Charles Leclerc, Lewis Hamilton, Circuit de Catalunya, 2019

Are Ferrari or Mercedes ahead? Five Australian GP talking points

2019 Australian Grand Prix

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The wait is almost over. The first practice session for the 2019 F1 season begins on Friday.

Who will lead the way in the Australian Grand Prix? That’s the first of our five talking points for this weekend.

Mercedes versus Ferrari: Who’s on top?

Pre-season testing followed a familiar form. Before they’d even wheeled the W10 out of the garage Mercedes were lowering expectations, talking about how the new aerodynamic rules could make rivals of any of the other nine teams – a dubious claim from the team bidding to win a sixth consecutive constructors’ championship title.

Ferrari, who have flattered to deceive in testing before, looked quick straight out of the box. Sebastian Vettel raved about his new SF90 after his first day in the car.

In the second week Mercedes brought an extensive aerodynamic update for its car and showed rather more of its potential. When the chequered flag fell, the red cars were just three-thousandths of a second quicker on headline times.

However the Ferrari gave the impression of being a more benign, compliant car. Mercedes appears to have created another chassis with immense potential, but one which operates on a knife-edge.

But Albert Park in Melbourne is nothing like the Circuit de Catalunya. Which of these two teams is on top will come down to who finds the best set-up for the bumpy, point-and-squirt street track. Unless we’re going to get a real surprise…

Are Red Bull close?

Although Red Bull have said it will take a few races to judge the ultimate potential of its new partnership with Honda, the team has to have been pleased with how its pre-season testing programme went. New driver Pierre Gasly’s off-track excursions were the only significant disruptions to its running.

The team now says it has brought forward a planned aerodynamic update for its RB15 for this weekend’s race. Will that plus its new power units allow it to start the season in stronger shape than last year?

Max Verstappen was seven-tenths of a second off pole position at this track last year. That will be the first reference for the team this weekend. But expect a rapid rate of progress from them as the Honda relationship beds in.

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Williams: Just how bad will it be?

Will the FW42 prove to be a case of ‘better late than never’? The team didn’t get its new car finished in time for the start of testing, and its former chief technical officer has taken a ‘leave of absence’, though not before claiming its new car is more consistent than its slow and unpredictable predecessor.

It doesn’t look like being the F1 debut which F2 champion George Russell dreamed of, nor the return to the sport Robert Kubica has spent eight years waiting for. But never rule out the possibility of a first-round shock, particularly at this unconventional circuit.

Have 2019 changes added to the show?

Nico Hulkenberg, Renault, Circuit de Catalunya, 2019
Will those huge new wings make a difference?
Many of the visible changes on this year’s cars have been made in the name of improving the quality of racing. Simpler front wings to reduce ‘outwash’ and allow cars to follow more closely. Bigger rear wings to compensate for the lost downforce and create a more powerful DRS effect.

Will they do the job? We shouldn’t make that call on the basis of one race, and Albert Park is not very representative of many of the circuits to follow.

However it should give drivers the first proper chance to judge whether an improvement has been made in how closely cars can follow each other. The verdict in testing was mixed. Kevin Magnussen’s positive impression – on the strength of one occasion when he followed another car – received a lot of coverage. But the more muted reactions of other drivers such as Sebastian Vettel were not widely reported.

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What difference will a point for fastest lap make?

An 11th-hour rules change ahead of the new season will see the driver who sets the fastest lap of the race score a bonus point, providing they finish in the top 10. Will it make a significant difference to the action?

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. Tell us about your experience at Albert Park here:

Who do you think will be the team to beat in the Australian Grand Prix? Have your say below.

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2019 Australian Grand Prix

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    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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    56 comments on “Are Ferrari or Mercedes ahead? Five Australian GP talking points”

    1. @keithcollantine

      The first practice session for the 2019 F1 season begins tomorrow

      aren’t you a day early ?

