Australian Grand Prix - Allianz Preview 15-03-2012
By Michelle Fortune of Setanta Sports
It has been over four months since the 2011 Formula 1 season drew to a close with Mark Webber's victory in Brazil and teams have made their way to the other side of the world for the traditional opening round of the campaign in Melbourne.
The Albert Park track presents teams with a unique set of challenges as it is a temporary circuit which means it takes some time for the track to 'rubber in' over the course of the weekend.
The lack of grip at the start of the week means performances during practice on Friday are unlikely to have any bearing on how the rest of the weekend pans out.
With teams having just three tests to try to gain an understanding of their cars, there will be a lot of unproven machinery in Melbourne and a high rate of attrition is likely - there were seven non-finishers in 2011 with three of those down to mechanical problems.
The exhaust blown diffusers, which provided teams with so much downforce, has been banned for the 2012 season and that could prove significant with officials hoping the changes will bring about a closer season.
The 2012 season is one of the most eagerly-awaited for years with a record six world champions on the grid and while the general consensus is that Red Bull remain the team to beat, it was refreshing to see others going well during the test sessions at Jerez and Barcelona.
Ferrari are one team that struggled over the winter as they tried to get to grips with their new F2012 but the Maranello squad enjoyed a good pre-season in 2011 only to falter when the campaign got under way.
The team accepts that they have a lot of work still to do but the same could be said for the main title challengers with Lotus and Mercedes showing positive signs in the weeks leading up to the opener in Melbourne.
Testing can give a false indication of how the season will go and it will only be on Saturday that teams will have a true picture of where they stand in comparison to their rivals.
Sebastian Vettel is aiming to join Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher in winning a hat-trick of consecutive World Drivers’ titles but the destination of the championship is far from certain with a number of teams impressing during pre-season testing.
Mark Webber has never had a good result in Melbourne - his best results was fifth in 2011 0 and he would love nothing more to get his season off to a flier in front of his home fans. It would be even sweeter for the Australian given that his future at Red Bull is up for discussion at the end of the season.
"I think there’s a little bit of rust in all the teams, obviously we haven’t raced for a while so you’re looking at pit stops and strategy and drivers because we haven’t competed for a while," he said of the difficulties facing the team.
"So, that’s always interesting to get on top of that at the first grand prix. I think we’re all just looking forward to getting our helmets on and getting on with it now. Obviously we’ve been talking about it for nine weeks now, about who’s doing what and we’re just sick of talking about it and want to get out there and get on with it."
Lewis Hamilton could be on his way out of McLaren if the rumours are to be believed but he is focused on the season ahead and the former world champion is confident of a good result.
"I feel great and I am really happy to be here. For me it is a new and fresh start. The team has worked massively hard to prepare a great car for this season. I myself feel in great shape, so we can start competing against the others," he told the official Formula 1 website.
Kimi Raikkonen makes his return to Formula 1 and despite the changes that have been made in his two years away from the sport he is happy to be back.
"It really hasn’t changed a lot, the car feels pretty similar, the tyres are slightly different but I was expecting to have more difficulties with them but they seem pretty good, especially when they are new - but of course they will wear out a bit faster but it’s been nice to drive," he said.
A street circuit built around the Albert Park Lake, the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit (to give it its full title) offers quite the contrast to some of the other tracks that the drivers will tackle in the months to come, in that it contains no tight, slow sections and far more high-speed corners.
However, there are not many over-taking opportunities on the track. In addition, given that it is used only once a year and that it utilises public roads, the surface can be quite bumpy and dirty.
Still, it is by no means disliked by the drivers and, as a venue, is considered one of the best on the calendar.
There have been some changes since 2011 with 'speed bumps' installed behind the kerb of turn 4 in a bid to prevent drivers running wide on the exit of turn 3.
Australian GP Schedule (Irish Time)
Friday, March 16
Practice 1 - 01.30 - 03.00
Practice 2 - 05.30 - 07.00
Saturday, March 17
Practice 3 - 03.00 - 04.00
Qualifying - 06.00
Sunday, March 18
Race - 06.00
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Date:March 15th, 2012