Who’s in best shape for the first race of the 2016 season? Here’s a run-down of the Australian Grand Prix runners and riders.
Australian Grand Prix team-by-team preview
Mercedes have won the season-opening race for the last two years running and another victory would surprise no one. The W07 been astonishingly reliable in testing and few doubt it could have been comfortably the fastest had the team let its drivers off the leash.
The crucial question is whether anyone else will be in the fight for victory besides Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg – and how far behind the rest will be. But it bears remembering that while the team were almost 1.4 seconds faster than anyone in qualifying for this race 12 months ago, they were never that far ahead again for the rest of the year.
In contrast to Mercedes’ assured pre-season preparations, Ferrari experienced a few problems and appear to have more catching up to do as the first race weekend begins. The SF16-H is a greater departure from its predecessor than the W07 – though it needs to be as the team needs to make up ground.
Sebastian Vettel summed the situation up when he said the team appear to have gained ground on their rivals but they may not be quite ready in time to exploit it all and it could take a few races for the new car’s potential to be realised.
The season didn’t get off to the best of starts for Williams 12 months ago as a back injury kept Valtteri Bottas out of the race.
In testing the team looked once again to be the strongest of the Mercedes customers. This season is going to be all about how long that can keep them in front of the likes of Red Bull – Melbourne will reveal how much of a head start they can expect to have.
Like Williams, Red Bull have opted for seven sets of the softest available compound for this race – the super-soft – and the RB12 is probably the chassis which will best be able to live with the softer rubber during the race.
With two sets of medium also in the stack, could Red Bull even be angling towards completing the race on a one-stop strategy? Practice may provide a few hints.
In Melbourne last year Force India were counting on problems for other teams to bring home points. But having ended the season on a high Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez arrive at the season-opener hoping to contend for points from the outset.
“I think we can pick up where we ended last year,” said team principal Vijay Mallya. “We want to be qualifying and racing inside the top ten from race one.”
Renault revealed an eye-catching new livery for their return to F1 as a factory team but that won’t cure the niggles which dogged them during testing. Or, at least, dogged Jolyon Palmer, who bore the brunt of their technical problems.
Kevin Magnussen should have been on the grid last year as a substitute for Fernando Alonso but was struck down by car gremlins. However the returning driver has positive memories of his debut at the circuit two years ago when he took a shock podium finish.
Many people expect big things from Toro Rosso after their strong showing during testing. The team took a bold and uncompromising route when it came to integrating a Ferrari power unit they had limited information on until December, but it appears to have paid off.
Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jnr both performed well on their first visit to this track 12 months ago, though Sainz was the only one to score as Verstappen suffered a power unit problem. With a 2015 Ferrari motor behind them this year, reliability should now be something they can count on.
Sauber’s opening race last season was overshadowed by a bitter legal row with ex-driver Giedo van der Garde. This year another setback has hit the team – the departure of technical director Mark Smith, who’d only joined the team in the middle of last year, was announced earlier this week.
The race had a happy ending for Sauber 12 months ago as Felipe Nasr claimed a strong fifth place. But as their new car missed the first test of the year the team begins the new season on the back foot.
McLaren’s pre-season testing preparations over-ran and the team intended to test new developments during practice at Melbourne. The rain forecast for the beginning of the weekend will therefore come as a particular disappointment to them.
“We didn’t manage to complete our final configuration and set-up work for the first race so we go to Melbourne with a number of unknowns,” admitted racing director Eric Boullier. “It won’t be an easy start to the weekend.”
Merely running a lap in practice will be an improvement for Manor compared to the team’s performance in this race last year when neither of its cars left the garage all weekend.
Neither of its rookies have any experience of the Albert Park circuit, so progressing beyond Q1 is likely to remain a tall order. However with Mercedes engines behind them they can count on being significantly closer to the pace.
Almost two years after announcing their entry into Formula One, Haas is about to participate in its first race weekend. “It’s taken so much effort from so many people,” said team principal Guenther Steiner.
“I think everybody saw how prepared we were in Barcelona with our equipment ready on the first morning of testing. We want to be just as prepared for Australia, and that is achieved by the hard-working people at Haas F1 Team.”
Although the team is targeting points finishes later in the season, on its debut it simply wants to reach the chequered flag. “Our goal is to have both cars finish,” said Steiner, “to show that we can compete and be proud of what we are doing.”
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2016 Australian Grand Prix
- Elimination qualifying officially replaced by 2015 format
- Halo would have been “welcome” in crash – Alonso
- Alonso takes new power unit after crash
- Third Driver of the Weekend win for Grosjean
- F1 enjoys best season-opening race since 2009