It’s finally here. Finally. The 2017 F1 season roars into life this weekend with the F1 circus descending on The Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne, Australia. For those of us motorheads who have spend the winter hibernating under a pile of racing documentaries and Sky F1 replays, the weekend couldn’t get here fast enough.
The Albert Park Circuit is a semi-permanent street circuit that has held host to the Australian Grand Prix since 1996. The track is a bit of a throw back to the golden age of Formula 1, owing to its fast and flowing nature. Overtaking opportunities are few with the only significantly heavy braking zones coming at turns Turn 3 and Turn 15. That said, year in and year out, the track has seen a wide range of daring and exciting maneuvers from any number of drivers. The surface of the track is known as being bumpy, curtesy of the elements of the track that are left open to the public when the F1 circus in not in town. These bumps traditionally cause problems for many teams still ironing out the kinks in their new cars. Look for these problems to come roaring to the foreground in teams like McLaren who have sighted vibrations in the car as one of the shortcomings of their Honda engine. The track surface will, no doubt, exacerbate these issues and will, more likely than not, lead to their early retirement from the race.
The bumpiness of the circuit also put the new Mercedes/Toro Rosso suspension design on display. The radical, higher mounted new approach to suspension has thus far come off without a hitch for both teams, however, they have not been tested on a rough, abrasive track surface over the course of full race distance. I doubt we’ll see an outright failure of the suspension, but it will be something to keep an eye on. If the suspension shows no signs of wear and tear, they could be on to something here.
In years past Mercedes staked its flag at the Australian Grand Prix, winning and locking out the front row for the past 3 seasons. There is very little reason to doubt that they will do the same this year. As previously stated, I think there’s a decent chance that Valtteri Bottas may surprise us all and put his silver arrow on pole. On the flip side, Lewis Hamilton is back in a position to prove something. Losing out to his teammate last year surely cut him deep, and I have no doubt that he will put everything he has into adding another WDC trophy to his collection.
So yes, the Silver Arrows are the favorite but, whatever you do, do not discount Vettel, Raikkonen, and their respective Ferraris. If testing is to be believed (which it almost never is) they may just have the car to take the fight to Mercedes, but we’ll start to figure that out come Friday.
Traditionally, the high speed nature of the circuit favors teams with better aero packages (looking at you, Red Bull). Despite this, Red Bull have continued to downplay their chances. It could be that they are simply trying to play a mind game with the rest of the field, but given what we’ve seen from the other teams running a Renault Power Unit, they may actually be telling the truth.
Further down the pack, Renault is one team that I’ll be keeping an eye on. They’ve promised the world that they have gotten to the heart of the reliability issues that plagued them in testing, but will that be enough? And have they really solved the issues? We’ll find out in a few days. That said, even if the relaliabilty issues are solved, The Albert Park Circuit is a fast circuit, granted, not as fast as some of the mammoth straight Tilke-dromes coming up in China and Bahrain. So, Albert Park would be a perfect place for Renault to be competitive in order give the team some breathing room, before having to be fully inferior to the Mercedes powered teams at the next two races.
The other team to watch is Force India. They are wild card for this year. As I’ve previously stated, I’m not sure they can keep up the forum that led them to an astonishing 4th place in the Constructor’s Championship last year. But they are still powered by a Mercedes power unit, so they will be competitive to some degree. But then again, what the hell do I know?
Qualifying: 1)BOT 2)VET 3)HAM
Race: 1)HAM 2)VET 3)RAI
First DNF: The top ten make it through the first corner just fine. Lance Stroll forgets which pedal is the brake and takes out his teammate, Felipe Massa, sending them both into the gravel trap and out of the race. Felipe is upset and claims later in an interview, “It’s a shame, because this was going to be my year.”
Grand Total of Laps Before a McLaren Breaks Down: 4
Moment of the Race: Ricciardo and Verstappen go wheel to wheel through the back straight and into Turns 11 & 12. Verstappen ends up ahead, by sheer balls alone.
File Under: F1, Australia, What the Hell Do I Know?