A giant step into the unknown (Australian Grand Prix preview)

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Will Mark Webber's run of bad luck at home come to an end this year?

Every first race of a new F1 season his hard to predict. But this is different. This is a revolution: the most radical new rules in a generation, and testing form which suggests the world champion’s team are nowhere, and the outfit that was sold over the winter could win the race.

Is Lewis Hamilton’s title defence over before it has even started? Is KERS hype or the future? Can ugly cars bring beautiful racing? Just some of the questions we’ll be asking during the Australian Grand Prix.

An unpredictable race

A lot has changed over the winter but one thing stays the same: the season kicks off at Melbourne’s popular parkland circuit for the Australian Grand Prix.

Albert Park has a knack for producing unpredictable races. The tight first corner invites a lap-one melee – Felipe Massa and a handful of others tripped up here last year.

After that, what happens beyond that first corner is pretty much anyone’s guess. We’ve spent months poring over the testing times at F1 Fanatic and a poll of our readers revealed Ferrari, BMW and Brawn GP are the three most fancied picks.

But we all know how difficult it is to judge real speed from testing, and we won’t know anything for sure until the dust has settled on Sunday evening.

KERS, safety cars – and twilight

As ever the start will be crucial and it will be fascinating to see what role KERS plays here. At the moment only Renault and Ferrari have said they will use KERS this weekend (see the forum for more) – and it could hand them a significant boost at the start of the race.

With much of the circuit hemmed in by barriers safety car periods are regular occurrences. These have been robbed of their power to destroy one driver’s race while virtually handing victory to another as they have in the past, thanks to an overdue outbreak of common sense in the regulations. But it could still play a decisive role.

Another significant change for this year is the timing of the race, moved back several hours to make the race’s broadcast time suit European audiences better. As Doctorvee has pointed out, this could lead to the unusual sight of a race ending in dusk conditions. The race organisers are even calling it “The world’s first twilight Grand Prix”.

Drivers are likely to struggle with low light in the later stages of the race. More seriously, a major hold-up in the running of the race could cause it to be finished before the full 58 laps have been completed.

Drivers to keep an eye on

Lewis Hamilton – Two appearances at Melbourne, one win and one podium – but is the MP4-24 even up to making Q3?

Mark Webber – Sensational debut in 2002 netted fifth place but appalling luck at home ever since.

Fernando Alonso – Ended 2008 looking very strong – if he’s in the mix at Melbourne a title bid is definitely on the cards.

Jarno Trulli – Of all the drivers, he seems the most pleased with the return to slicks. I have a hunch he might be in for a very good year.

Essential links for the race weekend


In the run-up to the race we’ll be launching the F1 Fanatic Predictions Championship with prizes to be won. Keep an eye on the site for more information – here’s details on how to subscribe: Get the latest from F1 Fanatic

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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61 comments on “A giant step into the unknown (Australian Grand Prix preview)”

  1. I am so excited only 3 days until we get to see all the cars driving round in practice!

  2. I predict 4 broken front wings in the first corner…

    1. Yep! By the time they finish the first lap, half the field will look like a brabham BT49

    2. With all the wiring for the front wing flaps, it really means that the wings will be more difficult to replace, right?

      So, coupled with a big first corner incident… Oh no.

    3. Yep, one of the drivers was saying this a while ago, think it was Pedro de la Rosa. Front wing changes will probably take longer now.

    4. Yeah, about the wiring to the front wings. I don’t think it would be a problem. If the system is setup based on basic wired controls, with little motors or electro-magnets moving the wings, the connections to the nose cone should just be a standard electronic coupling.

      That is of course if the wiring is lined on the body of the nose cone, which means it could fit onto the main body via means of a location pin and locking mechanism. Based on what I’ve seen during front wing changesm it looks to be something like this. So I don’t think the wiring will be a problem.

  3. Well hopefully I’ll have the upper hand on you, Keith as far as predictions go since I just got a sneaky look at some of yours on PF1!

    Nice one, that site needs a bit of F1Fanatic sanity at times!

    1. Ah I was wondering when that’s going to appear – thanks!

  4. Woooooooooooooo! The mrs isn’t going to be happy when i take over the tv this weekend, buts its finally back! With no adverts either! I can’t contain my excitement!

  5. As a Kubica fan id love to see him win but if KERS is deployed by BMW i think heidfeld will have a big enough advantage to beat Kubica. But it all depends on if BMW use it and on if only one or both of drivers use it.

