Will Mercedes dominate again? Melbourne will give the first answers

2015 Australian Grand Prix preview

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Melbourne’s scenic Albert Park circuit is hosting it 20th world championship race this year. The combination of the parkland venue and an enthusiastic local crown reliably makes for an enjoyable start to the season.

However the low-grip, stop-start track tends not to provide a great pointer for the competitive order throughout the rest of the year. True, Mercedes ran away with last year’s race as they did pretty much every other event last year, but the next two cars in the official classification were McLarens.

Given that, it would be unwise to draw too firm conclusions for the year ahead based on Sunday’s race. And besides being a somewhat atypical layout, it is also a track which often produces surprises. Two years ago Adrian Sutil Force India led the race, and Kimi Raikkonen won for Lotus, neither of which were repeated again that year.

Australian Grand Prix team-by-team preview


Mercedes’ pace was ominous in testing. Ahead of the first race it appears to be less a question of whether they are still leading the pack and more a matter of whether the huge advantage they enjoyed last year has been reduced.

Australia was a non-event as far as the drivers’ championship was concerned last year, with Lewis Hamilton retiring early on. The team will be eager to get both cars to the chequered flag to demonstrate those reliability worries are behind them.

Red Bull

Like Mercedes, Red Bull avoided using the softest tyres in the Barcelona test and so their true speed is yet to be revealed. Last year they stunned the paddock by bouncing back from a dreadful pre-season to lead the charge against Mercedes – only for Daniel Ricciardo to be disqualified from second place on a technicality.

Following his breakthrough year Ricciardo can expect a lot more attention this year, and expectations will be high that he can claim the final podium position if the Mercedes pair are out of reach.


Williams should have had a car on the podium in this race last year. But the team’s confidence is high that if the opportunity is there this time – and testing gave every indication it will be – they are better prepared to take advantage of it than they were 12 months ago.


The SF15-T looks sleeker than its predecessor and its power unit seems to have clawed back some of the shortfall to Mercedes. The pressure on Ferrari to reverse their recent decline is tremendous, and this weekend will give the first indication whether they have been successful.


McLaren face a difficult start to the season. Star hiring Fernando Alonso is on the bench after his testing crash, and the MP4-30 has covered so little ground in testing they could be at risk of being eliminated in Q1.

But with its Honda power unit the team has potential to make great strides in very little time. It’s going to be a fascinating weekend for McLaren-watchers.

Alonso’s misfortune has also handed a vital opportunity to Kevin Magnussen. He drove superbly to take a podium finish in last year’s season opener. With the benefit of a year’s experience, he has the chance to show how he might have done in place of Jenson Button in the team this year.

Force India

Despite the late arrival of the VJM08, Force India’s new car proved reliable enough that they covered almost as much ground in three days as McLaren did in three tests.

They should have a reasonable chance of seeing the chequered flag, but having only done limited work on extracting performance from their car they may find it a stretch to score points.

Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso has grown accustomed to showing up at Melbourne with at least one driver who has never seen the track before. This year the track is new to both drivers, at least outside of the simulator.

Daniil Kvyat set a benchmark last year by getting his car into Q3 and bringing it home ninth. Can either of his successors top that?


Lotus head to Melbourne intending to banish the memories of their horrendous start to 2014. “It’s a completely different situation from last year,” said Pastor Maldonado. “We’re much stronger and better prepared for 2015.”

One of the most highly anticipated developments of the weekend will be to see how much more competitive Lotus are, particularly compared to fellow Mercedes customers Williams and Force India.


Against seemingly insurmountable odds, the team formerly known as Marussia has made it to Australia for the start of the season.

However its driver line-up consists of a rookie who was announced a few days ago, and a driver who made a single start at the end of last year. And it will race an updated versions of its 2014 chassis. Merely beating the 107% rule and getting on the grid will be an achievement.


