Australian Grand Prix 2012: Preview


Sebastian Vettel took the checkered flag in Australia last season after a dominant performance in the opening race - Photo Credit: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images
Sebastian Vettel took the checkered flag in Australia last season after a dominant performance in the opening race - Photo Credit: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

 

It may only be three and a half months since the chequered flag fell in Brazil to signal the end of the 2011 season, but for some fans this Formula 1 winter break has been far too long.

But these impatient fans can now rejoice, for next weekend the 2012 season gets underway in Melbourne, Australia.

The opening race of any season is always an exciting event – with every team racing their new cars for the first time, nobody is yet sure of the pecking order, and the racing can be very unpredictable.

After only twelve days of pre-season testing, it is not easy to say which teams have built a masterpiece of the car and which have built a dog. Some will be sand-bagging, others could be running with low fuel to try and attract sponsors, and sometimes reliability problems will prevent a team from revealing their true pace.

So only a fool would try and definitively say which teams will perform well in Australia next weekend. All that can be said is that, of the expected front-runners, Red Bull looks strong, McLaren were going well, Mercedes seem to have made big strides since last year, and Ferrari has more work to do if they are to win a race.

In fact, Ferrari has said that their pre-season preparations have not gone to plan, and have admitted that they are having trouble understanding the new F2012. However, McLaren did not look too good as they headed for Melbourne last season, and still Lewis Hamilton finished second behind the dominant Sebastian Vettel, so we cannot read too much into the Ferrari predicament.

Lotus (who were Renault last season) also look good, with new drivers Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen setting the fastest time on three of the four days of the final pre-season test in Barcelona. Sauber also put in some decent lap times, and the likes of Force India and Toro Rosso also got plenty of testing mileage under their belts.

Kimi Raikkonen, whose last race in F1 was back in 2009, was the fastest man on the last day of pre-season testing - Photo Credit: Andrew Ferraro/LAT Photographic
Kimi Raikkonen, whose last race in F1 was back in 2009, was the fastest man on the last day of pre-season testing - Photo Credit: Andrew Ferraro/LAT Photographic

 

It is difficult to tell, purely based on news from testing, whether Williams will improve on their dreadful 2011 this year, or if Caterham can make the step to becoming an established midfield team.

In fact, the only thing we can be sure about from winter testing is that HRT and Marussia have their work cut to be ready for the opening race – the new HRT did just 10 laps before it was stuck on the plane to Australia, and the new Marussia car only passed its mandatory crash tests last week.

What is most important is that Red Bull has not produced another totally dominant car. The testing suggests that things will be a lot closer at the front of the grid this year, and that a second consecutive Australian Grand Prix win for Sebastian Vettel is not yet a foregone conclusion.

Melbourne is a fantastic venue for the first race on the calendar, but unfortunately there are stories every year of how local residents are complaining of the excessive noise and inconvenience involved around the hosting of the race, or that the state government no longer wishes to fund it.

To be fair to the locals, it is probably a bit of pain in the backside when the public roads around Albert Park are closed whilst the track is assembled, and it is not uncommon to hear the sound of an engine being fired up at 8am during the race weekend, even if you are a few miles from the track.

However, the Australian people still seem to embrace the event, and the grandstands always appear to be packed with enthusiastic fans.  Unfortunately, Bernie Ecclestone suggested last week that Australia will probably lose its race once the current contract expires in 2015.

If this is the case, it will be a great shame for the drivers and teams, most of whom enjoy their annual visit down under, and also for the Australian fans, who will have a very long way to go if they want to watch an F1 race.

Normally, an Australian Grand Prix preview on this site would conclude with some remark about UK fans having to get up really early to watch the race. However, unless you are a Sky subscriber, you will not be able to watch this race live, and may as well have a Sunday morning lie-in. Race highlights will be shown on the BBC in the early afternoon.

Subscribers to the new Sky Sports F1 HD channel will have already had their appetites whetted by the excellent preview show that aired on Friday evening, and will probably need little encouragement to haul themselves out of bed early this weekend.

BBC host Jake Humphrey strikes an interesting off-camera pose last season in Australia. He and the BBC team will have competition from the Sky team this season - Photo Credit: David Bean
BBC host Jake Humphrey strikes an interesting off-camera pose last season in Australia. He and the BBC team will have competition from the Sky team this season - Photo Credit: David Bean

 

  • Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix begins at 06:00 GMT on Saturday, with the race starting at the same time on Sunday.
  •  In the UK, there is live coverage of events in Australia on Sky Sports F1 HD and BBC Radio 5 Live. Race highlights will be shown on BBC One at 14:00 GMT on Sunday.
  • There will be reports and reactions to events in Australia throughout the weekend here on thecheckeredflag.co.uk.