    My prediction to win is either:
    Nick Heidfeld
    kimi raikkonen

    1. I have my bets on a Heidfeld win also – especially if they use KERS – which I reckon they will given that Mclaren, Ferrari and Renault are using theirs, and BMW’s is race ready. I will be happy with either BMW winning to be honest, but a Heidfeld win would be brilliant! Either that or someone completely unexpected! I hear rain rumours – that should be interesting if it does happen!

      Goodness me I am so excited now its unbeleivable! People at work think I have problems!

    2. Same here Clare- only a few of them know anything about F1, the rest just put this clueless expression on :)

      I would very much like to see Heidfeld or Webber get their first win, and I think it could happen for either with the right developments. Of course I am pulling for McLaren also, but I don’t think either driver is going to be in the mix this weekend.

    3. Lol Gman – that face is quite accurate! Either that or I get the ‘oh there she goes again – quick change the topic!’ line!

      I’m a BMW and Williams girl me, so I would be pretty darn happy with either BMW guy winning (although Heidfeld would be best, after all this time without a win – plus I really rate Heidfeld – fancy him for a strong title challenge this season)

      Or maybe with some adverse weather conditions and a safety car or two – Nico Rosberg taking the win! Although methinks that is a little optimistic! Maybe the Williams will be real good this year though – I’ve never been one to do well at predictions!

  6. I’m so exited about this new season!! Can’t wait till it kicks off. I hope BBC bring back the old theme tune they had from Fleetwood Mac. And as the guy said above NO ADVERTS!!

    I really think this season will be something very special.

  7. I agree, it’s got some new ingredients so could be a more level playing field & on the UK side, wow, we get the Chain, no breaks & red button with supplementary in-car shots, cool.
    I predict Lewis will slay his critics one way or another this season. Go on son!

  8. Varun Murthy
    24th March 2009, 14:36

    Can KERS be used in qualifying?? that’ll make a huge difference..

    1. In the rule book, there isn’t any provision stipulating time of the use of KERS. Which means, you can use it any time during the weekend and during the race.

      I suppose teams will use it both in the Qualifying and the Race. So we can expect first four rows consisting of four KERS-using teams [Ferrari, McLaren, Renault], including BMW, which I’m deadly surely honestly presumably sure that they’ll use it.

    2. And they are allowed to re-charge KERS batteries between qualifying and the race.

    3. They are only allowed to charge while driving though right? So it makes sense that they can charge KERS in the lap they do to the grid or otherwise the parade lap.

  9. The world’s first twilight Grand Prix.

    Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiice, that really is worth watching…

    how desesperate the organizers are?? xD!

  10. can’t wait for the season to start and to watch the race along with the live chat at F1F :)

  11. it’ll be one of the most interesting opening races for years. the pack is mixed up. predictions are impossible. the fans are learning about rule changes as well.
    BBC back in town – WOOHOO!

    I dont necessarily think if someone like Hamilton is nowhere this weekend, you can rule him out of the title. Mclaren will develop their car as we go further into the season. they may find that reliability is not so good later as a result. fingers crossed that Brawn were not a flash in the testing pan.

    Australian GP is always a really strange result – just like Canada, and quite often Hungary. First race and circuit are probably culprits.

    1. While the point-scorers in Australia are not necessarily going to be the regular point-scorers during the season, isn’t it the case that winning it is a good predictor of championship success?

  12. Although the start time has been moved back it is still relatively early, but will anyone miss the ritual of getting up in the middle of the night for the first GP of the season, I think I will.

    Also people in the UK remember the clocks go forward on Saturday night, you don’t want to get mixed up and miss part of the program.

    1. I won’t miss it, I like to sleep ;)

    2. I’ll miss it – I quite liked getting up at 2 or 3 am – gave it more of a sense of occasion I thought.

    3. You still get that on Friday. Still not sure when I’m going to sleep then. I’m going to be nocturnal this weekend…

  13. It does make the race unwatchable from the Western hemisphere — bummer. I’d pay an arm and a leg to get the Beeb’s ad-free coverage, even delayed a day or two.

  14. Cant we fast forward the time a little bit?
    This waiting game is killing me.
    I just cant wait for Albert Park!!

  15. Mr predictions for the race are

    Pole : Raikkonen.

    Results : 1# Alonso
    2# Raikkonen
    3# Massa

    Fastest Lap # Raikkonen.

    Teams that exceed expectations, Williams, Toyota, Brawn Gp.

  16. A question to anyone who would have an answer to it: Is there any danger of a driver getting hurt or worse by an electric discharge from the KERS mechanism during a crash (in case the equipment come in contact with the driver)? I know it is not exactly the theme of this discussion, but since KERS is gonna be used for the first time in Melborn…God forbid, but we could be in for a rather “stunning” event.

