Post the Barcelona tests one can definitely look forward to a shuffled paddock and a shuffled grid, new talent and one new team on the block. The Albert Park track has two DRS zones , 10 right-hand corners and 6 left-hand corners. It is a circuit with high downforce, slippery surface and heavy braking zones, which means a lot depends on the allotted compounds and tyre management. The weather and track temperatures are unpredictable which often make the race unpredictable. The tyre allocations for the GP this year are the Pirelli P Zero medium white and the P Zero Yellow soft compound. The performance gap between both compounds is almost 1.2 to 1.5 seconds per lap. So far the most successful driver on the grid at this circuit has been Jenson Button who has won three GPs here.
Team wise here’s what one can expect
Mercedes: The Brackley based team are still the superiors on the grid when it comes to a combined package of speed and reliability. Both Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton have put enough of mileage and tested their driving comfort with the new car in the three tests, making them more race ready than most of the grid. In the last test at Barcelona one could see them clock the quickest times on soft compounds with the rest of the grid being on supersofts, which makes them a second faster than the rest on the latter compound. The real deal is who will be the strongest contender for the Silver Arrows, or who stops the reigning champions from taking a double title.
Ferrari: The Prancing Horse outfit has a good car this year and a trouble free pre-season testing. Kimi Raikkonen has won two GPs here and with a good car and the right pit-stop strategy, one won’t be surprised to see him max his potential on this circuit. Sebastian Vettel is the new entrant at the Maranello team, but one is yet to figure his race pace in terms of the new car and also his biggest weakness has been tyre management, therefore where he stands is still a question. However they are the only ones one can see emerge as strong contenders to Mercedes so far, this time with a better car and engine.
Red Bull Racing: It is home ground for driver Daniel Ricciardo, so with his second season at the Milton Keynes team one can expect him to perform decently. For rookie driver Daniil Kyvatt one can only wait and see how he is as compared to the other bunch of new talent on the grid. In terms of engine issues, if Renault has managed ironing out its teething problems, it’ll be interesting to see the strategies Christian Horner comes up with for this new pairing and also the upgrades on the car through the rest of the season.
McLaren : The Woking based team will start the season the way did last year with drivers Jenson Button and reserve driver Kevin Magnussen. Fernando Alonso’s accident in Barcelona has cost them the Spaniards absence for the season opener. Technically the team has not been able to put much mileage on the car in the pre-season tests and the ERS problems are yet to be ironed out. Despite a lot of changes to the team, in terms of pace and performance they will lag behind majority of the grid. Therefore one can’t expect much from the renewed Honda-McLaren package in Melbourne.
Toro Rosso: The Red Bull junior team is not too far in terms of pace in comparison to Red Bull Racing. However, the new line-up comprising the controversial entry of Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. had a trouble free test with the Renault engines. Nevertheless, the drivers did manage getting accustomed to their new drive and prepared for their debut season. It won’t be a surprise to see them performing better than their senior team in Melbourne.
Force India: A late launch of the VJM08 did not allow drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez to put much mileage on the car. However the team seems to be very positive about the Melbourne weekend and they have had a relatively trouble free time with the little bit of testing they were able to get.
Sauber: In the middle order of the grid, the Hinwil based outfit does have an advantage with Ferrari power and seem to be better in terms of pace as compared to the others. However, the matter taking the limelight at the moment is their driver line-up which currently has Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson, but a recent feud with driver Giedo Van der Garde has dragged them to the Melbourne Supreme Court. So one is not yet sure whether their line-up for the Melbourne weekend shall remain unchanged.
Williams: Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa have been fairly good last season and one can expect them to have a decent finish in the points. However, Mercedes power has renewed the form of the nine-time champions, resulting in them finishing third in the constructors’ championship last year. In terms of pace they had the second quickest car last year, whereas this season Ferrari will compete with them head to head.
Lotus: It will be the first season with Mercedes power for the black and gold outfit, which is a step forward in an engine dominated championship. However it remains unclear as to where they will fair in race mode in Melbourne as they will have Force India and Sauber who have an equally good car and engine package.
Manor Marussia: The biggest challenge for them has been making it to the 2015 season grid and to Melbourne. However after reaching the Aussie circuit, they remain without any data, as it was all erased when the team was in the administration stage.
All in all it will clearly be a Mercedes vs Ferrari power battle for the silverware, and the only scenario where one can expect surprises is if factors like luck, fate, and Melbourne’s unpredictable weather come into play. However the W06 remains a second faster than the rest of the grid, which means one can expect a 1-2 finish for the Silver Arrows.