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I was at Barcelona for the pre-season tests and one thing was apparent from my time speaking to the other drivers, and that was while it was good to go testing after a long winter break, all of them would rather be racing.
It’s good to hear them champing at the bit as we head into the opening round of the 2016 F1 Championship in Melbourne, Australia. In my experience, motivated and hungry drivers heading into a brand new year with lots to prove should provide fireworks.
Which ones should we look out for? Well the intra-team battle at Mercedes and Ferrari will be especially hot. It’s always nice to put one over your team-mate at the beginning of the year and with most people expecting the Ferrari to be a lot closer to Mercedes, these two battles may be for the race win.
While Lewis Hamilton may be a three-time World Champion now, I really can’t say who will come out top in that team battle – because of Nico Rosberg’s strong finish to last year. Both drivers look fit and very motivated after the tests.
As for Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel is the one everyone thinks will be the stronger of the two Ferrari drivers, but I know Kimi Raikkonen will not be planning to play the supporting role. He is a lot happier with this year’s Ferrari – and don’t forget he won here three years ago.
Really there are lots of intra-team battles all the way through the field and I can’t wait to see how they play out.
One thing I’m especially keen to see is how much the Renault-powered cars and the Honda-powered McLarens have caught up to the others. Red Bull Racing and Renault looked good in Barcelona, and I think they may surprise in Melbourne. Their drivability out of the corners looked impressive and around a street track like Albert Park, traction is important.
Melbourne has thrown up many surprising races over the years, partly due to the street track nature of it. Also, it’s hard to predict the grip around the lap partly due to the cooler conditions this time of the year as well, as the many overhanging trees cause parts of the track to dry up slower than other parts.
It’s also a hard track for the rookies to come to because of the changeable conditions here. We have three rookies this year, Rio Haryanto, and Pascal Wehrlein at Manor, and Jolyon Palmer with Renault. Wehrlein and Palmer have done quite a bit of F1 testing so I expect them to hit the ground running, while Haryanto will hope to get enough running in free practice 1 and 2 so that he get into the groove as soon as possible.
We also have a few things to keep an eye out for this weekend which could throw up some unexpected results. Firstly, there is a new qualifying format that may catch out one of two drivers. Then we also have Pirelli allowing the teams to pick from three different compounds instead of the usual two. An inspired choice at the right time could really mix up the results.
The field is definitely closer than last year, and along with the points I mentioned, I really feel we could get a humdinger of a race this weekend.
Catch the F1 Australian GP LIVE on Sun, Mar 20, 12:30pm (HKT) on FOX Sports.