Australian GP: thoughts on the start

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Can Jenson Button convert pole position into victory?

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.

The start

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.

Clean side

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.

Australian GP grid and race weights

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).

Toyota drivers lose qualifying positions

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.

Your thoughts

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.

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Timo Glock, Toyota, Melbourne, 2009

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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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67 comments on “Australian GP: thoughts on the start”

  1. I’ve got this feeling that Vettel is going to be challenging Button into the first corner, and there could be possible contact. I think I had a dream about it during my post-quali nap because I can picture it quite clearly!

  2. Hey Keith,

    I’ve got a feeling the KERS equipped cars won’t gain much advantage off the line. Possibly once at speed someone might attempt the “push to pass” but unless they have a good racing line they’ll get blocked at the KERS will be wasted for the rest of the lap.

    From the back, I think the toyotas will make up a few places, and continue to cut through the pack during the race. Hamilton might join them for a while, but I can see him mixing with the force india cars for most of the race.

    Rubens and Button will probably stay 1st and 2nd.

    Someone is bound to end up in the gravel, and take out someone elses front wing in the process!

    1. It seems to me the drivers with KERS are using it most as they come out of slow corners, so based on that I suppose using it at the start would be ideal? But we’ll know very soon…

  3. Three front wings destroyed in the first turn.

    I think Button will run away with the win but,I hope to see Vettel give fight for the #2 spot.He will have to take Rubens at the first turn to have any chance though,I don’t think anyone can catch the Brawns once they are off and running.

  4. Button has never been good under pressure and tomorrow will show.

    1. Please list me at least 3 examples of Button crumbling under pressure.

    2. Yeah it’s not a trait that springs to mind when I think of Button’s characteristics.

    3. Just rewind back to last time Button had pole position. 2006 Australian GP. He made a mess off the start line; and couldn’t keep people behind him at all.

  5. I have a feeling something is going to happen with Button, Barichello and Vettel at the start. dunno gut feeling lol! I also think Kubica is going to make a few places as he is quiet light compared to the others.

    1. Toby Thwaites 93
      28th March 2009, 23:37

      Agreed, well i hope so

  6. I personally think one of the BrawnGP cars will win it. Who knows which one but one of them has to. I’m hoping it will be Barichello but as I’m from Britain part of me hopes Hamilton finishes in a reasonable position.

    I’m really looking forward to this race. Hopefully I’ll get up in time, I failed to get up for the Qualification; good old Sky+

    1. Shame Brawn GP don’t have a British driver you could support. Wait a minute…

  7. Surely the KERS will be no advantage on the start line, as the cars have enough difficulty putting the ‘standard’ power down on the track without wheel spinning when lights go green, so cant imagine the KERS boost will be of any advantage.

    1. I thought that too initially, but with slicks they will have more grip off the start and hence maybe the KERS will be able to be used from about 100kph or something similar.

  8. I’m looking forward to seeing how the supersoft tyres hold up. They seemed to be pretty useless after a handful of laps today, so I imagine everyone will be having a short stint at some point.

    At the front, Barrichello to win followed by Button. Maybe the other way round…

  9. Keith.. does that mean that if there is a safety car the “slowing down system” the FIA designed is coming into practice?

    P.S. I think Hamilton is going to crash being so far back and trying to climb up the field!

    1. With Hamilton you tend to get extremes – he’ll either do well like at Monza last year, or we’ll get a Magny-Cours style disaster…

  10. Mussolini's Pet Cat
    28th March 2009, 18:56

    Internet, you know nothing. These guys thrive on pressure.

  11. I’m thinking there’s too much to go wrong into the first corner that I fear that a Brawn 1-2 isn’t on the cards. If they get away clean after the first corner, then it should be plain sailing, reliability pending.

    Melbourne’s traditionally high attrition, and perfect for those who qualified lower to stay out of trouble and pick up some points from those trying to squeeze too much out at the front.

    Our topsy turvey grid may be even more topsy turvy podium tomorrow. We shall just have to see – can’t wait!! :D

    1. Wonder if the Brawn GP drivers have a pact like Hakkinen and Coulthard did?

  12. I don’t expect much trouble with the start due to KERS, as it is normal that some have a better start then others. And one should realize that what makes the difference at the start is, in fact, traction/grip.
    F1 cars have an overwhelming amount of power and acceleration – more than they’ve got grip to handle it and to be able to use their power effectively. So adding those 80bhp won’t help them at all, as it would only produce wheelspin.

    I guess drivers can use KERS when they exceed about 150km/h. But then they’ve got the critical period of the start behind them and it’ll be save to use some extra power.
    But collisions and damaged front wings are certainly a big threat and we can sure expect a lot of this happening…
    All I want to see tomorrow is an exctinig race full of overtaking and action.
    What I don’t want to see is 2 white cars dominating the field and cruising to victory in a boring race.