      1. Maybe it’s a time-zone thing!

        1. @geekzilla9000 It can’t be because it’s still Wednesday (today) on the race venue as well, so it indeed should read ‘the day after tomorrow’ instead to be more precise.

          1. Keith is just super excited!

            1. As are we!

      2. Depends on the time zone.

        1. Not at the time of posting it didn’t

    2. Mercedes versus Ferrari: Who’s on top? – Still too early to judge properly solely based on pre-season testing. We’ll have to wait till qualifying at least.

      Are Red Bull close? – The same as above.

      Williams: Just how bad will it be? – Dead last in both qualifying and the race pace-wise.

      Have 2019 changes added to the show? – Too early to judge.

      What difference will a point for fastest lap make? – Whether it has a direct impact on things or not is, of course, going to depend heavily on where the driver who achieves the fastest lap of a race finishes since only the top-10 finishers will be eligible for that extra point so that it can vary race-by-race.

      1. Mercedes versus Ferrari: Who’s on top? – Still too early to judge properly solely based on pre-season testing. We’ll have to wait till qualifying at least

        Aaah i love these statements-
        don’t read anything into testing turns to fp doesn’t tell you much, after qualy You are supposed to remember that points are handed out sunday, after which you are told that albert Park is a very different circuit so Maybe Bahrain will give a better picture which however is a Night race and anyways we won’twon’ t know until the start of the european season when teams bring their major updates but of course essential is how teams will get on after the summer break so come fp1 in singapore we might get a clearer picture….. the circle never stops, does it?

        1. Mercedes versus Ferrari: Who’s on top? – Still too early to judge properly solely based on pre-season testing. We’ll have to wait till qualifying at least

          The answer to that question is always as follows @jerejj @mrboerns:

          After testing: It’s too early to tell, let’s wait for Melbourne.
          After Melbourne: It’s too early to tell, let’s see where we are after 5 races.
          After 5 races: It’s too early to tell, let’s see where we are at mid-season.
          After mid-season: It’s been a good season so far, but there is a long way to go so lets see closer to the end of the season.
          With 5 races to go: It’s been a good season so far, but there is a long way to go.
          Once the final race has ended: Team X has clearly been fastest since the car first ran in testing.

        2. Even by Abu Dhabi we’re still arguing whether Mercedes or Ferrari is better the last couple of years.

          1. @hugh11 Not me. Mercedes has been WCC since 2014. As to the last few years Ferrari had late season unreliability in 2017, and last year they went backwards on development until they realized it and reverted back to earlier ways and then got strong again. In both seasons you just can’t do that against relentless Mercedes, and hence the Mercedes WCC domination.

            Otherwise I’m sure many comments around here will go as follows…if Mercedes wins this weekend many will say that’s it, no point watching the season, it’s done and dusted. If Ferrari wins it will be only a matter of time before SV errs his way out of the Championships;)

            1. @Robbie

              2018 Merc had the reliability issues, yet it gets ignored. While Ferrari’s reliability issues in 2017 gets wheeled out at every turn.

              In 2018 Mercs problems with their upgrades get ignored (Canada & 3 races where their tyres overheated due to them having problems using their upgrade package solution (wheel rims), while Ferrari’s 3 race problem with their upgrades gets wheel out at every turn

              Too many excuses being used for Ferrari’s failure in 2017 & 2018

            2. @amam It’s not making excuses. Everyone knows Merc had some issues too, but they seem to always work their way out of early issues and end the season strong. So all I’m saying is that I think it is inaccurate to say Ferrari had the better or the faster car in 17 or 18. Mercedes did overall in both seasons and that is why they won the WCC both years too.

            3. @Robbie, the reason why Merc won in 2018 was because their lead driver maximised his opportunities & avoided mistakes. But when you add on reliability, Vettel arguably had the better car but he threw away too many points crashing, errors etc

              2017, it was close-closer than the final results suggest, but i’d agree Merc slightly ahead in 2017 (but not 2018)

            4. @robbie
              I agree with you, and allow me to go further: whether Ferrari car is faster or not, it doesn’t matter much. The difference is and will still be marginal, but Mercedes is clearly the better team. That’s what made difference last couple of years, hence the titles.

