flawed?

Intense speculation surrounds Ferrari’s F2012, which looked a handful in testing.

Is it a bold new concept with a narrow sweet spot which needs a little more testing time? Or is this car simply as fast as it is pretty?

Melbourne has not been a kind track to Fernando Alonso since he joined Ferrari. He’s run into trouble at the first corner in the last two races.

This weekend could be a case of keeping out of trouble, bringing home some points, and hoping the car has more to offer later in the year.

Mercedes

There’s a real buzz around Mercedes’ prospects this year – a sense that as they head into the third season since taking over the team, things are finally started to come right.

The W03 looks purposeful and quick, and if Ferrari have stumbled Mercedes will surely be there to take their place as the next closest challenger to Red Bull and McLaren.

However the fact remains this car has had less testing than most of its’ rivals, and it may take a little longer to come good.

Lotus

Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus, Barcelona, 2012

Raikkonen has returned to lead Lotus

Kimi Raikkonen makes his long-awaited and much-anticipated return to F1 this weekend.

“For the first race in Australia we want to have a good weekend without any major issues or mistakes,” he said.

“I don?t know where we?re going to be on the grid ?ǣ nobody knows. If you look at the lap times from testing everybody is very close to each other.”

Getting a read on Lotus’s potential this weekend is made more difficult by their uneven testing form. They lost four days’ running due to a suspension mounting problem but the E20 looked quick in the other two tests.

Force India

Another driver making his F1 comeback this weekend is Nico Hulkenberg. His single previous race at the track ended when he was taken out by Kamui Kobayashi halfway around the first lap.

Vijay Mallya has high hopes of his team heading into the first race: “Andrew Green and his technical team have done an outstanding job to deliver a well-balanced car.

“I would even go as far as saying the VJM05 is the best engineered car we have produced and the detail of the design is beautiful. It?s a car we believe can help us take another step forward.”

Sauber

Sauber have bad memories of last year’s race: both cars finished in the points but were thrown out following a technical infringement.

The team have their sights set on consistent points-scoring throughout the season. That could prove a tall order in the tightly-packed midfield.

Toro Rosso

Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso, Barcelona, 2012

Jean-Eric Vergne will make his F1 debut for Toro Rosso

The arrival of Daniel Ricciardo means there will be two Australians on the grid for their home race for the first time ever.

“It’s cool. I mean, just to be a part of that I think is amazing,” he said.

“I’m just going to try to use all the positiveness out of the weekend, all those Aussie flags I see I’ll get an extra bit of energy and then obviously try and put the result on the track.”

Williams

Bruno Senna had his HRT up in the dizzying heights of 14th place on his sole previous visit to Melbourne – before his hydraulics died on lap five.

Williams endured a miserable 2011 and this race will give us the first clue whether they’re on course for better things this year.

Caterham

It’s highly unlikely Vitaly Petrov will be in a position to repeat his 2011 Melbourne podium with his new team Caterham.

But as Petrov notes this is a track that has a reputation for producing unpredictable races and could offer them some opportunities:

“I think it?s pretty clear we won?t be in a position to fight for a podium again but I think the goal will be to push the midfield teams as hard as we can and who knows what could happen.

“Usually there are quite a few retirements in Australia, and there are a couple of areas of the track that don?t leave any room for error, so I hope we?re there at the end of the race and able to take advantage of whatever’s happened ahead.”

HRT

Narain Karthikeyan, HRT, Barcelona, 2012

For the first time, HRT have run their new car before round one

Last year HRT ran their new car for the first time in practice in Australia.

This time around they have at least shaken their car down, though they didn’t make it as far as pre-season testing.

Marussia

Marussia also failed to get any significant running with their car before the start of the year, so they’ll be up against it in Melbourne.

That particularly goes for rookie Charles Pic, who’s had just two days of running in last year’s car since signing for the team in November.

Are you going to the Australian Grand Prix?

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We’ve got a dedicated group and forum for people going to the race.

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Image ?? Red Bull/Getty images, Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo, Lotus F1 Team/LAT, Red Bull/Getty images, HRT F1 Team

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30 comments on Melbourne will give first clues whether 2012 will be as close as it looks

  1. Lord Stig (@lord-stig) said on 14th March 2012, 18:28

    I think this race has the potential to be really exciting. I at least am rather unsure of who is really on pace. I am sure the likes of Red Bull and McLaren will do just fine and occupy place in the upper half of the Q3 runners. However, what about the rest? Both Lotus and Mercedes for me are wildcards. There pace looked good in testing, especially for Lotus with KR. A tangent to the Lotus uncertainty would be how Kimi will fare. I really hope it goes well, I suspect it will go better than it did for Michael given that the rule changes since KR left have been minimal. The caveat to that of course is tyres which are radically different. That brings me to the last thing that I will be looking at with intrest this weekend – Pirelli. They say degradation will be more severe so I am interested to see how that plays out. However, I suspect that the teams will have a better handle on them than they did last year, as I don’t think they react in a completely different fashion.

