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.
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.
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 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.
Are you going to the Australian Grand Prix?
If you’re heading to Australia for this weekend’s race, we want to hear from you.
We’ve got a dedicated group and forum for people going to the race.
You can embed your pictures from the race via Flickr and videos via YouTube and other major video-sharing accounts. Join in here:
Over to you
Who do you think will be the team to beat in the Australian Grand Prix? Have your say below.
F1 Fanatic Predictions Championship
And don’t forget to enter your predictions for this weekend’s race. You can edit your predictions until the start of qualifying:
2015 Australian Grand Prix
- Sponsor Watch: 2015 Australian and Malaysian GP
- Nasr wins Driver of the Weekend poll on debut
- F1 can only get better after lifeless Melbourne opener
- 2015 Australian Grand Prix team radio highlights
- 2015 Australian Grand Prix fans’ video gallery