              Ferrari has a fair shot this year with Binotto, but still they’re playing catch up.

            5. @niefer

              Better team (but not better car per se in 2018). At the very least, the SF71H & Wo9 were even.

              Better team because their lead driver avoided mistakes, maximised his chances and therefore put less pressure on the Merc pitwall. Less pressure, means less pitwall chaos.

            6. @amam Indeed Ham’s form made it happen, that’s no question about it. But honestly, just to name a simple change, had been Rosberg alongside him, I’m sure Vettel’d be 6x champ by now. Also, had it been Vettel at Mercedes, at least one of the last two WDC would be at his bag by now.

              Seems a stretch, right?

              I say that because regardless of Vettel’s ridiculous form, I see both drivers at marginal difference as well. If we pay close attention, considering solely the drivers, it is the head that has made difference in the end. With Lewis, simple things going wrong may trouble him, as we’ve seen last season in some occasions. But Mercedes is well cemented enough for him to rely on and still rise. That is why he could perform superbly. For Vettel, however, it’s just entropy. He cannot count on Ferrari at all. Yet.

              Actually, I reckon Ferrari will always be a mess compared to any other front-running team.

            7. @niefer
              “If we pay close attention, considering solely the drivers, it is the head that has made difference in the end. With Lewis, simple things going wrong may trouble him, as we’ve seen last season in some occasions. But Mercedes is well cemented enough for him to rely on and still rise. That is why he could perform superbly. For Vettel, however, it’s just entropy. He cannot count on Ferrari at all. Yet.”

              I disagree. Merc couldn’t be relied upon many times. For example, they often got strategy wrong. But Hamilton handled things better than Vettel. Where as Vettel would respond by crashing or spinning, Hamilton would respond by bagging as many points as he could. For example Italy, Australia. I can only think of Austria where Hamilton reacted badly to the team losing him the lead by not pitting him under the SC. In the end, it made no difference as the car broke down anyway.

            8. @amam You may disagree, but yet it was the head that made difference between them. I say it’s a matter of who do you trust, who got your back.

              Mercedes may have gone wrong at some points, granted, no one is flawless. But the key factor is they still put everything together whilst Ferrari didn’t at all.

              Remember the radios, Lewis trusted his staff so much that he got so confused when something gone wrong. At Vettel’s side, he was always questioning the strategy and “we talk later” and stuff.

              At Germany, Merc had his back, but Ferrari hadn’t at Italy. That parallel alone should illustrate pretty well my point.

            9. I can only think of Austria where Hamilton reacted badly to the team losing him the lead by not pitting him under the SC. In the end, it made no difference as the car broke down anyway.

              Here we enter another field of argument.

              I fully agree Hamilton handled the odds better than Vettel. Yet there is a point to consider: even when Hamilton reacted badly, things panned his way. Everytime Vettel reacted badly, things panned crazy.

              At Germany, everything just came together for Lewis. Sure, he made his way, but just as Vettel did tons of times and still conditions kept bad for him. Another good example is China. Verstappen could’ve taken both out, but only screwed Vettel’s race. However, I believe fortuity should not get heavily into account, and that’s why I don’t blame Seb much for Hockenheim or Paul Ricard crashes, but I do blame him heavily for Monza and Baku.

              Now, let’s remember Lewis kinda lost it when he overdrove the car at Australia chasing Seb. Could have been at Sachs chasing Seb for 1st place, and and we’d have a different story. Again, circumstances and fortuity are part of the game.

              Those things may help to explain why Vettel’s campaign melted down. But they’re not the ultimate reason. The reason is Mercedes is the better team and that is what makes the difference when you have a so levelled up dispute between drivers.

              Going back above, the very German GP where everything came together for Lewis, Mercedes got his back when needed. On the other side, the very Chinese GP where things went wrong for Seb, Ferrari failed him 2x when needed, at strategy.