At the time of writing it’s not even possible to say with certainty who will be driving the Saubers this weekend. Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr are the team’s chosen racers, but Giedo van der Garde’s successful court case demanding a place in their line-up has thrown their plans into disarray.

Sauber will appeal the court’s decision on Thursday, less than 24 hours before the cars take to the track for first practice. If they are unsuccessful, the obvious question becomes which of their drivers they will replace – and whether they will bring a lawsuit of their own.

However this unfortunate situation unfolds, it’s a disastrous development for a team striving to recover from a dreadful 2014.

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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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69 comments on “Will Mercedes dominate again? Melbourne will give the first answers”

  1. I think Hamilton will claim his second win on Australian soil this season. Followed by Nico, the two Williams, then Vettel and Raikkonen.

    1. And the Redbulls will crash n burn?

      1. They’ll likely be comprehensively outpaced in the double-DRS zone and Melbourne rewards the best of the late breakers, something the Renault cars still seem to be struggling with because their break-by-wire system is apparently still weak.

        1. Ricciardo was THE overtaker of 2014 without a doubt. And at least 80% of these moves was on the brakes……not with that appalling DRS gismo in the straight, later than the latest possible moment in the brakes….and he was driving a renault-infiniti….. so…..no!

        2. @optimaximal Any source on your weak Redbull BBW system?

        3. Some massive assumptions made to to sound as fact. @optimaximal

          1. With these prerequisites, he could be a motorsports journalist.

        4. I’m basing it on the reliability issues they had during testing (both teams had several off’s attributed to gremlins in the braking system), Renault’s mention of having to improve the overall driveability of the power unit, of which the brake-by-wire system is a factor and the problems it caused for the 4 teams running it last year.

        5. I don’t normally point out spelling errors but this one made me chuckle. I don’t think any venue rewards the last of the late breakers…

          1. Le Mans 24 hours?

    2. I’m not a RBR fan (by any means!), but based on Renault claims that they have gotten 5% better on fuel usage this will help RIC by running with less fuel which will put less strain on his tires throughout the race. He already seems to have an amazing ability to save his tires so I could see him making a strong late race charge and getting a podium or at least close to it.

      So I wouldn’t count RBR out of it yet.

      1. Having said that, let me be very clear: At this point NOBODY is close to Merc for the front of the field. I’m talking about best of the rest where RBR may surprise us. I’m pulling for Williams though, as my sentimental favorite :)

      2. Not getting overly excited, as it seems they are comparing to the situation a year ago, when Renault had already made significant strides by mid season last year @daved

    3. knoxploration
      11th March 2015, 18:07

      The key thing here is that Merc will dominate again this year, and we all know it. Hell, we all knew that they’d dominate 2015 at the start of the *last* season.

      This isn’t how F1 should be — it is now entirely an engine formula — but one with extremely limited engine development in-season, and next to no testing out-of-season — and pretty much any driver on the grid would end up in the first two places on the podium if given a chance in the Merc.

      1. now entirely an engine formula

        I didn’t realise, Mercedes, Maclaren, Force India and Williams were filling all 1st. 8 places every race last year.

        1. knoxploration
          11th March 2015, 23:37

          They weren’t filling all eight places, but the very fact that Williams got third place — their best result in a decade, when they’d been near the back of the grid and languishing or even getting worse for the previous 6-8 seasons — says it all really. Place the Merc engine in a team that was effectively an also-ran, and suddenly it scores third place.

          And it’s no coincidence that four of the top six teams were on Merc engines, either.

    4. I think it will be Hamilton, Rosberg, Ricciardo, Bottas, Massa, Raikkonen, Vettel, Kvyat, Alonso and then Grosjean.

      1. If your talking over a season, maybe, but in the race, alonso’s not even in it.

    5. Exactly the same prediction for me regarding the top five as things stand.

    6. @ PorscheF1
      Don’t count on it! Riccardo on podium again….legally this time. (if we are just going to throw them out there here is my thought)

  2. In a word yes.

    In the unlikely event of both Mclarens finishing… and K Mag is running ahead of Button, do we think Mclaren will have him move over?

