Last week, the final day of winter testing finished: the Formula One season is on the horizon. Hardcore fans will spend the next week analysing the data before the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
The casual viewer hasn’t missed much at all, though. If previous years tell us anything, it is that the formbook gets rapidly turned on its head by the time the flag drops in Melbourne. Think of David Coulthard’s victory from 12th in the wet/dry 2003 race, or Jenson Button’s in similar conditions in 2010. This is the case more so this year – with the removal of one of the tests to May, this time around has seen the fewest pre-season testing days ever.
Nevertheless, there are some trends that have emerged. Red Bull are acknowledged to be the fastest, though slightly unreliable; yet McLaren remain extremely close behind and both are expected to fight for victory in Melbourne.
Lotus have been the revelation, no doubt helped by the return of 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen, though missing significant time from testing due to reliability problems has resulted in less than ideal preparation. Mercedes have taken a step forward in what could be Michael Schumacher’s final year of his comeback, and Sauber and Force India have shown real promise too – good news for Britain’s Paul Di Resta, having excelled in his debut season last year.
From this group of teams, one is notable by its absence – Ferrari. Initially, they were considered to be the dark horse, with one of the most radically designed cars yet struggling for speed and consistency. However, now testing has finished, the secret (further emphasised by the fact that Ferrari cancelled its drivers’ conference with the media) is out – Ferrari are in trouble.
The only question that remains is how much trouble. Certainly, Mercedes and Lotus have overtaken Ferrari in the battle to be the third fastest team; at worst, Ferrari could be competing with Force India and their sister team Sauber.
However, Australia is notorious for throwing up bizarre race results with a mix of inclement weather, the tricky first corner and the high number of safety cars – as such, the true pecking order might not be revealed ‘Down Under’.
Yet, this is all part of the uncertainty of the start of a Formula One season. Can Hamilton tame his aggression from last year? Will Button beat him again? Will Vettel be toppled? Can Ferrari pull out a minor miracle to save another year in the doldrums? What can Raikkonen do at Lotus? One thing is for sure – with a record-breaking six World Champions on the grid, there is a cracking season in store.