    1. I’m happy to see Jenson storm into the lead as long as there’s plenty of other action behind him. I just want him to have one good race- make up for the last 2 years.

  13. GUYS!!!!!

    I’ve just realized that we change time tomorrow!!
    We change the time forward, so the race will be at 7:00 of the current time.

    I’m sure many fans in Europe will tune in an hour too late for the race.

  14. I’m hoping that if it has to be a brawn drive through, it’ll be a barrichello win. Otherwise… count on the ferrari’s to be quick off the start, and vettel to get past at least one of the brawns.

  15. Only a fool would make a confident prediction about the start tomorrow. But here goes anyway:

    The six cars behind Jenson and Rubens are lighter and two have KERS. There’s going to be a bit of ‘coming together’ at the front of the pack in Turn 1.

    Of course, the chances of collision are far higher further back in the grid, and the fact that the last four cars are lighter than the 8 ahead of them also does not bode well for a collision-free Lap 1.

    I would bet that 4 cars don’t make it to Lap 2.
    Mind you, I have never won a bet on F1.

  16. I see a mess on turn one and a race with lots of spins, hits and retiremens. And don’t forget the safety car. So, with all that, even if Brawn look and are yet the fastest on the block, the race finale will be like playing lotto. With the field almost upsidedown (and even more helped by puting the Toyotas last, Lewis 3rd from last because of transmission replacemente… It’s up for grabs – maybe Ross Brawn will have thought it all and came um with a stratagy to gain from all others even with safety cars, pits, et all… maybe even his brain can’t predict the unpredictable…

    In a few hours we’ll see!

    So far, even if I’m a litte desapointed with McLaren performance, I am a Formula One fan and I don’t see the Ferrari one two in front row, I see a lot of last year underdogs in the first 5 rows, so I’m happy and hopefull of a fantastic F1 season!

    Gentlemen, start your egines !!! VRUUUUMMMM…!!!

  17. I also believe that Brawn will win the race, and I bet Barrichello will play it safe, block Vettel and trail behind Button until the first stop, when he’ll try to pass him, since he said he handled the car better when it was lighter.

    The car weights were really surprising, and show that Brawn are the class of the field, which would be almost unbelievable even if they kept named Honda and did all the pre-season testing. On the other hand, perhaps their success comes from the fact the they’re car was launched later and, therefore, the other teams had little time to copy their solutions, and, of course, from switching from Honda to Mercedes engines…

  18. i still get the feeling that ferrari can get a seriuosly good start have a very good chance of winning

  19. Am curious, because, if the press about KERS would lead us to believe the advantage at the start would mean, faster starting cars…behind the faster qualifying cars, I need to see it to believe it..

    A question….if KERS proves no distinct advantage tomorrow, how easy is it for teams to remove it for the next race…how optional is KERS?

    1. Quite easy: BMW is running Heidfeld with KERS and Kubi without, after all.

  20. Jenson for the win. Reasonable fuel load. Sticky and very drivable car. No one ahead of him to stuff his front wing into in first corner (though think 3rd corner is generally more of a crash test zone). As you stated, Bubens has the grubby side of the track and will have Vettel to keep him occupied.

    Much as I like Lewis, do not see him keeping cool enough to finish the race if starting from the back, indeed, can see him setting a new DNF record for a reigning WDC this season. Guessing not being a winner just ain’t gonna be his mojo. Gut feeling – feel free to rub my nose in it when I’m wrong.

    Hope Kubica puts in the performance his qualifying indicated last year. Still think he could of won last year’s opener until that mighty belly flop loosened his teeth. Would be nice to see him smile a bit more though – does strike me as being about as happy as pension fund investment analyst locked in an old peoples home.

    Feel for the Toyota boys, but will provide some entertainment watching Trulli getting some payback for all those years the mid field have wasted stuck behind him…

    Rosberg will finish in the top 5. Dunno why. Just a hunch. He could do very well this year. Be nice to watch him and Vettel duking it out with The Kube for best non-BrawnGP this year methinks.

    Enjoy the race folks!


    1. what tosh, please watch the GP2 Istanbul Park 06 race for what Hamilton can do under pressure.

    2. Phil, I think Magny-Cours and Japan 08 are more recent exemples…

  21. I think the finishing order will be very close to the starting order for the top 8 (or more) cars. The exception would be any incidents in the first few turns or any mechanical failures.

  22. I’m hoping one of the brawns will win it but ive got a horrible feeling that something will happen to Jenson either an incident in the first corner or a retirement half way through the race, i hope to god im wrong..

  23. Would be nice to see him smile a bit more though – does strike me as being about as happy as pension fund investment analyst locked in an old peoples home.