              There is no doubt Hamilton was the better. But that could fairly change if Ferrari was at Mercedes level.

            10. @amam Sorry, forgot to tag you.
              And just to complement, I overused GER because it’s the most representative, but things panned out Ham’s way at AZE, HUN, BEL, GBR*, ITA*, etc. I’m not going to mention the others because I do believe the championship ended at Italy. There I knew it was over.

              *clear episodes when Merc had his back where it effectively made the difference in the outcome.

            11. @niefer
              I don’t agree. Ferrari showed they had Vettel’s back far earlier than Merc showed they had Hamilton’s back. While Merc was compromising Hamilton to help Bottas in Bahrain, Ferrari were already throwing their weight behind Vettel as early as China. In China, they compromised Kimi to help Vettel. They had Vettel’s back. Merc didn’t fully throw their weight behind Hamilton until after Germany, yet you never saw Hamilton crash & spin before this full support came. And as for Australia, the team lost him the lead. Hamilton tried to get it back & yes he ran a little wide in doing so, but he backed off and settled for the points, instead of over risking and crashing out, which is what vettel tended to do. As for Hungary, Vettel underperformed in wet qualy, while Hamilton delivered. What made the difference in Italy was Hamilton making that pass on Vettel on the first lap, whiile Vettel crashed trying to get it back. That pass by hamilton proved imperative for Merc/Hamilton’s strategy to play out. Baku, Vettel was impatient & made that silly overtake attempt on Bottas, badly locked up , ruined his tyres & lost places. He should have know to wait for a better opportunity. Vettel made a lot of silly mistakes in 2018. He was his own worse enemy.

            12. *Where as Vettel would respond by crashing or spinning, Hamilton would respond by bagging as many points as he could. For example Italy, Australia.

              Edit, i meant to say Russia , Australia

            13. @amam actually, the first time both got explicit treatment was at the Germany GP. After that, Mercedes kept having HAM’s back while Arrivabene hang VET out to dry. Then, he melted for good.

              Vettel was his worse enemy, no doubt about it. I’m just confident his mind would be at the right place had Ferrari been the better team.

              Mercedes started as a diva and stuff but soon put together, Ferrari ended messing it’s own development when VET needed most.

              My point has nothing to do with luck or who is the better driver, however. It is just that the best team is the one that responds better to the challenges, and on that Mercedes has been unbeatable.

              Having said that,

              And as for Australia, the team lost him the lead. Hamilton tried to get it back & yes he ran a little wide in doing so, but he backed off and settled for the points, instead of over risking and crashing out, which is what vettel tended to do.

              Just like that he would’ve crashed out at Sachs under rain. It has to do with circumstance. Both made mistakes, HAM eagerly overdrove the car, VET slept at the wheel, whatever: mind’s business. Split second decision, misfortune. 2nd for Lewis, retirement for Seb. Fair enough, it happens.

              Here, I don’t judge neither. As of Hungary, where Vettel overdrove the car and blew his lap because Mercedes had the best package at wet (and the best wet driver, of course).

              Now, Baku it was his own doing. Way worse than Hockenheim.
              Italy as well. Here, however, driver and team share the blame.
              Ferrari’s share way bigger though: straight fight for the WDC, Merc cuts out BOT’s legs without thinking; Ferrari shoots RAI in the foot, then carries him over. What the heck?
              ==
              Bahrain, Lewis qualified after Bottas and started way behind because of gearbox.
              China, Ferrari compromised Vettel’s race, the pole, allowing Bottas to undercut and not pitting him at the SC (nor Raikkonen, 5th at the time, another Ferrari mega blunder). Both ended up badly without grip.
              Russia, how come HAM responded an odd there? Again, it was Mercedes having his back (totally unnecessarily, I must say).

