Australian Grand Prix 2010: Preview


This weekend is the Australian Grand Prix, which is the toughest test of the season – if you are a UK-based Formula 1 fan that is.

The BBC's qualifying coverage begins at 5am on Saturday, the race coverage begins at 6am on Sunday, and the clocks go forward in between. After the lack of entertainment in Bahrain, it may be even tougher to forsake your weekend lie-ins, but the Albert Park circuit normally rewards those who get out of bed with an exciting race weekend.

McLaren's Jenson Button will certainly be looking forward to returning to Melbourne where he won in 2009 – his first victory of six in his championship winning year. Button will have been disappointed with only seventh place in Bahrain, and will hope for improvements at what is one of the favourite locations amongst the F1 drivers.

Button's new teammate Lewis Hamilton doesn't have such fond memories of last year's race. He was the driver at the centre of the 'liegate' scandal which seriously tarnished his reputation and even led him to consider leaving the sport.

Hamilton was disqualified from last year's race but after making an apology a week later in Malaysia he escaped any further punishment. The Brit was allegedly told to lie about letting Jarno Trulli pass him under the safety car during the race by Dave Ryan, the then McLaren's sporting director. Ryan was sacked by the team and Ron Dennis was forced to keep a low profile in the team's road car division for the remainder of the season. Hamilton will have fond memories of Australia 2008 though; where he won here in the opening race of the season, and went on to win the championship.

Fernando Alonso will be hoping to build on his win from Bahrain, at a track where he was a winner in 2006. Ferrari looked like the team to beat in the last race, although if Red Bull can put in a more reliable showing, they may make life difficult for the Italian team. Form would suggest that the Spaniard should have the beating of his teammate here though – Massa's best ever result in Australia is sixth.

Sebastian Vettel was unlucky not to win in Bahrain. A mechanical failure while leading meant the young German could only finish fourth. His Australian grand prix ended prematurely last season when he tangled with Kubica while chasing second place. If Red Bull can provide him with a reliable car that takes care of its tyres, Vettel is a good bet for the race win on Sunday.

The undisputed king of Albert Park is four-time winner Michael Schumacher, who also holds the lap record here. The seven-time world champion said he was happy with sixth place in Bahrain after three years out, but it is a result that is slightly tainted by the fact that he was in the shadow of his less-experienced teammate Nico Rosberg all weekend.

In 249 race starts, Schumacher had only been out-qualified and beaten by his teammate on eleven previous occasions, with only Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa having had that honour before Rosberg completed the feat in Bahrain.

Force India and their team principal Vijay Mallya have been making a lot of noise since Bahrain. Tonio Liuzzi scored two points with his ninth place finish and Adrian Sutil would have placed highly if it wasn't for his first lap collision with Robert Kubica. Sutil did set the second fastest lap of the race, and the team believe that they can score points consistently this season. They will aim to finish right behind the established 'big-four' of McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull in Melbourne.

Williams and Renault will also be fighting for the remaining points with the rookie drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Vitaly Petrov hoping to improve on their debut races. Both drivers made mistakes – Hulkenberg spun off in the early stages of the grand prix and finished a lap down in fourteenth, while Petrov had a bright start but damaged his suspension after running off the track, which meant he retired just thirteen laps into his first race.

The three new teams had varying levels of success in Bahrain, and each will be hoping to improve this weekend to make themselves established and well-respected Formula 1 outfits. Tony Fernandes and Mike Gascoyne were cracking open bottles of champagne after Heikki Kovalainen completed the entire race distance in the Gulf, and they will be aiming to make life difficult for the likes of Toro Rosso and BMW Sauber as the season goes on.

Virgin Racing was hit by reliability problems in the last race, with Timo Glock and Lucas di Grassi completing a total of 18 laps between them in the race. Their target for Sunday will surely be to get at least one car to the chequered flag.

Hispania had a very difficult start to the season, although Bruno Senna did manage 17 laps before his car gave up on him. Karun Chandhok will just hope to actually get out of the garage during free practice in Australia.

Safety cars are common around Albert Park, and it is a venue which has been known for its high attrition rate. The procession of Bahrain is unlikely to be repeated.

For the European viewers Bernie has put the start time as late as he can again this season, despite protests from drivers about having the setting sun in their eyes at certain stages of the lap. With so many developing stories at both ends of the grid, it will be worth taking advantage of Mr. Ecclestone's gesture and setting that alarm.