    • lebesset said on 14th March 2012, 19:33

      pirelli say their strategy is for a slightly longer life this year , but a smaller gap between the lap times of the various tyres

      however temperatures at pre season testing were low , so who knows how succesful they have been

  2. MahavirShah (@mahavirshah) said on 14th March 2012, 18:29

    Gosh in about a day and a half we would be at Free Practice 1. I don’t think any other sport has me waiting in anticipation for 1 day as much as Formula 1. So many questions have built up over the last 3 months and soon we may have a lot of the answers. The uncertainty and the excitement that F1 brings on this day is unrivaled and incomparable to any other sport. I can’t believe its been 5 months since we had that final race at Yas Marina.

    It looks tighter that an Red Bull 1-2 although Button seems more likely than Hamilton to be the one to split the RBR cars. That said I hope that Mercedes and Schumacher in particular find themselves in the mix and midst of things.

    • MercedesBeanz said on 15th March 2012, 0:03

      I disagree. The universe where button is a beter/faster driver than lewis doen’t exist…the only reason button gets ahead of lewis is due to bias within the team, and whitmarsh is ultimately responsible for that.

      • Snafu (@snafu) said on 15th March 2012, 9:54

        The only reason Button got better results last season was his smooth driving style which is better for Pirelli tyres and of course, Lewis mistakes.

        • Robbie (@robbie) said on 15th March 2012, 13:00

          I think the ‘only’ reasons JB headed LH last year were that there is actual racing between the teammates at Mac, JB is a damn good driver and a proven WDC, as is LH, and LH, who many thought the team revolved around, didn’t have a complete enough season due to some issues within his control and some without. And he recently admitted that he had some fun to the detriment of his training and his performance on the track…something I think is terrible for the sponsors on the team as well as the factory workers and the race crew to have to hear.

          And if anything, MercedesBeanz, the paranoia about Mac usually goes to it being LH’s team, and rarely have I heard that the team is skewed toward JB. If any mid-race decisions favoured JB at all it would have been due to LH not looking to be the go-to guy that day.

          Kudos to JB for a great season last year, and I hope he is equally strong this year which will show us if LH can actually raise his game vs. strong competition, or wilt. Kudos to Mac for giving us this kind of show.

      • KeeleyObsessed (@keeleyobsessed) said on 15th March 2012, 17:57

        Oh how I’ve missed the preachers at the United Church of Hamilton..

        Hamilton is a good driver, but to say that the team is deliberately sabotaging him is ridiculous. If it was Ferrari, then I might be able to sympathise, but Mclaren has always been known to be a team which gives it’s drivers equal opportunities (to the best possible degree).

        Also, notice how they all seem to refer to ‘Lewis’ but never ‘Jenson’…

    • Final race at Sao Paulo, you mean?

  3. Fixy (@fixy) said on 14th March 2012, 18:59

    A street circuit which I like a lot, which has more overtaking zones than many others (and now has two DRS zones), with closely-matched teams, and, being the first race of the season, there might be new problems for teams, and all this could bring an unpredictable race. I definitely hope it is! Finally 2012 is here!

  4. BluNt (@blunt) said on 14th March 2012, 19:07

    Its finally here! time for those hundreds of questions to be answered. Will Red Bull start off were they finished last year?, and leave everyone in their wake. Will Mclaren benifit more from the ban of exhuast blown diffusers? will Lotus’s testing problems and comeback drivers move them further away or closer to the midfield teams? Will all the hard work mercedes put in be enough to get their car on the podium again? Will Force India benifit or suffer from the absence of Sutil? Will Sauber start off the season strong or play cath-up?, which they never succeed in doing. Which of the 2 Torro Rosso drivers will be the first to put their mark on their team? Will Williams finally reach their desired pace or is it the beginning of the end? How will Caterham capitilze on any higher ranked teams weaknesses to finally squeeze in the midfield? Will Marussia stink as always? Will the HRT even get into the race?…….. and probely the biggest, will that lego Ferrari be a serious error or a stroke of genuis.