    Good one. Although I’m his dedicated fan I say he won’t be higher than 6th tomorrow.
    Also, RAI will not finish due to a failure and MAS will go off rails soon in the race.
    GLO will get in the first ten, HEI should be 4-5th on the finish line while the first three from quali will get there in the same order.
    Against all odds I say there will be only 2 cars lacking the bits after turn 1.
    Can’t wait, just bring it on for heavens sake!!!

    1. That driver who reaches first corner on lead is only one who is safe with he´s front wing. I think there will be busy times at pit after first lap.

      Hamilton will be trying too hard that´s for sure and he will do mistake one way or another.

      Toyotas…hmmm…Did they got advantage from their rear wing? If did, they may not be so quick with legal wings.

      KERS guys will get little advantage with system, but not much. There´s no grip for 82 added horsepower…and also need clear track and room to use effectively that added power. There is car front and both sides so you don´t have anywhere to go with that power anyway.

      Anyhow, this should be easily won by Brawn GP, but not sure is Button or Barrichello faster.

      Anything can happen still…that sunshine and shadows what drivers mentioned gives little dangerous faces for competition. NOT GOOD! Hoping everything goes well…

  24. I like Raikkonen and Massa but as a McLaren fan and a Ferrari hater i hope they dont win the constructors this year. Really good to see the Brawn boys at the front no other drivers deserve a decent car more than them 2, especially Barichello for having to put up as number 2 all that time at Ferrari.

    If i was a betting man I would bet my money on Vettel doing something stupid this race, he tends to make alot of mistakes, also expect Nakajima to take some 1 out as well he seems prone to crashing into people. Hamilton will either wipe out early or be very entertaining as well as Alonso! =]

    my preds for DNF;

  25. Bubens

    Haha, I’ve just noticed this. :)) This is some funny stuff.

    Benson Jutton
    Bubens Rabbichello
    Kobert Bubica
    Rimi Kaikonnen
    Melipe Fassa
    Hick Neidfeld
    Wark Mebber
    Nazuki Kakajima
    Rico Nosberg
    Gimo Tlock

    1. Benson is one thing, but Rimi just sounds plain wrong. Hick, Wark and good ole Rico Nosebag. There’s a whole Private Eye (UK satirical mag) column in there somewhere ;o)


    2. “Bubens Rabbichello”

      Oy vey!

  26. I like the nnc title seguence. Just saw it on their site and it’s so much better than that stupid advert they had.

    1. oops, thats meant to say ‘bbc.’

  27. StrFerrari4Ever
    28th March 2009, 21:27

    Well honestly the waiting is killing me this race is shaping up to be unbelievable i believe if any driver Vettel , Kubica or Rosberg can get one of the Brawns at the first turn it will be game on i have a very funny feeling Vettel has a chance of winning this race if he can take Rubens and then line up Jenson at turn 3 it could really be interesting as for the cars with KERS i’m not convinced to be honest but one thing is for sure expect at least 2 or 3 front wings missing by end of lap 1 and many safety car periods

  28. I just had a vision of the Toyotas challenging Hamilton at the first corner – Glock possibly – and taking them both out. Not that i want that mind you, I just sense a bad weekend for Hamilton will likely get worse. Another prediction, if KERS sucks during the race, too, it will get yanked very soon.

    1. The whole KERS episode is farsical. Spanky introduced it to ‘prove’ F1’s green credentials, whilst labouring the spiralling costs invested in F1 by some teams. Most teams have since piled almost a third of their budgets again into KERS, only for Mad Max to announce a standard KERS package from next year. To describe this as half-witted would be vaguely insulting to most capering fools.

      Is nice to note that the Brawn is a KERS free package. And as many cleverer souls than I have already observed, The Kube is sans-KERS and fourth. Yet Hick is driving the same Beemer with KERS 6 tenths slower.

      Personally hope the Williams box of tricks runs rings around the rest. Love the simplicity of a KERS device that consists of a big flywheel that you can clutch into the drivetrain, rather than the megacapacitor route everyone else has gone down. But then, I’m just Joe Soap. Wadda I know? ;)


  29. I can only hope vettel gets in front, I don’t want to look at the godawful brawngp cars.

  30. Can’t wait for tonight…

    As an aside, I think the new rear wings make these cars look ridiculous. I had seen the photos on the web before hand….

    But watching it on tv, it occurred to me that these 2009 cars are some of the ugliest of all time.

    1. Here’s an interesting thing tho; the raft of changes for 2009 season was prompted by the lack of racing (read overtaking in F1). Everyone expected such a massive upheaval to the rule book to herald 90’s style gaps between the front of grid ‘superteams’ and indys’. Yet here we are, on the brink of R1 2009 with the newest Indy at the helm, Ferrari looking vaguely toothless and McLaren all at sea. Even Renault don’t seem to be mounting the challenge. Wonderful to see a vaguely resurgent Williams though :) Anyways, less than a second covered the first 12 cars for most of todays quali. Will be interesting to see whether overtaking has become more prevailent in F1 tomorrow, but generally seems, so far, that the rule changes have done no more than shake up the big snow-globe that is F1.


