Five things to look out for in the Australian GP

Motorsport.com’s Global Editor-in-Chief Charles Bradley gives his views as the 2020 Formula 1 World Championship gets set to kick off in Melbourne, Australia this weekend.

Five things to look out for in the Australian GP

1: Will coronavirus fears disrupt the event?

Albert Park gates

Albert Park gates

Photo by: John Toscano / Motorsport Images

One story is dominating the headlines around the world, as the planet faces up to a potential pandemic. The spread of coronavirus – or Covid-19 – hasn’t really impacted on Australia as much as many other countries but you can imagine some of the locals having fears, especially with so many confirmed cases in Italy (Ferrari, Pirelli, AlphaTauri) and Japan (Honda). But Tuesday’s news that a man diagnosed with the virus had attended a function at Albert Park Hotel on Saturday was a little close to home…

With the Chinese Grand Prix already postponed, and Bahrain happening behind closed doors, there’s a clear threat to F1’s world championship playing out as planned. Many sports have already been struck with wholesale event cancellations, and F1’s ‘travelling circus’ element is ripe for a virus such as this playing havoc if cases are diagnosed following a race.

How will the stars of the F1 show interact with their fans? Will we see an “arm’s length” approach from teams across the board? How will the lockdown impact the Italian teams in the long term? And what if something similar happens in the UK’s ‘Motorsport Valley’? Can the European season be expected to happen, or will F1 be forced to chase places where travel isn’t restricted?

Read Also:

2: Does Mercedes really have an Achilles’ heel?

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W11

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W11

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

It was little surprise that Mercedes won the winter testing war, but a couple of power unit-related failures certainly raised the eyebrows. Any frailty in Merc’s armour in previous seasons of the hybrid-turbo era have been very much high temperature/cooling related. But that wasn’t an issue in Barcelona, so the sight of blue smoke was most unwelcome.

Williams also suffered multiple issues with its customer Mercedes engines, and while we can expect some quick reactions to ensure no repeats, the double-header flyaway nature of the opening races does add some extra pressure.

As Lewis Hamilton admitted: “It's just not quite where we want it to be reliability-wise. But I am sure they are back at the factory now working hard to rectify whatever the issue is.”

Not dissimilar to the coronavirus, it will be intriguing to see what containment measures Mercedes puts in place to nip this problem in the bud.

Read Also:

3: Is Red Bull-Honda ready for a title tilt?

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

There were times in F1 2019 when Max Verstappen, Red Bull and Honda seemed on the verge of a huge breakthrough at the front of the field in terms of raw pace. Despite three wins and three poles (one of which was taken away) it just wasn’t quite there – although Verstappen worked wonders to beat both Ferrari drivers in the points.

This year, with Ferrari appearing to struggle in testing, the door is open for Red Bull to take a big run at toppling Mercedes. Now settled on Alexander Albon in the second seat, there’s fewer excuses for not making a cohesive championship assault.

Testing went well, with Verstappen best of the rest behind Valtteri Bottas’s times, and that was without using the softest tyre compound available.

“We had good preparation,” said Verstappen. “I think that’s very good from our side, and I hope it’s enough to be competitive in Melbourne.

“We tried basically everything we wanted to try over all the days together, so I’m very pleased with that. It all seemed to be working quite well. We were not running the softest compound, but still I think the balance of the car was good.”

However, the RB16's handling still seemed to be quite edgy, with both drivers suffering numerous spins. Honda does claim to have fixed its start deficiency, which can be traced to its aggressive throttle maps, but can it rival Mercedes and Ferrari in the horsepower stakes too?

Read Also:

4: Who is best of the rest?

Esteban Ocon, Renault F1 Team R.S.20

Esteban Ocon, Renault F1 Team R.S.20

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

This mantle is likely to change from race to race, but there are three obvious contenders for the top team beyond Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

Renault again starts the season with the most to prove, not least to justify its full-manufacturer team status. Esteban Ocon joins Daniel Ricciardo, a move which lessens its scope for excuses even further.

Although it’s madness to read too much into the Barcelona test order, both Ricciardo and Ocon were at the right end of the timesheets, and the RS20 looks a lot more purposeful than what’s gone before.

McLaren has this position to defend in 2020, and both Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris enjoyed a drama-free winter. It appears to have a more stable platform for the coming season, and it knows which direction it's heading in, but there wasn’t much positivity in terms of catching up with those ahead.