            14. @niefer

              “the first time both got explicit treatment was at the Germany GP”

              Wrong. After the SC restart in Germany, Bottas was allowed to initially attack Hamilton for the lead.But once Hamilton got his tyres up to temp, and started to pull away from Bottas, ONLY THEN, did Merc ask Bottas to back off for fear of both of them crashinng out–not because they favoured Hamilton. Bottas was given his chance to overtake, and snatch the lead from Hamilton, but he couldn’t pull it off. Bottas even states this.

              “Mercedes started as a diva and stuff but soon put together, Ferrari ended messing it’s own development when VET needed most.”

              No! Merc had their own issues with development during the season but people like to brush it under the carpet to make it appear that Vettel had to deal with worse. Merc had problems with their engine upgrade in Canada and they also suffered tyre overheating issues in Mexico, USA as they were not allowed to use their wheelrim upgrade package.

              “Just like that he would’ve crashed out at Sachs under rain”?

              Why?Hamilton excels in the rain. Vettel crashed out in the clear lead, with no pressure, controlling the pace. At least Hamilton ran wide trying to chase down Vettel on a track which is the 2nd most difficult to pass (Australia).

              “As of Hungary, where Vettel overdrove the car and blew his lap because Mercedes had the best package at wet ”

              Where’s the proof Merc had the best package in the wet? Kimi was actually on provisional pole and was on course to take pole position until his team sent Kimi out into traffic/spray. But Kimi said the car was great & that he had the pace for pole. Kimi showed the Ferrari was good in the rain. Vettel just simply underperformed. Vettel actually said he was lacking the confidence in the wet. So don’t blame the car.

              “Bahrain, Lewis qualified after Bottas and started way behind because of gearbox.”

              So? Lewis was still kept out long, to act as car block, to help Bottas try attack Vettel. So much for Merc having Lewis’ back!!!!

              “China, Ferrari compromised Vettel’s race, the pole, allowing Bottas to undercut and not pitting him at the SC (nor Raikkonen, 5th at the time, another Ferrari mega blunder). Both ended up badly without grip.”

              Vettel made a mistake going into the pits, that contributed as to why Bottas was able to undercut him, And Vettel had already passed the pitlane entrance so Ferrari COULDN’T pit Vet, even if they wanted to.

              “Russia, how come HAM responded an odd there? Again, it was Mercedes having his back (totally unnecessarily, I must say)”

              What are you talking about? Merc messed up Hamilton’s strategy, allowing Vettel to undercut him. But instead of responding by spinning & crashing as Vettel would, Hamilton calmly overtook the place back

            15. @aman

              once Hamilton got his tyres up to temp, and started to pull away from Bottas, ONLY THEN, did Merc ask Bottas to back off for fear of both of them crashinng out–not because they favoured Hamilton. Bottas was given his chance to overtake, and snatch the lead from Hamilton, but he couldn’t pull it off. Bottas even states this.

              First things first, Mercedes ruined Bottas’ race at the SC pitstop, which handed the place to Lewis. And man, please don’t say nonsenses: they cut BOT’s legs at 0.4secs behind Lewis, he was chasing for the win. Only then HAM pulled away. Of course after the race the Wingman did his job. They backed Hamilton, not wrong at all, but they did. Fact.

              No! Merc had their own issues with development during the season but people like to brush it under the carpet to make it appear that Vettel had to deal with worse. Merc had problems with their engine upgrade in Canada and they also suffered tyre overheating issues in Mexico, USA as they were not allowed to use their wheelrim upgrade package.

              The crux of it is Mercedes never was off victory contention pace, maybe apart from Canada. Ferrari lost it for several races after Monza. Vettel did dealt with worse.

              Why?Hamilton excels in the rain. Vettel crashed out in the clear lead, with no pressure, controlling the pace. At least Hamilton ran wide trying to chase down Vettel on a track which is the 2nd most difficult to pass (Australia).

              My mistake: HAM would’ve crashed out at Sachs regardless of rain or not. Had him lost it there, it’s gravel, end of race, just like it happened to VET. That’s what I meant. There’s not even kerbs there.