  31. So how many metres off the line before KERS kicks in? Weight balance will have them how many metres behind a non kers car before that boost? All very interesting for first corner dynamics.

    How will they judge blocking by kers v non kers cars?

  32. I fully expect KUB and VET to get great starts and either get ahead or cause The Wreck. Ill be watching for KOV and HEI—lots of fuel, and KERS in the back. No one has really discussed the dynamic fuel saving potential of KERS, and especially the ability of a KERS car to save much more fuel under a Safety Car.

  33. Barring a breakdown, Button has the smoothness and the coolness to walk away with this one.

    And he fully deserves it after all these years of patience with Honda.

    Bet Honda is kicking themselves now for bailing out!

  34. There has been a lot of discussion about whether drivers are allowed to use KERS at the start of the race.

    According to Peter Windsor, drivers are not allowed to use KERS until 100k/hr. For the sake of F1 in America I hope he knows the rule book.

  35. One of the first statement of Ros Brawn when he arrived Honda team was … I know Rubens and Jenson is a fine driver, so there is no need for changing then … we just need to improve the car … He was right … Go Brawn GP go!

  36. I dönt quite understand this, KERS as the name suggests is kinetic energy recovery system, now according to newtonian laws of physics,kinetic energy is the energy gathered by a physical body which is motion.(e=(1/2)*m*v^2). Now i am not sure how much energy will be generated by cars equipped with kers during the warm up lap.not much i suppose. Charging it fully before the start, violates & contridicts the very the purpose of its existence,which is to cönvert waste energy(brake) to electrical & then to mechanical torque. Now i would like to know from the FIA as to how much electricity the teams are wasting in order to fully charge their batteries. The purpose of kers is to utilise self generated energy. Will this procedure of charging the battries before the start put williams at an disadvantage? They are said to been using a fly wheel based energy system, which requires no battries as it is a mechanical system. It has no effect until the car is in motion. So imo kers should’nt be used on the start.

    1. I have nothing against using KERS on the start but the FIA ECU should be able to read voltages and before starting the warm up lap voltages should be read to make sure no one charged beforehand.
      Cars should be able to charge themselves on the warm up lap.

  37. Teams are allowed to fully charge KERS prior to parade lap. KERS absolutely will be used into turns 1 & 3 on lap 1. Nice to see the onboard graphics show KERS usage.

  38. Excellent remarks mp4-19!! If you are correct, this is an additional advantage, charging the energy before the race … should be done just during the race, or not?

  39. Terry Fabulous
    29th March 2009, 2:14

    Hey what is the status of the Tyre Warmers? Are they allowed to use them still?

  40. The KERS cars will get nothing off the starting line for the simple reason that the device is giving them a fat ****, weighing down any advantage provided by a power boost.

  41. theRoswellite
    29th March 2009, 3:37

    …..wanted to toss this out before we get R1L1 behind us.

    For me, the biggest winner after qualifying is Mr. Vettel.

    The Brawn Boys are fantastic, but not really a total surprise if you follow testing. There’s is a fabulous contribution to the spirit of GP, as I don’t recall so many people excited about the possibilities surrounding this new season.

    But, the boys at RB must be equally pumped, knowing as they do, that they can come up with a new diffuser design and that it will add greatly to their performance; while it will be impossible, in any meaningful time frame, to build an entirely new car which incorporates some of the RB design features…the features which, along with Mr. Vettel’s driving, have them right behind the Brawn cars.

    So, for me, the real future of this season is sitting in Q-3.
    (and on the drawing boards back at the RB factory…design boys, design)

  42. Well, we are just a few hours a way and man I am tired. I want to watch the race live in the USA. As an American hope that it is either Hamilton or Button or Weber(guess why). But all in all I think that it will be a great race. Look forward to seeing you all at the end. Hope I am a wake to post on the victory. If not.. see you all tomorrow.

  43. Last update from me before the live blog starts: Toyotas to start from pit lane.

  44. Who’s gonna be first to brake their nice new extra large for 09 front wing then?

    1. I dont know but I guess Alanso.

  45. I am going to start my tv. If I fall a sleep thank you
    DVR. See you all latter for the results. and Keith, I know I say it a lot but man great site and thank you.

  46. I would like to see two virgin white cars 1st & 2nd

    (But then the stewards will probably disqualify them)

    Hamilton’s too far back, with a sick car, to do any good

    I would also like to see two driverless red cars sitting on the grass

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