    1. @brawngp Hardly, as one race does not make a season. After Melbourne last year, everyone had KM down as the next Lewis…

    2. Not on the basis of one race. Not a chance. Button has a 2 year contract. I don’t think McLaren will mess with that :)

      1. There is some confusion here, perhaps @brawngp would like to clarify because I thought that he meant would the team tell Kevin to let Button through if Magnussen was running ahead of him during the race. Not would they make Jenson stand down if Magnussen beats him in Melbourne.

        1. Im suprised it needed clarifying but as @debaser91 noted, of course I was talking about Kevin moving over. Why would Button move over if he was behind!?
          The reason i brought it up was that Kevin is only driving one race so doesnt need the points. Do we think they rather have button finish ahead in case the car comes good and every point counts?

        2. It would make sense if they’re running together at the end (an unlikely event as noted in the OP).

    3. People seem to be placing high expectations on Magnussen’s Australia form based on last year’s result. Magnussen’s 2nd place on debut ahead of Button was certainly a fantastic achievement for his first race, but the finer details should be remembered… Button started 11th because Kimi span near the end of Q2 and caused yellow flags, ruining Button’s final qualifying lap. You might say that he should have set a better lap time earlier in the session, but remember that it was a wet qualifying and the track was steadily drying, so the earlier runs were slower anyway.

      Despite starting 7 places behind Magnussen on the grid (MAG 4th, BUT 11th) Button finished only 3 seconds and one position behind his teammate (Button having better race pace than quali pace has long been a theme of his). So I wouldn’t impose any lofty expectations on Magnussen, especially as he hasn’t done much testing for 2015 (though I suppose Button hasn’t really done that much more).

      However, in this Pirelli era, drivers tend to improve greatly in their second seasons (as the unconventional tyre characteristics tend to give rookies a very steep learning curve for the races), so it’ll be interesting to see if his tyre management/race pace/etc. has improved compared to last year. Magnussen deserves another season, which is why I want to see Honda provide engines to a customer team with Magnussen/Vandoorne as the driver line-up.

    4. Honestly, I think McLaren will be wringing their hands and be happy if they get both cars to the finish more or less fine and if its in the points, they can celebrate that as a great achievement after their longest run during testing was what, 20 laps?

      1. Yes, Button’ll just be nurdling it round and hoping for the best, if they have to make all those unproven bits last five races. But it does remind me of Mansell and the ‘miracle’ with his new Ferrari in 1989!
        Wonder if Kevin will just go for it, since (the plan is) it’s his one and only race?!

      2. Button did 100 laps on a very good day, short-lived tho.

        1. yeah, but that was not in one go, was it. I think they never ran for more than 12-20 laps in a single stint

  3. If there are no safety car periods, my bet is that Lewis and Nico will lap anywhere between 10 to 14 of the 20 cars.

    1. Simon (@weeniebeenie)
      11th March 2015, 13:20

      Given that it’s the first race of the season I can’t see them pushing any harder than necessary for fear of any issues. They’ll just build a buffer and then turn it down.

      1. Ian J. Wakefield (@)
        11th March 2015, 16:53

        Initially I agreed with you, until I realise that baring a team order to hold station, Lewis & Nico would probably be pushing each other along and so will end up going 2+ seconds faster than everyone else (i.e. like Bahrain last year).

  4. I read somewhere Horner saying that Red Bull is close behind Mercedes. And rarely Red Bull reveal their true performance before season starts, so we may have a surprise. Of course, they won’t be fighting Mercs, but they might be less then half a second behind, which would be very encouraging for the rest of the season.