    1. I think they will wear an extra layer of protection in their suits – just in case…

  17. Two days baby!
    Me think the OZ will not be a reflexion of the whole season. First battle with does cars?! There are gonna be xxx
    Let the underdogs start with something brilliant :)

    I saw predictions on pf1
    Nice one Keith :]

  18. If BrawnGP was legal:
    1. BrawnGP
    2. Ferrari
    3. Renault

    If not:
    1. Ferrari
    2. Renault
    3. BMW

  19. All of the teams with a race ready KERS must of been simulating using it in the race, so surely if teams like Mclaren, Ferrari, Renault are saying they will be using their system, then the pro’s outweigh the cons on a track like Melbourne to use it. Im pritty sure BMW will use it as a result of this. Maybe not Kubica :/
    As Dr Mario says its a “track by track, driver by driver situation”

  20. There is a lot of hype on this race. I hope it dose not dissapoint. This season is going to make or break me on F1. I enjoy it but if it dose not deliver I will have to move on. Last two seasons were great but this year with all the changes and drama have put a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. We will see.

    1. I just hope we don’t have too much nonsense over the diffusers.

  21. kieth, good man! i really like your prediction on who would win the championship on PF1

    1. More predictions coming tomorrow… 8-)

  22. I wish there was an article on how drivers are going to use KERS when they are not passing :
    — are they going to only use it on the main straight ?
    — will some software activate the system to maximise acceleration throught the appropriate parts of the track to improve lap times ?

    It would be very interesting to see how it can be used as part of a driver´s and team´s tacticts.

    1. yeah i see where your coming from
      i can definatly see the drivers using the KERS system in consistent places around the track to maximize track times once the cars are further apart towards the end of the race (if they are spaced out at all!)
      But i totally do not know if that tactic would be computerized or not

    2. I’m pretty sure the system can’t be used automatically, it has to be operated by the driver.

      But when it comes to questions like “are they going to only use it on the main straight”, even at a track like Melbourne you have a couple of options – do you use it on the straight before turn one, three or 13?

      And yes, I think it’s entirely possible that drivers will use it defensively as you’ve described.

      What I still want to know, though, is whether TV viewers will be shown when each driver is using their KERS?

    3. It has to be done manually and they can start it whenever they want for a total of 6.66667 seconds (400/60) per lap.

      Apart from that the driver can use it whenever they want.

      I’ve read in interviews with drivers that KERS can only be used when the car is doing at least 100 km/h, but I haven’t seen this in the regulations.

  23. Keith:
    Jarno Trulli – Of all the drivers, he seems the most pleased with the return to slicks.

    Haha, well Keith, he’s one of only three drivers left in the field who remember slicks in F1.

  24. It’s the first “twilight grand prix”, so I predict the top 3 will be Barrichello, Fisichella, and Trulli. I hope they installed a Stannah Stairlift on the podium for these guys.

    Hopefully after that last moment of glory they will finally quit and let someone interesting and new fill their seats.

  25. Toby Thwaites 93
    24th March 2009, 19:40

    Haha ^^^^

  26. this is goin to be a tricky one to pick! i’ve changed my fantasy drivers about 3 times on yahoo in the last day. lol. if there’s rain massa is def goin to be removed from my winning pick. but i guess it all comes down to whos on pole n whos next to him….because the rest of the middle pack will lose their wings in turn 1. lol..unless of course those using KERS can get by and avoid it all. we’ll see!

  27. I have read that several teams were threatening to boycott the Australian Grand Prix over money issues. Does anyone know if there is any truth in this?

    1. It’s in an interview with Bernie Ecclestone in The Times, one of the interviews I bookmarked on Delicious today.

  28. Thanks for that Keith. :)

  29. Cameron, this is from today’s Times

    Two team principals have allegedly threatened to wreck the start of the Formula One season following dispute over cheque.
    Bernie Ecclestone has had much on his plate in recent weeks but, even by Formula One’s standards, a meeting at his London office last week was unusual. The Times can reveal that two team principals got so hot under the collar about money that they claim he owes them that they threatened to organise a boycott of the opening race of the season in Melbourne on Sunday.

    In the confrontation, Flavio Briatore and Ron Dennis, the team principal of Renault and the chairman of McLaren Mercedes respectively, allegedly told Ecclestone that they would not put their cars on the specially chartered freight planes last Sunday if the billionaire did not write them a cheque. And, according to Ecclestone, they said that other members of the Formula One Teams Association (Fota) would follow suit.

    A leaked account of the meeting, which was also attended by John Howett, the team principal of Toyota and the vice-president of Fota, was confirmed in detail by Ecclestone yesterday. The dispute was about money that Ecclestone has agreed to pay the teams, but only after they sign the next Concorde Agreement under which they agree to race, something they have so far failed to do.