Racing Point is perhaps the most intriguing prospect in the midfield, having taken a cheeky ‘2019 Mercedes copy’ approach. When Sergio Perez says he’s got “the most solid package I've had in my career to start the season” you’ve got to sit up and take notice!

Beyond that trio, both the ‘Alph-Alfas’– namely AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo – looked promising. Expect a packed midfield fight again, with Haas also in big need of improvement after a dismal 2019.

Read Also:

5: Who will be bringing up the rear?

George Russell, Williams Racing

George Russell, Williams Racing

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

It’s got to be Williams again, hasn’t it? While it is streets ahead of where it started last season, this sleeping giant is unlikely to rise from its slumbers. In George Russell the squad knows it has a gem who is getting every last ounce of pace from the car, and in newcomer Nicholas Latifi it has a handy number two, both in terms of talent and revenue stream.

“No doubt we're in a better position,” admitted Russell when asked if Williams had a reaslitic hope of moving off the back of the grid. “I think realistically, we are still the slowest car. We're not going to get carried away with ourselves, but we've definitely reduced the gap.”

And, right now, that’s all that can be asked of this team.

shares
comments
Coronavirus scare at Albert Park Hotel on eve of Australian GP

Previous article

Coronavirus scare at Albert Park Hotel on eve of Australian GP

Next article

Tech breakdown: Under the skin of the new Mercedes

Tech breakdown: Under the skin of the new Mercedes
Load comments

About this article

Series Formula 1
Event Australian GP
Author Charles Bradley
The AlphaTauri improvements that mean Gasly’s form is no fluke Prime

The AlphaTauri improvements that mean Gasly’s form is no fluke

Pierre Gasly has driven superbly since demotion from Red Bull in 2019, but the team formerly known as Toro Rosso has come on strong too – building a car that can often challenge Ferrari and McLaren. Here Gasly reveals to ALEX KALINAUCKAS how AlphaTauri has given him the tools needed to rebuild his reputation

Why Bottas feels the time has come to be “more selfish” Prime

Why Bottas feels the time has come to be “more selfish”

We’ve seen five distinct versions of Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes as he’s tried to fulfil his own ambitions while being a consummate team player – two difficult, competing missions which have been challenging to reconcile. Speaking exclusively to Stuart Codling, Bottas explains his highs and lows… and why he still believes he can be world champion.

Formula 1
May 15, 2021
How long can Verstappen and Hamilton keep it clean? Prime

How long can Verstappen and Hamilton keep it clean?

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have been evenly matched so far in the 2021 Formula 1 title race. Neither has been afraid to get aggressive against each other on track, teeing up an enthralling contest as the year unwinds. But how long will their battle remain clean? Jonathan Noble ponders that exact point

Formula 1
May 13, 2021
How Brabham’s one-hit wonder was boxed into a corner Prime

How Brabham’s one-hit wonder was boxed into a corner

The Brabham BT46B raced once, won once, then vanished – or did it? STUART CODLING reveals the story of the car which was never actually banned…

Formula 1
May 11, 2021
The changes Barcelona needs to provide a modern-day F1 spectacle Prime

The changes Barcelona needs to provide a modern-day F1 spectacle

Formula 1’s visits to Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya over recent years have been met with familiar criticisms despite tweaks here and there to the track to improve racing. With the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix largely going the same way, proper solutions need to be followed to achieve F1’s wider targets

Formula 1
May 10, 2021
Spanish Grand Prix Driver Ratings Prime

Spanish Grand Prix Driver Ratings

Often described as Formula 1's laboratory, the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona gave the clearest demonstration yet of the pecking order in 2021. And it's the key discrepancies from that order which illuminate who is excelling, and who needs to hit the reset button.

Formula 1
May 10, 2021
How Red Bull's deja vu set Hamilton on the winning path in Spain Prime

How Red Bull's deja vu set Hamilton on the winning path in Spain

An aggressive first corner move from Max Verstappen appeared to have set the Red Bull driver on course for victory in the Spanish Grand Prix. But canny strategy from Mercedes - combined with the absence of Red Bull's number two from the lead group - allowed Lewis Hamilton to pull off a demoralising reversal

Formula 1
May 10, 2021
The Barcelona practice times that prove Red Bull has hidden pace Prime

The Barcelona practice times that prove Red Bull has hidden pace

Lewis Hamilton led the way in Friday practice for the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix, but there was one major encouraging sign for Red Bull. However, making good on that gain will require Max Verstappen to avoid repeating a mistake that left him well down the FP2 order...

Formula 1
May 7, 2021