We kick off the 2020 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne with the usual excitement to the start of the season but now with some added stress. There’s a lot of developing story lines at play like the threat of Coronavirus, the Ferrari Engine Controversy, and the midfield teams shows a stark improvement in pace throughout the testing period.
While it’s easy to think that the returning champions are shoe-ins for victory at the Australian Grand Prix in the 2020 season, namely Lewis Hamilton, I wouldn’t be so sure. Hamilton begins his campaign to match Michael Schumacher for number of Drivers Titles at 7 but Melbourne hasn’t been so kind to him. In fact, Hamilton hasn’t won here since his supremacy as WDC was interrupted by Nico Rosberg.
There’s a lot of question marks surrounding last year’s Australian Grand Prix winner, Valtteri Bottas. He’ll certainly be a driver to watch this weekend as he took the race win by 20 seconds and the fastest lap to boot for a 26 point haul. He’ll need a showing like that if he wants a chance not just at the drivers title, but to keep his own seat for 2021.
Speaking of question marks and possibilities, Sebastian Vettel is a strong performer at this venue winning in 2017 and 2018. A weak showing in testing has deflated his chances in prediction models. But don’t count out the Scuderia. That goes for both Vettel and Charles Leclerc who returns for his sophomore season for Ferrari. Team orders were a headwind to his 2019 race results and prior to that he was in the Alfa so all we can bank on is his 2019. While there was a lot of fireworks coming out of Ferrari in 2019, The Brazilian Grand Prix double DNF being the peak, Ferrari have reportedly tacked on downforce in exchange for straight line speed. This will be a tailwind to their chances considering Albert Park’s characteristics.
With all the talk of Racing Point being a Pink W10, there’s a lot of expectations for Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll. Their testing performance showed there’s real pace. Let’s see if it translates onto the track. It’s true the cars are similar, but the chassis, by technical standards is certainly going to be different. And despite the cars showing many structural design components, they aren’t privy to the major advantage Mercedes had getting the tyres in the working window. This is going to be a challenge for everyone this season but in particular Racing Point who has improved pace.
With the teams electing to drive on the 2019 compounds and pass on Pirelli’s new compound grades, there’s significant risk for tyre degradation. If you are wondering what that is or why that matters, check out the Guide For New F1 Fans for an update on all you need to know. It’s a nice refresher for long time fans, too. Here is what Pirelli said ahead of The Australian Grand Prix:
“Teams are aware of the fact that choosing 2019 [tyres] for another year means that we are obliged to increase the pressure and therefore they will find more overheating in 2020 compared to 2019 and also more degradation…
…They know that, they accepted that. This is my expectation.”
Other names to watch will be the best of the rest current belt holders, McLaren, as Sainz hopes to repeat his shock performance in orange. My 2020 season predictions include Lando Norris having an exponentially better year than his freshman campaign and will even beat his partner. But we’ll find out this weekend.
Australian Grand Prix Technicals
Pirelli have opted for the same step as we saw in the 2019 Australian Grand Prix in the C2 hard, C3 medium, and C4 hard compounds. Below is the breakdown of what driving is bringing what allocation. It’s interactive, by the way. Click the “C2/C3/C4” compounds in the legends to filter.
The circuit consists of 58 laps over 5.3 kilometers, each. Pirelli have deemed the all important seven measures as such in quantifying the circuit characteristics as a part of their compound nomination process:
- Breaking: 3
- Lateral: 2
- Tyre Stress: 1
- Asphalt Grip: 1
- Asphalt Abrasion: 3
- Downforce: 4
- Traction: 4
Weather varies at this circuit so a safety car is reasonably likely. Because Albert Park is only semi-permanent, it means that the shuffling of the entire set up leads to an often dirty track. You can expect plenty of rubbering in and much track evolution which will be most evident in the qualifying session so be sure to tune in if possible. This also opens the door for tyre strategy and to play with pit window calculations of competitors.
The semi-permanent nature of the circuit creates a track that is reasonably bumpy. Because this technically classifies as a street circuit, it carries all the familiar signs of one with short corners and relatively short straights. The exception is the ever tricky turn 8 the lake for which the circuit is named. Overall, it should be a good test to begin with highlighted by the lack of overall grip. The real wildcard is going to be degradation and tyre window. I anticipate a headache for the drivers & teams – which means us fans can expect a nice treat.
Australian Grand Prix Expectations
I expect the Honda power unit to be uniquely strong at this grand prix. And while I’m hesitant to predict a non-Mercedes pole, I wouldn’t be surprised if Max Verstappen starts P1 and winds up relegating Bottas off the podium on race day. Hamilton looks racey and positioned well to take the opening win. I also anticipate a Ferrari driver stepping onto the third spot of the podium.
Thanks to Ferrari’s confusing testing and them changing their package, there’s no real way to confidently bank on the SF1000, but don’t be shocked if it is quick. It remains the challenger in my prediction model to overthrow Mercedes as the constructor after all. I would have one of the boys in red higher, but there’s simply not enough available evidence apart from their strong showing in slow speed corners… something we haven’t said in a long time about the Ferrari package.
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