    “Flavio said, ‘we’re not going to put our cars on the plane, we’re not going to Melbourne,’ ” Ecclestone said. “He — Flavio — started it, aided and abetted by Ron Dennis.” The apparent threat to wreck the start of the Formula One season was countered by a classic Ecclestone ploy. “I picked up the phone to our people that handle all the freight to ask them to cancel the aeroplanes,” the billionaire said. “They were saying, ‘all the Fota-schmota are not going — nobody’s going to go.’ So I said what I’d better do is cancel the aircraft obviously. It costs a fortune to charter those things and almost as much to cancel them.”

    The manoeuvre seems to have settled the matter because the Renault and McLaren cars have arrived in Australia, but neither Briatore nor Dennis got their money, which would have been a substantial sum.

    Howett is not thought to have joined in with the others and Ecclestone observed: “Poor John was sitting there a bit confused about life in general.” Ecclestone does not mind, in the least, people coming in and threatening this or that, but he said he hates it when they then fail to deliver. “If they come in here with a gun and hold it to my head, they had better be sure they can f***ing pull the trigger,” he said. “And they should make sure it’s got bullets in it because, if they miss, they better look out.”

  30. In tracks where the start/finsh is on the main straight I guess that means potentially a driver can use KERS for over 10 seconds at a time (a few seconds before the line and then 6.6 secs after).

    How do the FIA know how many seconds each drvier has used KERS per lap? Is it real time?

    What it the penalty if a driver uses it for over the legal amount? Stop Go??

    So many questions….

    1. In tracks where the start/finsh is on the main straight I guess that means potentially a driver can use KERS for over 10 seconds at a time (a few seconds before the line and then 6.6 secs after).

      But would the batteries hold enough charge for more than one use? If not, would the KERS be able to re-charge while the driver is going down a straight and not braking?

      How do the FIA know how many seconds each drvier has used KERS per lap? Is it real time?

      I suspect it’s all done through the standard ECU.

  31. Saw that there is more protest on the diffuser. Give me a break. If it were illegal, how did it pass FIA inspection when it was presented? I dont get it.

    1. My logic may be a little off, and my knowledge of diffusers may be ever so slightly limited – but the fact that three cars have interpreted the rule in roughly the same way suggests to me that it was a ‘loophole’ there to be used. Its just the other teams who didnt spot the ‘loophole’ that are annoyed because they might have a performance disdvantage because of it. I have read somewhere that a couple of the other teams might be working on making a similar one to the three up for debate – so surely they cant think it is illegal if they are trying to mimic it.

      Most irritating about it all though is the time its taking to sort it – it would be much better if they had declared it either way and if it was illegal then the teams could sort it before Melbourne, rather than risk being disqualified – wont be a good start to the season if six cars are removed from the first race result – as if F1 needs anything else to make it look like a joke at the minute!

      Aside from all that though, I really cant wait for the new season, its the most excited i have been about it for quite a while – think its because i cant predict whatsoever who is going to do well! Hopefully itll be right close all year!

    2. It also seems that the team protesting the loudest, Red Bull, wouldn’t be able to implement such a design due to the way they mount their rear wing and their pull-rod rear suspension… Sour grapes anyone??

      On a completely unrelated note, does anyone know what the parts shown in this picture are?

  32. I think Brawn is going to wipe the floor with the others, so I predict

    1. Jenson
    2. Rubens
    3. Kubica

    Lewis won’t make Q3 or past 10 laps of the race, he’ll crash pushing too hard in his slow car.

  33. Weather prediction for sunday 24 degrees, no rain. Of course, this being Melbourne it’s really anyones guess as to what the weather might do.

    Just about to leave work & head over to the track now, so I’ll see what I can suss out about the diffuser row, KERS, and the boycott rumour & report back. Any other controversies I’ve forgotten about?

    Sheesh, season hasn’t even started yet and already there are dramas. Is it too much to ask that we have a season of just pure racing & no 3 ring circus?

  34. Can drives use KERS off the start line?

    Makes me wonder if the drivers will be trying to charge their KERS in the formation lap – will we see them breaking heavily to do this?

  35. None of the drivers interviewed today would confirm if they will use KERS this weekend or not. Sounds like some are going to run with & without during friday practice & then decide.

  36. Just been reading into that KERS thing and it looks like renault and ferreri are the only two teams going to use it this weekend. So where does this leave the rest of them? are they going to be allowed to run at different weights or not??? was 605kg but dont know if this has changed.
    Oh yes, one other thing! no adverts, no adverts, no adverts…get in.

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