    1. And who said Mercedes were running to their full potential in testing lol the Mercs could be a second ahead of the 2nd placed team

    2. The surprise would be Horner saying something factual rather than something tactical.

  5. As someone on this site pointed out, last year Mercedes’s advantage was greatest at Barcelona, so their quick testing times don’t necessarily imply that they will be far ahead in Melbourne. In fact, I expect the Williams duo to be close to Mercedes, and if either Nico or Lewis doesn’t put the lap together, a Williams might make it onto the front row, and play an important role in the race.

    As for Sauber, they seem to be actively burning their bridges with Van der Garde claiming it is dangerous to put him in the car. That’s going to lead to some very awkward question if Guido does end up driving the car.

    1. @adrianmorse They seem to have played the safety card to try and delay the judgement on the grounds that ‘these F1 teams must know what they’re talking about’. After that fell through, they’re now appealing, hoping to overturn the judgement.

      My guess is they’re hoping that if the decision runs into Friday AM, they’ll get away with it because any change of driver once the event has started has to be done officially via FIA channels with a valid reason for the entered drivers (Nasr & Ericsson) not running.

      Of course, the FIA has its own contracts recognition board, which will probably agree with both the Swiss and Australian court rulings if presented to them, meaning Sauber are between several different rocks and a hard place.

  6. Last year Nico was fighting for his first world title, he had hope and confidence that he could beat Lewis. But after five races into the season where Lewis won four in a row and should have also won the first in Australia, his hopes were dashed, it was like the old days again back in carting. Then came Monaco etc which we have all read enough about.
    Meanwhile Lewis was under a different pressure having already won the championship so early in his career, and so many were expecting him to be a multiple world champion by now. I don’t buy this about Nico being the faster over one lap nonsense. I’ll concede Lewis felt the pressure on the Saturdays and did make a few errors, fair play to Nico for adding to that, but Lewis became more concerned with race setup. Let Nico have pole, I know I can beat him on Sunday. Come the Sunday and a grand prix distance where there is time for the nerves to settle Nico could not beat Lewis in a strait fight for the chequered flag.
    This season Lewis should be settled confidence levels maxed up, reassured that he is the best. There is a real danger if reliability is assured with the Mercedes that he will run away with the title this year. Nico will start the year thinking he has a new plan ie ‘don’t hold your breath when going around a corner’ and I can maybe take it to Lewis this season. But the doubts will soon come back if Lewis takes pole and goes on to win the race this weekend. And if he goes on an early run of wins like last year, I fear that Nico might crumble.

    1. I think Lewis showed surprising maturity (which as a HAM fan I didn’t think he actually had in him yet) and put his set up for race conditions vs. qualifying. Nico seems to have panicked and thought that he could set up for Qualy and then use the initial lead to hold Lewis off…..which clearly didn’t work out well for him. But it was the only card he felt he could play apparently to stay ahead of Lewis in the race, even if it didn’t work out most of the time.

      I think if they had the same setup, I believe Lewis is still the fastest “1 lap” driver in the world right now. He even won some polls without an optimal setup for it last year.

      It will be interesting to see how they both approach this season. I’m betting Nico will have time to reflect and change his strategy and aim for race optimization as well. Therefore we’ll see Lewis winning more polls but with similar setups I doubt seriously Nico has the craft to take Lewis in the races once Lewis has the lead. We’ll see.

    2. How is necessary to downplay rosberg awesome qualifying speed to believe he didn’t beat last year first Pole throphy looser. If Ham doesn’t pull out a vettel+redbull 2013 to Werner, the merc has more advantage than redouble never had, then Ros is not that bad or Ham is no that good.
      The real problem is if Ros can stay on top in pole and then stay in front and do a Vettel+redbull 2013

      1. *redbull

  7. Predict first lap dismissals:

    1. Massa
    2. Maldonado
    3. Mehri

    1. Magnussen will be involved too, in a crash brought to you by the letter M.

  8. Although the McLarens came home 2nd and 3rd in Oz last year behind Rosberg, I think they were greatly helped by luck rather than just because the track characteristics making their car quick. IMO they weren’t the second, or even third fastest car there.

