With new regulations, new technology and the possibility of wet weather, everything seems to be in place for an unpredictable start to the 2014 Formula One season at this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix (Race: Sunday, 06:00 GMT, live on Sky Sports F1).
This year has seen biggest shake up of the rulebook in some time. The switch from V8 to V6 turbo-charged engines is the most significant change, although it is the teams’ interpretation of the regulations relating to the dimensions of the car noses that has provoked most discussion. A number of the cars feature noses that are, to put it mildly, quite phallic.
If pre-season testing is anything to go by, the rule changes have certainly resulted in a reshuffling of the pack, with reigning drivers’ and constructors’ champions Red Bull, along, with most of the other Renault-powered teams, struggling with overheating problems. Only two teams covered less distance than Red Bull; Mercedes covered 98% more.
It was Mercedes who set the pace during testing, closely followed by McLaren and Williams, both also powered by Mercedes engines. Another Mercedes-powered team, Force India, also ran well, as did Ferrari, whose drivers both seem confident of fighting for a podium finish this weekend. Expect Lotus to perform well below their level of last season.
The Melbourne Grand Prix circuit, located in Albert Park, is a medium to high downforce track with relatively low grip. Most teams are likely to opt for a two-stop strategy, although the more durable Pirelli tyres introduced for this season could facilitate some strong single-stop runs. Rain is currently forecast for qualifying and the build up the race.
In the lead up to the first race, it seems to be universally accepted that Mercedes have the fastest car, with Red Bull’s Christian Horner even suggesting that they may be quick enough to lap the field. That will be music to the ears of Lewis Hamilton, who has been installed as the early favourite for the drivers’ championship (best priced at 9/4 with Betfred or Ladbrokes – you can see the full F1 betting odds by clicking here).
Hamilton usually goes well at Albert Park and has qualified in the top three in each of the last three races at the circuit. He had the better of teammate Nico Rosberg in qualifying last year and looks the best placed of the two Mercedes drivers to take pole position on Saturday.
It will be interesting to see if the pace advantage Mercedes seem to have can be crystallised into victory in Sunday’s race, especially with reliability likely to be an issue for all of the teams.
Hamilton is the favourite of the two Mercedes drivers to take victory due to his good record in Melbourne. He finished third on his debut in 2007, won the race in 2008 and has finished on the podium on a further two occasions, while Rosberg, albeit in slower machinery for the most part, has just one podium and two top six finishes to his credit.
Weather and mechanical gremlins could, however, intervene and with this in mind simply backing Mercedes, rather than either of their drivers, for the win looks the most prudent bet.
Kimi Raikkonen (pictured above) was the winner of last year’s Australian Grand Prix and his new team, Ferrari, with whom he previously won the 2007 drivers’ championship, were very solid in pre-season testing, completing the third highest mileage of any team and posting the fifth and seventh fastest times at the final test in Bahrain.
In addition to his victory in 2013, Raikkonen also triumphed at Albert Park in 2007 and has two further podium finishes and another in the top six to his credit. He is the sort of cool, calculated driver who stands to benefit if chaos ensues on Sunday and should be heavily fancied to secure a top six finish.
Pastor Maldonado made the decision to switch from the uncompetitive Williams team to Lotus for this season, but with the fortunes of the two teams now seemingly reversed he is likely to cut a frustrated figure in Melbourne. Lotus did not take part in the first test in Jerez and come into the season on the back of less pre-season running than any other team.
Maldonado retired on just three occasions last season, less than in either of his first two years in Formula One, but the combination of an overheating engine and a hot-headed driver seems likely to produce only one result, making Maldonado a good bet not to finish.