F1 start of season

Formula 1 season opener Albert Park Melbourne, Australia. The wait has been a little longer than anybody anticipated due to the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix, but on Friday morning Formula One will be back on track in Australia. For the fans the past two weeks have been made all the more agonizing by the amount of unanswered questions building up over the winter. Will the regulation changes improve the racing? Is Mercedes really a front runner? How far is the McLaren off the pace? In Australia all the pre-season pontificating will finally be put straight by some cold, hard results.

Red Bull has been used as the measurement of performance by most the other teams on the grid during pre-season testing this year.
The car promises to be as quick as last 2010's championship-winning RB6 and, judging by its sizeable winter mileage, even more reliable. It's ominous news for Red Bull's rivals but we've yet to see the RB7 on low-fuel, making it difficult to tell exactly where it stacks up in comparison to the Ferrari and all the other cars snapping at its heels.

There's no hiding from the fact that McLaren's pre-season testing has not gone to plan. The car was unreliable and, according to team boss Martin Whitmarsh, one second off the pace at the final test at Barcelona. Put simply, McLaren appears to have been a little overambitious with its 2011 car and the fact it launched at the second test while its rivals ran at the first didn't help. The team could still surprise everyone with its planned upgrade in Australia, but the chances are that it will head to Europe playing catch-up after the early-season flyaways.

Nico Rosberg had a hugely impressive 2010 season, beating team-mate Michael Schumacher by 70 points and taking three podiums. This year he should have an even more competitive car and Albert Park is a circuit that he has always been strong at. A win will be a bit of a stretch, but he's worth keeping an eye on as media attention again turns to Schumacher ahead of a crucial point in his comeback.

Tires - Pirelli has delivered on its promise to take a more aggressive approach to tyre development and has produced a range of compounds that degrade very quickly compared to last year's Bridgestones. We are expecting the hard tyres to last no more than 25 laps while the softs may only be good for 10-15 laps, meaning drivers will have to complete at least two pits stops but are more likely to opt for three. Timing the pit stops correctly will be crucial as lap times were rocketing upwards when the rubber went past its best in testing.

Built around a man-made lake and using public roads, Albert Park is one of F1's most popular venues (Find a map and info at Racing Maps F1 Circuits page here). While overtaking is limited to turns one and three (and even those are at a push), there are plenty of opportunities for drivers to make mistakes. An abundance of gravel traps rather than concrete run-off areas restricts the margin for error even further.

Content credits: ESPN F1


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