Melbourne Preview

The agonising wait is over, the spring daffodils are here which can only mean one thing…Formula 1 is back!

For me I am as excited as ever for the first race this weekend, I have been watching Formula 1 for twenty-five years and as any F1 fanatic knows you should never take much notice of the winter testing performances of the teams. But for the twenty-fifth time I have been sucked in and I have hyped myself up, the whole pack seem closer than ever and I can’t wait for the first practice session on Friday morning!

And so we head down under for the opener at Melbourne for the Australian grand prix, ‘A great place for a race’ as the slogan says which could not be more accurate. Melbourne, home to over four million Melbournians is one of the wealthiest and most beautiful cities in the world, it was officially declared a city in 1847 by Queen Victoria well before Formula 1 ever existed, but has become intrinsically linked in with the history and heritage of the great city.

This weekend will mark the 17th Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne and I have high hopes of it living up the past reputation and the slogan of a great race. The track it’s self is officially a street track but it is far from what you would expect from a street race, its 16 turns stretch over 5.3 smooth kilometres reaching very high speeds whilst racing through public roads and car parks, which fortunately will not be in use this weekend! The track does have decent run off areas and gravel traps in case a driver while racing on the limit makes a mistake, these are certainly things of which the drivers will be extremely grateful. Just ask Martin Brundle who, in 1996 on lap one barrel-rolled his Jordan several times down into turn 2 and landed upside down only to climb out and run for the spare car…a real no-nonsense old-school racing driver! It does however also highlight the thrills and spills which Melbourne has given to us down the years and hopefully 2012 will continue in that same vein. The race will play host to six world champions on the grid for the first time in the history of the sport, which could indicate a more even playing field. This seasons testing does seem to corroborate with this, suggesting the gap between the teams appears smaller, especially in the midfield; the majority of the paddock are predicting a very close and tight battle and hopefully they are right.

As this is the Australian Grand Prix I would also like to mention one of the two Aussie racers on the grid this year, namely the one with more chance of victory, Mark Webber. He had a sensational debut race in 2002 driving for the Minardi team managing an amazing fifth place and subsequently a high scoring point’s finish and who knows; maybe his fellow countrymen Daniel Ricciardo could replicate that achievement this time around!

Since that brilliant 2002 finish Webber’s best finish was in 2009 finishing in 2nd place having failed to convert pole position into a victory. This season he is hoping to start off the new campaign by winning in front of his home crowd but he knows that he will have to beat his teammate Sebastian Vettel first who just so happens to be the reigning back-to-back world champion. The confident German has also amazingly declared himself hot favourite to win and won’t give Mark any favours on home-soil. However, murmurings from inside the Red-Bull camp suggest that Mark has come back from the winter break a refreshed a revitalised man and you would think that given his superior experience Vettel’s mind-games will do little to deter the man who races under the mantra of ‘Aussie Grit’ from taking his first home victory.

Now to McLaren, who have gone extremely well in testing this year. This is something that will certainly please team-principal Martin Whitmarsh after the team endured a dire 2011 testing season. Referring back once again to new Sky F1 commentator Martin Brundle who has suggested that Lewis and Jenson’s car looked the best handing car during the tests at Barcelona. This, along with the team’s great history around the streets of Melbourne should ensure they will be hotly contesting victory come Sunday, they are looking in great shape; now they must turn this potential in to wins.

So, it’s looking like a fight at the front between the Red Bulls, the McLarens and possibly even the Mercedes’ of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher, the German team appearing to have closed the gap at least on the famous Prancing Horse of Ferrari if not the big two of McLaren and Red Bull. The midfield battle between the likes of Force India, Sauber, Williams and the Toro Rosso’s is set to be more competitive than Formula 1 has seen in decades, also we must not count out Caterham in the aforementioned list that have seen a massive step forward in testing, undoubtedly aided by their brand-spanking new KERS. As I have already said all this is based on winter testing and it is debatable how much can be read into it, what is important now is that all the talking and murmurings about who handled better in Jerez has to stop. The gloves are well and truly off and we will find out for real who has done the best job over the winter come qualifying on Saturday morning.

My qualifying predictions are a customary pole position for Sebastian Vettel followed by the two McLarens of Lewis and Jenson with Webber 4th. Come race day my prediction is another Vettel victory with a McLaren and our returning champion Kimi Raikkonen on the podium and with both Williams’ in the points. What are your predictions? Find out if you’re right get an early night on Saturday we have a an early start…

My alarm is set and I can hardly wait…

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