    Both Red Bulls and Williams looked faster, but were taken out of contention by various reasons (Ricciardo being disqualified after finishing 2nd on track, Vettel’s engine failure, Massa being taken out at the first corner by Kobayashi after having a great start, Bottas losing at least 30 seconds after hitting the wall and still managing to finish 5th).

    The wet qualifying session also meant that Williams had a lower grid position than they would’ve had in dry weather, as Williams always struggled in wet conditions last year. They started 9th and 10th (Bottas started 15th after a gearbox change though).

    Without the various issues I think that both Williams and of course Ricciardo would have finished ahead of the McLarens (maybe not Vettel because he was down the order in qualifying anyway).

    1. @polo I can agree with you about Williams, but not about Red Bull. It is a general misconception that Ricciardo lost a second place due to a mere technicality, when in reality that technicality was the prime enabler of his second place finish.

      During the tribunal that was held about Red Bull’s infringement, it emerged that in case they would have followed the FIA’s imposed fuel flow model instead of using their own, they would have lost competitivity. To the extent that they would only have finished sixth or seventh at best. If you scroll through the tribunal proceedings transcripts, you’ll find this being mentioned.

      So McLaren were effectively third fastest.

      This is also @keithcollantine as the article seems to also imply that the pace of the RB10 in Melbourne was real.

      1. If the RB was really so uncompetitive at the start of the season how do you explain results from Sepang two weeks later, where SV qualified P2 and finished third?

        1. I didn’t talk about the start of the season in general, I was just talking about Melbourne.
          There is no “if”. Red Bull was not faster than McLaren on merit in Melbourne. What I wrote in my post above is fact.

          And why Melbourne showed a different picture? Well, let me just quote Keith on that one:

          However the low-grip, stop-start track tends not to provide a great pointer for the competitive order throughout the rest of the year.

          1. @mattds Very interesting, thanks for the information – I guess I retract my statement then.

            Is it known if Red Bull also violated the fuel flow rate in qualifying, or was it just during the race? I’d assumed they had some genuine pace as Ricciardo qualified second, but now that I think about it, Red Bull’s car was always very quick in the wet during 2014 – so perhaps that exaggerated their pace.

          2. @polo sorry for the late reply. As far as I know and can verify, they were warned after qualifying as well, so during qualifying something was amiss too.
            RBR reported from the sensor failing during qualifying which probably prompted them to revert to the measuring system they used during the race as well.

      2. Yeah, that “technicality” thing is bothering me, too. They were blatantly ignoring the rules that govern one of the most crucial ingredients for the power output of a combustion engine: fuel flow.
        Also, they pretended to do so because the fuel flow metre onboard Ricciardo’s car broke (partly because they had developped a habit of mechanically manipulating these parts to fit them into the chassis) and because they deemed the procedure prescribed by the FIA in such cases to be inexact. Which turned out to be a huge joke, as their own – obviously biased – method also confirmed that the fuel flow exceeded the maximum allowed.
        So I’m wondering how this can pass as a “technicality”. It was such an obvious fraud that one can’t help but wonder if they really expected to get away with it. In my opinion, they were even lucky to only be stripped of their Melbourne result, as they protested against a very clear ruling without bringing in any new evidence to support their case. I think that it was actually a major scandal, only defused by the very lenient ruling by the FIA.

  9. Behind Mercedes there should be a great battle for best of the rest. I’d say Red Bull look very good, followed by Ferrari, then Williams and Lotus. But even then, teams like McLaren and to a much lesser extent Sauber could throw up surprises as well! And Manor… if they turn up, get close to the 107% rule and don’t burst into flames I’d be delighted for them.