    Either way you look at it, this is gonna be one interesting race weekend

    im gonna be bold and say that Mark Webber wins his home race :) (although hes not my preferred driver)

  5. JCost (@jcost) said on 14th March 2012, 20:32

    I think Lewis is gonna win… I gotta a feeling. However, I’d like to see Webber as winner in Oz.

    • PaulT (@pault) said on 14th March 2012, 22:54

      Every driver wants a home town win, and this may well be his last chance. My head says Vettel first and Button second, my heart says Webber (and Ricciardo second! although that might require some first lap carnage to clear away the top end of the field).

  6. Pink Peril (@pink-peril) said on 14th March 2012, 20:39

    It’s raining…
    Melbourne is always such a lottery and this will just spice things up even further ! Looking forward to being trackside in just a couple of hours. I still think that RBR will be the team to beat this season but I am hoping for a more even spread amongst them, Ferrari & McLaren. And very keen to see what the newest Aussie on the grid can do.

  7. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 14th March 2012, 22:32

    Our first race preview in too long, the F1 season has officially started!

    I imagine we will see some nice surprises. I’m not convinced that the pecking order will have changed much up at the top, well, by the top I mean McLaren and Red Bull. But seeing what the midfield battles are will be really interesting. Will Williams show signs of an improvement? Will Caterham get the boost (excuse the pun) the they’re looking for with KERS? Will Sauber manage to produce a solid unit despite losing James Key? What will…?!

    You get the idea, where do I stop?!

    F1 presents us with a myriad of opportunities and permutations that really does just keep you guessing all the time. Long may it continue into 2012.

  8. Estesark (@estesark) said on 14th March 2012, 23:12

    I’m expecting big things from Lotus at the opening races. From what I’ve heard from an F1 journalist who was at the Barcelona tests, it seems that they have a car which is easy to understand, set up, and most importantly, drive. I suppose that would make it the complete opposite of Ferrari’s F2012. Even if Lotus can’t keep up with the pace of development over the course of the season, they will begin the season as the third quickest team and should pick up some impressive results.

    I think both cars should score points at Australia, barring accidents, and I think Kimi could even end up as high as fifth.

  9. dam00r (@dam00r) said on 14th March 2012, 23:23

    Longing for to see the cars go through turn 11 and 12. one of the best corners

  10. Blotto said on 14th March 2012, 23:54

    When I saw the words Hamilton finished a distant second (it was Button) I didn’t bother to read what else this Lazy Hack had to say!

  11. MercedesBeanz said on 15th March 2012, 0:15

    Btw..by filtering what ppl like me say, despite the fact that no rules where broken, you’re, in the long term, harming the crediblity of the sport…

  12. Joseph94 (@joseph94) said on 15th March 2012, 0:31

    As you can imagine with me being a Mercedes supporter, I am greatly looking forward to race one in Australia, Melbourne.
    I have a feeling that Red Bull may just be the fastest, followed by McLaren. It looks like Ferrari might only qualify 6th or 7th.
    Would be epic to see a Mercedes qualify on the front row.
    Just checked the weather forecast, BBC Weather say:
    Fri – Heavy rain showers. 24 C.
    Sat – Sunny intervals. 22 C.
    Sun – White cloud. 24 C.

    Enjoy the Australian GP Weekend everyone.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 15th March 2012, 7:11

      That is looking good. Rain on Friday limiting the scope for Red Bull to get the most out of running to optimize their exhaust solution. Then dry on Saturday so we get a pretty good indication of the form book.

      And it might be slippery and on-off rain for the race to make it really exiting!

    • mattg21 (@mattg21) said on 15th March 2012, 8:34

      Looks like they will have to cram in a lot of testing new parts on the Saturday. This should make for an even more interesting weekend.

  13. Alain (@paganbasque) said on 15th March 2012, 9:36

    Well, I have eaten all my nails, I cant wait to see the first race!!. :)

    Australia is always quite unpredictable but I except a close battle between RB and Mclaren, with Mercedes very close too, Rosberg should be able to fight for the top three in the qualy. But Schumi will be in the front if the car is speedy and dont destroy the tyres, if he starts the race between the 3-6 positions he can do something important.

  14. Solo (@solo) said on 15th March 2012, 11:50

    Can you imagine if the year was opening in Bahrain? All the excitement would have been cut in half just by thinking of the boringness of that circuit.

  15. Robbie (@robbie) said on 15th March 2012, 13:06

    I hope for a dry quali and a dry race so that we can really see where the cars stand amongst each other. Rain will still leave question marks until the next race.

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