              Where’s the proof Merc had the best package in the wet? Kimi was actually on provisional pole and was on course to take pole position until his team sent Kimi out into traffic/spray. But Kimi said the car was great & that he had the pace for pole. Kimi showed the Ferrari was good in the rain. Vettel just simply underperformed. Vettel actually said he was lacking the confidence in the wet. So don’t blame the car.

              The same where is proof HAM is the best wet driver: performance and results.
              I’m not blaming Seb’s car, I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m saying Mercedes has the better wet package.
              The rain came to mess his head, since at dry it was his advantage, hence the outcome. He messed up, but Baku was fair worse, that’s why I meant it in the first place, not to justify anything.

              So? Lewis was still kept out long, to act as car block, to help Bottas try attack Vettel. So much for Merc having Lewis’ back!!!!

              Yeah, right. The Wingman should’ve used some interesting tactics shovelling everyone out so only then Mercedes would have HAM’s back.

              Vettel made a mistake going into the pits, that contributed as to why Bottas was able to undercut him, And Vettel had already passed the pitlane entrance so Ferrari COULDN’T pit Vet, even if they wanted to.

              Oh, it’s Vettel who messed the pit now, eh? Right.
              Ferrari could’ve pitted RAI, they didn’t. Blunder. They could’ve pitted both later, they didn’t. Blunder! Vettel ended 8th place if I’m not wrong. 8th because of no grip. And you say Vettel is the one to blame?!

              What are you talking about? Merc messed up Hamilton’s strategy, allowing Vettel to undercut him. But instead of responding by spinning & crashing as Vettel would, Hamilton calmly overtook the place back

              I’m talking about unnecessarily robbing a rightful win from BOT just to please HAM, who btw got unpleased because it was dumbly pointless. VET already lost on track, HAM was pulling away, he would never lose the place, yet the pitlane did that.
              But since you say it was Vettel’s fault to get undercut, I suppose it’s fair to blame Hamilton for the same thing, eh?

            16. @niefer
              Germany: Bottas admits Hamilton had already began to pull away by the time the order came & that it would have been tricky to overtake Hamilton(because you need a bigger pace difference in cars). And it’s common sense. On a slippery track, rather you have your drivers hold station than risk colliding and earning no points. It had nothing to do with favouring Hamilton. Merc gave Bottas his chance to attack Hamilton over many laps, but Bottas couldn’t get the job done. Bottas admits they were free to race immediately after the SC. All Bottas’s comments/quotes are there for you to google & check for yourself.

              “The crux of it is Mercedes never was off victory contention pace, maybe apart from Canada. Ferrari lost it for several races after Monza. Vettel did dealt with worse.”

              No, ferrari lost it for 2 races (Russia & Japan). Singapore was more down to Vet crashing in FP, throwing the whole weekend into chaos, & the Ferrari drivers not getting a good preparation for their runs in Q3. But their race pace was good. And you are foretting Merc nearly got lapped in Mexico so shocking was their race pace due to overheating tyres.

              Again, where is the proof Merc was better in the wet? Kimi seemed to manage ok with his car. He did well. The problem was more with Vettel rather than the Ferrari car.

              And so what of Ferrari didn’t pit Kimi under the SC in China? Merc also messed up & didn’t pit Hamilton in China. And the point re Russia is that Merc messed up Hamilton’s strategy yet again, but Hamilton didn’t respond by spinning & crashing!

            17. @amam
              Since you trust drivers words so much, google up Vettel saying Ferrari’s package wasn’t competitive enough at damp.

              Germany: MER messed BOT’s race and stopped him to retake the front. Russia: MER messed HAM’s race and messed BOT’s race and head just to make up for something HAM already had resolved, which was getting his place back. Trace the parallel and you might get where I am standing about having a driver’s back. Again, I’m not saying it’s wrong (though at Russia it was).

              Singapore: dude, you’re stretching a bit. That “crash” was at FP2. For long runs they had the other car for data. Yet, the car couldn’t content for the win. VET couldn’t even keep up VER’s pace. Distant 3rd place.

