Formula One is back and Melbourne is the location for the opening round of the 2016 season. Will Mercedes continue their dominance, or has another challenger finally caught up?
Lewis Hamilton clinched his third world championship in 2015 after another dominating season from Mercedes but Nico Rosberg will be desperate to finally get one over his team-mate, starting in Australia.
Ferrari look as strong as they have been since Fernando Alonso’s title challenge in 2011 and Sebastian Vettel could be the one to finally stop Mercedes, but it remains to be seen if they have made enough progress before round one.
Local hopeful Daniel Ricciardo cannot be discounted as well, with Red Bull tipped to have made some progress in the off-season. One thing is for certain, and that is there are sure to be some surprises throughout the weekend.
HAMILTON WARY OF FERRARI THREAT
Only six times in the past 38 races has either Hamilton or Rosberg not stood on the top of the podium. Vettel (3) and Ricciardo (3) are the only two non-Mercedes drivers to have won a race in the past two seasons. You have to go back to the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix when Alonso crossed the line in first for the last time someone other than those four won a race.
However, Vettel believes Ferrari have managed to close the gap on Mercedes in the off-season, and Hamilton knows very well that he may have an extra competitor or two this season as he aims for a third-successive world championship title.
“I think this year the whole pack looks a bit closer,” Hamilton said on Thursday. “Think they [Ferrari] have something up their sleeve this week. I think they have a lot more than they are talking. They have arrived on the low, but are going to deliver high.”
VETTEL’S NEW FERRARI – PIZZA OR DRINK?
Four-time world champion Vettel has a tradition of naming his car each year – Luscious Liz and Kinky Kylie among some of his best work – but this year’s name sparked some debate. The German revealed ahead of the weekend that his new Ferrari SF16-H will be named ‘Margarita’ and was subsequently asked by former team-mate Ricciardo if he named it after the type of pizza.
“My car’s not named after a pizza! Margarita. It’s just a name, not a pizza…” Vettel explained in the pre-race press conference. Glad we got that cleared up.
Melbourne’s circuit, located around the picturesque Albert Park Lake, is one of the more interesting ones on the F1 calendar. Despite using public roads, the track feels more like a purpose-built circuit due to its fast and flowing lay-out as well as various runoff sections. It features 16 corners in total, with the third typically the best for overtaking. There are two DRS locations throughout the track, on the main straight and the run between the second and third corners.
Just last week the FIA approved a new format for qualifying that will come into effect in the first round of the season. Qualifying remains split up into three sessions – Q1, Q2 and Q3 – which go for 16, 15 and 14 minutes respectively. However, instead of at the end of each session, the slowest driver on the track will now be eliminated at 90-second intervals after a certain point in each session. In Q1 22 cars take to the field, and after the seventh minute mark a total of seven drivers will be eliminated one-by-one every minute and a half. In Q2, 15 cars are left and another seven will eliminated throughout the session after the sixth minute mark. In Q3, eight cars will be left, and drivers will begin to be eliminated after the fifth minute mark, with only two competitors left on the track for the final 90 seconds of the session to determine who starts first and second respectively for the race.
Sunday is forecasted to have perfect racing conditions of 24 degrees Celsius and sunny, but there is no such luck for drivers on Friday and Saturday. Both days are predicted to have showers throughout, which is sure to make for an interesting qualifying session, especially with the new format.
Pirelli have offered the option of medium, soft and super soft tyres in Melbourne. Only two drivers, Hamilton and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, have chosen six sets of soft tyres, with the rest of the paddock electing either four or five. Rosberg has chosen two sets of medium tyres at the expense of an extra soft, as well as both Ferrari drivers, with Hamilton possessing only one set.