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Sunday, 17 March 2013

2013 Australian Grand Prix

My appetite for Formula 1 was in danger of becoming dulled and diminished, for various reasons, but just the merest glimpse of the television pictures from today's race in Melbourne was sufficient to hook me in anew.

It feels increasingly facile to say this, but all the signs point to a season of comparable competitiveness and interest to that of 2012.  The variable of tyre management is once again present to provide the element of unpredictability.

Having said all this, Red Bull still look to have all the equipment to succeed, and it would not be surprising if this made itself felt more acutely in the next few Grands Prix. The car looks very stable, efficient and consistent, and Sebastian Vettel, although ultimately occupying the bottom step on the podium, was in the thick of the action throughout at Albert Park.

One of the main points of speculation before the next race will inevitably be the "plight" of McLaren.  They were utterly anonymous in Australia, and there has been much conjecture about the reason for their shortfall in outright pace.  Is the design itself overly ambitious?  Much work clearly needs to be done in order to remedy matters.

On the McLaren driver front, one has to feel a measure of sympathy for young Sergio Perez.  When he joined the team, he could have expected to have a reasonably competitive machine under him, and the car's deficiencies must be compounding the pressures he will be feeling as a new driver in a top team. He may also be confronted by a dilemma.  Will he be tempted to overdrive in order to surmount the car's failings, or will he be overly-conscious of the need to avoid mistakes, and consequently become excessively circumspect?  How he deals with this situation may tell us much about the Mexican's ultimate potential as a Grand Prix pilot.

By contrast, Ferrari enjoyed a solid and encouraging opening to the new season.  Hopefully, people will not become carried away by all this.  At this time last year, the Italian outfit was going through a tough time, and just as their problems back then were overplayed, there may now be a tendency to inflate expectations on the basis of one race.  At the same time, it was a heartening display, with both drivers performing capably.  In particular, Felipe Massa seems to have been emboldened by the confidence placed in him by Ferrari.

The augurs for the Mercedes team look mixed. There is little sign that they have attained a major breakthrough, and any marginal rise in assertiveness and feistiness my be attributed to "the Hamilton effect". The Englishman raced manfully as ever, and we can be fairly confident that he will extract the maximum from the car.  A cloud was introduced by the retirement of Nico Rosberg, raising the spectre of the spate of mechanically-related retirements which afflicted the team in 2012.

A "wild card" was provided in this race by Adrian Sutil in the Force India.  Some of us have long rated his abilities, and he looked very much at home at or near the front of the field. The internal competition within that team this season could be very interesting to follow, with Sutil perhaps poised to fulfill the role undertaken by Nico Hulkenberg last year.

Turning to Lotus, it is to be hoped that they have learned lessons from 2012, in terms of how to convert strong race-day showings into regular victories. I would suggest that the jury is still out on this.  As has been observed, Raikkonen will be more formidable this season than last, having got plenty of mileage under his belt, and any cobwebs will now have been comprehensively cast off.  He just needs the tools to enable him to consistently take full advantage.

It is good to see a reshuffle among the teams, and the appearance of some new faces to freshen things up.  Malaysia next....


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