              Mexico: the outcome was due to tyre strategy. HAM had the pace. Qualified ahead of Ferrari, challenged VER, but lost on lack of strategy by MER. They could’ve briefed better though.

              And so what of Ferrari didn’t pit Kimi under the SC in China?

              Here we see how messed Ferrari was (and HAM was way closer to the front pack than RAI). You keep targeting Vettel while I’m talking about Ferrari. Honestly, this went too far by now. I rest my case, clearly we’re not at the same page.

      2. I think Ferrari has a bit of edge, but race conditions can always change the status upside down… Merc and Ferrari will share fronts back n forth…
        Next team after them to be seen… what i m most keen to see is if honda is reliable but not on good race pace, how will Max will react to it being slow with Gasly challenging him constantly and i suspect the two will most likely clash more than once…. how the team will cope with them?

    3. Not sure if it is realistic or just wishful thinking:
      1) I think that Ferrari will be slightly ahead of Mercedes (and Vettel recharged and charging);
      2) Red Bull will be less than 0.5s behind (mixing with Mercedes on the grid)
      3) Williams will indeed be dead last; I can only hope that this year they have a good basis and can accelerate development throughout the season.
      4) I do expect the new wings to make a difference in following through the curvy bits. Cars can now follow within 2s without ruining their tyres immediately. Hope to see more drivers chasing up the car in front
      5) FLAP point will at least create an extra storyline during the latter parts of the GP. I hope though that a number 11-20 car gets a FLAP to show how ridiculous it is to have a 2-tier rule
      bonus) I’m extremely excited about F1.5. I think the field have condensed with McLaren closer, STR in the mix, Alfa charging, and Racing Point steadily improving. Renault will always be there, but not sure about Haas yet.

      1. Renault will always be there, but not sure about Haas yet.

        @coldfly – really? I’d think Haas would be in the thick of the midfield. Maybe not at the forefront, but definitely mixing it up there. I’d see them tangling with the Alfa Romeos far more this year.

        And Renault… hmm, I’m thinking that this is hopefully the year that they actually start stepping forward from the midfield. And with a Honda PU, it remains to be seem whether RBR oblige and take half a step back to meet Renault in the middle, a potential F1.25, if you will.

        1. RBR oblige and take half a step back

          That would be really gentlemen-like and a fitting ‘thank you’ for all those years and titles powered by Renault ;)
          @phylyp

          Haas was close to the top of F1.5 last year (amazing start to the season). I feel that they are a bit further down, but still in the midfield. Haas just doesn’t seem to be a good in-season developer, and I can see them lose the fight for the midfield due to that.

        2. @phylyp, the relative position of Haas is probably the biggest unknown at the moment, because their performance in the pre-season tests has been very ambiguous.

          Most of the time, their long run pace has pointed towards them being in the middle of the midfield pack, behind McLaren, Renault and potentially Alfa too, suggesting they’ve slipped back a bit compared to their form in 2018.

          However, there was an interesting stint on the C2 tyre on the last day of testing that was fairly lengthy (25 laps), quite consistent and potentially quick enough to potentially even threaten Red Bull. It seems that final quick stint was missed by most observers, but on some forums the performance that Haas showed over that stint has caused a bit of a stir.

          To some extent, it may be reminiscent of their form in 2018 though – as ColdFly notes, they started the season with a fairly quick car too, but seemed to lose out in the development race over the season.

      2. @coldfly

        Kind of agree with most of your predictions.

        I do think Ferrari will be the quickest car at the start of the season, and I don’t see Mercedes or Red Bull bridging the gap up until the mid point of the season. Vettel should be on it as well. When he’s got a car significantly quicker than the competition, he rarely feels the pressure, and that’s when he’s at his best.

        Red Bull will be battling with Mercedes at the start of the season, around 0.5s down on the Ferraris. My guess is Red Bull will trail Mercedes on points though.. because of poor reliability. Honda still hasn’t done a season using less than 8 to 9 power units on each car, so I don’t expect that number to magically drop to 3.