  10. I’d love to read an article on the different levels of domination over the years. I don’t mean the obvious multi-year winning streaks by Vettel/Redbull or Schumacher/Ferrari but more along the lines of individual races like the 1996 Australian race where only the top 5 finished on the the lead lap and second place was over 30s behind (and I’m not even sure that’s even the best example).

    1. @mtlracer There are various seasons where you find utter domination.
      You could start researching the 1988 season. As a quick example, San Marino where only Prost and Senna finished on the lead lap.
      1950 springs to mind, Alfa Romeo domination with most of the time only 2 to 4 drivers on the lead lap.
      In 1992 such races can also be found, e.g. Brazil, 2 drivers on the lead lap.

      I’m sure there are lots more.

    2. @mtlracer, during the 1995 Australian Grand Prix, Damon Hill lapped the entire field at least twice (of course, there were lots of retirements, but I still find it a nice stat).

    3. @mtlracer A more recent example is the wet race at Silverstone in 2008, where Hamilton lapped the entire field except for Barrichello (3rd) and Heidfeld (2nd), ultimately finishing over a minute ahead of second place (1m 8s ahead of Heidfeld, which was the greatest margin of victory since the 1995 Australian Grand Prix, as mentioned by @adrianmorse).

      However, rather than being the result of a dominant car, it was more of a result of Hamilton being one of the only drivers who wasn’t constantly spinning off!

    4. Thanks for the examples. One thing that’s clear, we probably will not see the entire field being lapped again anytime soon due to the nature of the current rules and technical restrictions.
      Nowadays, the car in front hardly ever stretches the lead to more than the time it takes for a slow pit-stop, in order to reduce wear on the engine and other components.

    5. @keithcollantine, @mattds, @adrianmorse, @polo,
      It’s a good thing I’m not a gambler, because never would I have thought only the first five cars would finish on the lead lap, just like the example I gave of 1996!

  11. In regards to McLaren’s aesthetic performance, word has it that their livery is not due to change yet, and given that no changes are allowed after it has been raced, that must mean we are stuck with this now :(

    1. We have become accustomed to disappointment regarding McLaren’s title sponsor announcements (been waiting since December 2013…) and livery changes. Until that title sponsor is signed, this will be McLaren’s 2015 livery, which I don’t mind too much but I can see why it is a disappointment to fans.

      1. I don’t think there is a rule preventing them from making changes to the livery during the season though, @strontium. I may be wrong though. I’m just thinking of a recent example with Red Bull at Silverstone 2012.

        1. @deej92 There is a rule on significant livery changes, which they can’t do without special permission from the FIA. I’m not sure if Red Bull counted as significant, but if so they will have needed permission.

          Sometimes they get permission to run a one-off, or even special one-car only liveries, but according to the link that required agreement from all teams.

          The specific section of the regulations says:

          21.1 Both cars entered by a competitor must be presented in substantially the same livery at each Event, any change to this livery during a Championship season may only be made with the agreement of the Formula One Commission.

          “Substantially the same” does allow for minor changes, but not much :)

          1. @strontium Thanks for the info! I didn’t know teams needed permission to change their livery. That’s something I’ve learnt today! Just looking back, Red Bull’s livery most likely came under “substantially the same”.

            I imagine in the event McLaren do sign a title sponsor and the sponsor wants the livery changed, they will be granted permission to do so as they have a strong reason. So fear not, we might not be stuck with this livery :)

  12. Yes, Mercedes will dominate. My prediction: In terms of the gap to the rest, and/or what is left in reserve, they will bring their domination of F1 to a whole new level.

  13. Will Alonso be attending the event?

  14. I think, yes, they will.

  15. I can’t seem to muster up much care for F1 at the moment, there doesn’t seem to be much talk about the damage to the F1 product Mercs ridiculous over domination is causing.
    I only half understand how this situation came about but somebody at the FIA has made a huge cockup allowing it to happen.
    With absolutely no opportunity for anyone besides Merc to win any GP, its a pretty crap watch these days and an even worse watch for neutrals.

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