With a new team on the front row and some fast cars at the back of the grid the 2009 F1 season looks set to get off to a thrilling start at Melbourne tomorrow.
Will we see a first-corner pile-up? Will the KERS drivers have an advantage at the start? How many drivers will lose their front wings? When wil lthey stop for fuel?
Here’s my take on how the Australian Grand Prix will unfold.
There are a few things to keep an eye on at the start:
The first corner at Melbourne tends to funnel the cars together and there is a high potential for incidents. On top of that, the tight turn three which follows is often a scene of more collisions. Last year Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber, Giancarlo Fisichella and Anthony Davidson were all eliminated on lap one.
This year we have the added complication of the extra-large front wings, which several drivers have noted are extremely vulnerable to being knocked off.
There has been a lot of discussion about whether drivers are allowed to use KERS at the start of the race. I’m not aware of any regulations preventing drivers from using it – as I understand they can to go to the grid with a fully-charged KERS and they can use it the instant the lights go out.
That could hand an advantage off the startline to the drivers who have it this weekend, which are both Ferraris, both McLarens, both Renaults, and Nick Heidfeld’s BMW.
As ever the drivers who get to start from the clean side of the grid will have an advantage.
At Melbourne the racing line runs across the odd-numbered side of the grid, which is good news for Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg et. al.
Lewis Hamilton and the Toyotas
Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli have been sent to the back of the grid after qualifying in the top ten. Although they’ve had to modify their rear wings to comply with the regulations, expect them to still be very quick, and make rapid progress through the field.
This is especially tough on Glock, one of the stars of qualifying, beating one-lap master Trulli despite carrying four extra laps’ worth of fuel.
Keep an eye on Lewis Hamilton, too. The MP4-24 is well off the pace this weekend but it looks as though he’s on an aggressive fuel strategy (see below).
Pit stop predictions
The official starting weights of the cars has been published. Given that each car has to weigh a minimum of 605kg, and a lap of Mellbourne uses approximately 2.5kg of fuel, we can predict which lap each car will make its first pit stop on:
Robert Kubica 18
Felipe Massa 19
Sebastien Vettel 20
Kimi Raikkonen 20
Lewis Hamilton 20
Nico Rosberg 20
Mark Webber 22
Jarno Trulli 22
Jenson Button 23
Sebastien Bourdais 23
Rubens Barrichello 24
Timo Glock 26
Sebastien Buemi 28
Fernando Alonso 30
Adrian Sutil 31
Kazuki Nakajima 32
Giancarlo Fisichella 33
Nick Heidfeld 34
Heikki Kovalainen 34
Nelson Piquet 35
Having originally qualified 11th (before being promoted to ninth by the Toyotas) Nick Heidfeld is the highest driver on the grid to have free choice of fuel load. He looks set to be one of the last drivers to stop for fuel and is well-placed to take advantage of a safety car period, which are frequent occurences in Melbourne.
But make no mistake – this race looks set to be a Brawn GP rout, with shades of McLaren’s dominance in 1998 at the same track. They’ve locked out the front row of the grid and done it with a fat slug of fuel in the tanks. Their rivals’ best hopes is that they run into reliability problems, or that Vettel can pick off Barrichello on the run to the first corner.
I asked on Twitter what people’s expectations of the race were and here are some of the responses I received:
#moitio Do you think the drivers are going to pour into turn 1 as fast as possible? I think they’re going to take it carefully
#JayBob80 Kimi to feature, Rubans and JB should dominate if cars are reliable. Both red bull teams look strong
#FrankSta Brawn to the top!! Hooray!!! But how long is going to last jenson’s and ruben’s excellent team mate relationship?
#keirdre tomorrow: Button to romp away with the race, only to suffer a heartbreaking failure near the end, and Barrichello to win.
#alliemims thoughts for the race: hamilton, kovalainen, and alonso don’t even show up. they’ll be playing golf instead.
#MatStace my expextations for tomorrow, rusty drivers, wide front wings = lots of missing noses at turns 1 & 3 on lap 1
How do you think the Australian Grand Prix will unfold? Leave a comment below and don’t forget to join us here on F1 Fanatic for the Australian Grand Prix live blog from one hour before the start of the race.