        Williams will be dead last… no doubt about it.

        Agree with the following closer as well. I reckon they should at least be able to get within 1.5 to 1.6 seconds of the car in front. I also think DRS will be more powerful this year… so if they make it to the 1 second mark, we should see plenty of artificial overtaking.

        The FLAP point is silly. It should have been for the whole grid.. at least we could have seen some action among the F1.5 teams during the dying stages of a race.

      3. @coldfly Vettel recharged and charging

        That means there’s a danger of him overcharging which is exactly the problem he had last year…

    4. Will the extra point make a difference.

      Yes it’ll lead to a whole lot of annoying banter from the commentary team as will the new names for tyres.

      As for the rest of the questions I expect some surprises, the most likely being that the midfield is nowhere near as close to the front runners as people think they will be.

      1. annoying banter from the commentary team

        @dbradock – ah, I’m not alone in dreading this verbal assault!

      2. ‘And on go the explosive C4 compound tyres’

        1. pitcrew doing the ol’ switcheroo there? @hugh11

    5. 1 – Ferrari, probably.
      2 – Hopefully.
      3 – Dear god, please let it not be as bad as it looked in testing.
      4 – Probably not.
      5 – None, probably.

      1. 1 – Mercedes although it won’t necessarily be apparent in Australia due to the nature of the track
        2 – I think it’ll be similar to last year with similar reliability.
        3 – They’ll struggle initially but they’ll catch up to the rear of the pack throughout the season.
        4 – No
        5 – Not significantly but we’ll see a few teams pit and go for fastest lap when the opportunity presents itself.

    6. @keithcollantine – Mercedes is bidding for their 6th consecutive constructors’ title not fifth as mentioned in the article.

    7. Isn’t this the party venue with party mode? Hamilton will be sandbagging till Qualifying before pushing the “party mode”, which worth of 0.5sec. Wait, Vettel crossing the line 0.4sec faster now! Ferrari’s party mode is 0.9sec ahead of others…

    8. Regarding the championship point now on offer for fastest lap, I think it would be great fun if teams on the outside of the top 10 were able to chuck on a new set of soft tires at the end of the race and (consistently) prevent the point being awarded at all. Whether or not they are even inclined to try remains to be seen. Given the added risk to equipment for no reward other than egg on the faces of the impulsive rule makers, probably not.

      1. That might be the main task for the B-teams now.
        Snatch the FLAP when a competing big team has been the fastest; it could be the 1 point the A-team needs at the end of the season.

    9. The fastest lap points will probably benefit Mercedes even more as their strategy department is usually better than the others, especially Ferrari.

      1. The fastest lap usually goes to a top team with a driver who is well out of position and therefore can put on a new set of tyres at the end of the race. Last year it often was Bottas, but also Ricciardo picked up a lot of fastest laps

    10. If the fight for driver title is incredibly close like in 2016 then that fastest lap point debacle with sting the driver who had most finishes ahead of 2nd place driver and we might have an undeserving drivers champion just like that double point system for last race might have done.

    11. Hope the prediction championship will continue this year, still no word about it. Would be great if it allows submission before the weekend.
      Caption competition and a bit more visibility about the prediction championship are the missing bits with the recent development of racefans.net
      There is so much positive to cheer about though but still those 2 made the site a lot more friendly and unique.

    12. Re #4, even if drivers can’t get closer to the car in front, that could still be a success for the new front wings; there’s a good chance that even if they *aren’t* able to run closer than in 2018, things would’ve been much worse if the new regs hadn’t been brought in. So even slowing down the rate at which cars are less able to follow can still be considered a positive.

    13. Anyone else notice that George Russell looks like a ventriloquist’s dummy?

    14. Don’t know if I’m odd, but I’ve no interest in the Ferrari/ Mercedes battle whatsoever. I’m really excited to see how the Renault/Mclaren/Haas/Alfa/TorroRosso/RP battle will pan out!

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