Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time on the penultimate day of pre-season testing. Team-mate Nico Rosberg did the same on the final day - Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas
Romain Grosjean - Photo: Lorenzo Bellanca/LAT Photographic
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Australian Grand Prix 2013: Preview

Football fans will be familiar with the feeling. You only experience it once a year, right at the beginning of the season, before a ball has been kicked in anger. It is the anticipation, the hopeless optimism, and the excitement of not knowing how the year ahead will pan out for your team.

This weekend, everybody involved in a Formula 1 team will have a similar sense, as will fans with a strong allegiance to a particular driver. We may have had pre-season testing, but this is always inconclusive. You dare to dream that this year might just be your year.

In football, the most likely outcome is that within 90 minutes, your reckless hope will have been completely dashed, and the reality of another season of struggles will hit home, and hit home hard.

For most of the Formula 1 field in Australia this weekend, the pre-race optimism will also die away at some point, be it in practice, qualifying, or even as late on as the race. Engineers, designers and drivers will have a much better idea of where their car is weak compared to their rivals, and just how much work they need to do to get on level terms.

The legions of fans will also have a clearer picture of just what is going on. Up until now, we have only had test sessions shrouded in secrecy to give us some unreliable conclusions as to what the season ahead holds. This weekend, at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne, there will be nobody over-filling the car to hide their true pace, and teams will be using the same tyres, at the same time, allowing for direct speed comparisons.

Australia Preview 2

Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time on the penultimate day of pre-season testing. Team-mate Nico Rosberg did the same on the final day – Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas

 

There are a lot of questions and unknown as we head into 2013 – arguably more than at the first race of previous years. Arguably the biggest question is over how well Lewis Hamilton will perform in his new Mercedes. The 2008 champion spent most of the winter writing-off his chances and, even as recently as this week, said he would be happy with just a podium in Melbourne. Nonetheless, the team’s impressive pace at the final test in Barcelona has hinted that, perhaps, Hamilton can challenge for more than that.

Nobody is too sure how well Red Bull will do either, especially at the start of the season. The common consensus in the paddock is that, fuel-adjusted, the team had the fastest car during testing, but Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber rarely troubled the top of the timesheets, and other teams clocked up more laps of pre-season running.

Even so, 2012 taught us all to write of Red Bull and Vettel at our peril. He will be many people’s prediction to win the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday.

Much has been made of how Fernando Alonso lost out on the championship by just three points in 2012, and did so despite not having the fastest car at any point during the season. Some argue that, even if the 2013 Ferrari is just a bit closer in performance to the dominant car, the Spaniard will be champion.

It is never that straightforward in Formula 1, but if Alonso is to claim his third championship this year, he will be helped greatly if he has a Ferrari that is quick from the outset. Will the Scuederia win in Australia for the first time since Kimi Räikkönen gave them victory in 2007?

Räikkönen, now at Lotus, might also fancy his chances. Some say the new E21 is the second fastest car in the field, but the Enstone-based team had their problems with reliability over the winter.

And nobody can rule out Jenson Button. He has won three of the last four Australian Grand Prix, including the race last year, and the McLaren always seems to go well around Albert Park, especially in the hands of the 2009 world champion. However, McLaren have said that their 2013 car is a revolution rather than an evolution and so, even though they finished last season with the fastest car, performance is not necessarily guaranteed right from the off this year. They had some good moments in pre-season testing, but are not thought to be the class of the field.

Button won from the front row of the grid last year in Australia - Photo Credit: Pirelli

Button won from the front row of the grid last year in Australia – Photo Credit: Pirelli

 

Aside from the important matter of who is actually going to win the race on Sunday, there are plenty more changes in which to take an interest. It may be a little too early in his McLaren career for Sergio Perez to start dreaming of race wins, but it will be interesting to see how he copes with life at the front of the grid.

Australia also sees the return of Adrian Sutil to Force India after a year’s absence from the grid, and we welcome Esteban Gutiérrez at Sauber, Valtteri Bottas at Williams, Giedo van der Garde at Caterham, and Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton at Marussia for their debut races in Formula 1. Will they all manage to stay out of trouble?

The anticipation is building to a peak, the speculation has reached fever-pitch, and now we are just waiting to find out what will happen. When the cars comes out on track in Australia this Friday, all will gradually begin to be revealed. Much optimism will be proved misplaced, and the magical anticipation will quickly evaporate, but at least we will know where we stand… ish.

2013 FORMULA 1 ROLEX AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX
Timetable
Friday 15th March
Free Practice 1 01:30 – 03:00
Free Practice 2 05:30 – 07:00
Saturday 16th March
Free Practice 3 03:00 – 04:00
Qualifying 06:00
Sunday 17th March
Race 06:00
Coverage (UK)
Live: Sky Sports F1 HD, Highlights: BBC One , Radio: BBC Radio 5 Live / 5 Live Sports Extra