Australian GP: The big questions

By on Saturday, March 17, 2012

What of strategy?

Two stops or not two stops? That is the question. As ever in Formula One, race strategy will be crucial with the closing in performance between the two compounds of Pirelli tyres set to shake things up. A lack of dry running on Friday hurt the teams, while a relatively green track has left grip at a premium. Teams will have to think quickly during the race as an ill-timed Safety Car, something which is a likelihood in Melbourne, could play havoc with the outcome of the grand prix. The race is almost certainly set to be a dry affair, although the timing of the race – the lights go out at 5pm local time – means that lowering track temperatures will have an impact on strategy.

So, who’s going to win it?

Nobody knows. That is the exciting aspect! It appears to be an intra-team battle at McLaren, with Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button lining up on the front row and having previously emerged victorious in Australia. Yet Mercedes and Red Bull are both up there as the latter has simply had a bad weekend. It’s unlikely that the RB8 is around half a second off of the pace although if the team cannot move forwards tomorrow, there will be a lot of head scratching going on in Milton Keynes. It’s not out of the question that Michael Schumacher could claim his 155th F1 podium, although the spanner in the works is the stunning performance of returnee Romain Grosjean. Can he convert his 3rd place start into a podium finish, or will two years out of Formula One show through over the course of fifty-eight laps?

Fighting through?

There’s no doubt that the greatest disappointment of the day came at Ferrari, as Fernando Alonso spun out on his way to twelfth while Felipe Massa could only managed a miserable sixteenth. The car is handling badly, so will the duo be able to fight through? Starting in the midfield in Australia is always a perilous place, doubly so for Alonso as he will start surrounded by the unknown Jean Eric Vergne and the notoriously unpredictable Kamui Kobayashi. Pre-season testing suggests that on long fuel runs, the F2012 isn’t too kind to its tyres and while Fernando Alonso has four new sets available to him, Felipe Massa is less fortunate. Two sets of new tyres means he will endure a difficult afternoon in Melbourne. The other frustration was the performance of Kimi Raikkonen. While Lotus team-mate Romain Grosjean made a visit to the Press Conference, Raikkonen was sitting around the motorhome having to contemplate starting from seventeenth. His qualifying isn’t representative of the pace of the E20 or the man himself, so expect him to make his way into the points tomorrow. It’s the second year in a row that the Enstone based team has seen a car eliminated in Q1 in Melbourne.

What of the rest?

Another disappointed driver will be Sergio Perez, who will have the ignominy of being the final one to join the grid, having accepted a gearbox penalty that relegates him to 22nd and last. A close midfield battle appears to be in operation between Toro Rosso, Force India, Williams and Sauber as the four are separated by mere tenths. Williams’s qualifying pace in 2011 was frequently stronger than in the races, so it will be interesting to see whether Pastor Maldonado can maintain his promising eighth place grid spot. The often chaotic nature of the Australian Grand Prix means these teams could luck into a big points haul tomorrow, something that may pay dividends at the end of the season when the midfield is often separated by a couple of money-spinning points.

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