After months of withdrawal symptoms, it is almost time for the famous five red lights to signal the start of a brand new season. The F1 circus has arrived in Melbourne and it is time for the first Weekend Preview of the year. Mercedes have the weight of expectation on their shoulders yet Williams are widely tipped to have the most potential to spring a surprise down-under.
- The first Australian Grand Prix was held in 1985 at Adelaide. The circuit hosted the event for 11 years.
- Adelaide is now home to the Clipsal 500, a blue-riband event of the V8 Supercars calender.
- Albert Park has hosted the Australian Grand Prix since 1996, with the first race at the venue being won by Damon Hill after a valiant effort by debutante Jacques Villenueve.
- 58 laps will be the duration of Sunday’s race.
- Jenson Button has three victories in Melbourne, (2009, 2010 and 2012), yet Michael Schumacher’s four victories at Albert Park is the benchmark.
Rewind 12 Months…
The second wet qualifying session in succession in Australia meant that rain-soaked fans deserved an excellent show and the performers certainly delivered. Daniel Ricciardo sent his adoring fans wild in the final part of qualifying, snatching provisional pole and setting the tone for the season to come. It was almost a perfect induction to Red Bull for the Aussie, but for Lewis Hamilton’s last-gasp heroics, as he placed his hat on the first pole of the season.
However, the Brit’s opening weekend of 2014 turned into a damp squib come Sunday, as he was forced into retirement within the opening laps due to the loss of a cylinder. This paved the way for Nico Rosberg to cruise to an opening round victory, 30 seconds clear of Ricciardo. Ecstasy turned to agony later on for him as a fuel flow irregularity led to his disqualification, turning a fine drive to third for Kevin Magnussen into an even better points haul with a second place on debut, and elevating Jenson Button into the top three. The trophy made it to Jense in the post…
If all proceeds according to plan, it looks unlikely that Mercedes will be ousted from their position of pre-eminence this weekend. As such, it is anticipated that 2015 will be a story of Hamilton vs Rosberg, the rematch. This time, I would confidently claim that the German is in a much better position to take his maiden crown.
Of course, Lewis Hamilton has the momentum on the back of a sublime campaign, particularly post-Spa. However, the majority of pundits, myself included, felt that Lewis would waltz to victory over the course of the season, on account of his superior qualifying pace and raw speed. As it turned out, Rosberg’s greatest strength last season was his short run performance, which suggests to me that if he can perfect the area where he should be strongest, he can succeed against his decorated opposite number.
His methodical approach was lacking when it mattered last year. His reckless, all-or-nothing move at the second corner of the inaugural Russian Grand Prix, was highly uncharacteristic. However, it is important to remember that this was Nico’s first venture into a title tussle and as such, it was an exploration of the pressure and intensity that a championship tilt inevitably carries.
In addition, Rosberg has worked to finesse the rough edges surrounding his driving technique over the winter, which has included experimenting with seating positions and establishing a new breathing pattern, which promises to improve his stamina during races. This could be key, judging by how Nico had a tendency to start fast and end races with no answer to Lewis in 2014.
This weekend will be a first test of the new Nico Rosberg and whether it will be improved remains to be seen. I for one, would love to see a close fight between Hamilton and Rosberg on Sunday, to see whether Nico can outrace his champion teammate and maintain the fight throughout the race. If he can, then it will bode well for his title aspirations.
In accordance with the passage above, I am tipping Nico Rosberg for glory this weekend. The German, fresh from the disappointment of losing the 2014 title, will surely be hugely motivated to start this campaign strongly. However, as always, Hamilton will be in close proximity to his teammate. Elsewhere, I predict Valtteri Bottas to take the bottom step of the podium, as the team’s finally show their hand. It is in this emergence of true performance, that I expect Williams to place their marker clearly ahead of Ferrari and Red Bull.
Image Credit: "2014 Melbourne Grand Prix" By Chris Phutully [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons