Australian GP Preview | Can Ferrari beat Mercedes out the gates?

The Australian Grand Prix, Formula One’s curtain raiser.

This is the moment Formula One fan’s around the world have been waiting for. As it’s time to get rolling down under, with the season about to get underway in Melbourne. In the red corner stands Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari’s men behind the wheel of the car they hope can finally topple Hamilton’s Mercedes amidst a season of reg changes. But will the Silver Arrows still fly highest or is their dominant reign at its end?

“I see Ferrari being quickest.”

A damning opening line from Hamilton that Ferrari is “definitely” favourites to take the crown.

Sebastian Vettel - Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel getting the final laps of pre-season testing under his belt. Photo credit: Scuderia Ferrari.

But, there again, Vettel differs and places Mercedes ahead of the field once more going into the season opener.

Only come qualifying and the race this weekend will we truly know who has bettered the regulations to beat the 2017 field to the title. With Ferrari appearing rapid in pre-season testing but sandbagging can always come into question as the timesheet never tells the full winter story.

For one, Mercedes have been forced to adapt to life without Nico Rosberg and Paddy Lowe. But the team that has dominated for the past three years will still be expected to arrive in Australia with a car fully capable of challenging for victory.

“Mercedes have been very strong and even if you change the rules if a team is strong they will build a strong car,” explained Vettel.

“Looking at the performance of the cars, it was expected to be a big step up. And that’s what we all said when we got out for the first time.

“I think they will be the fastest cars we have ever driven. it is nice to have that. Competitiveness? We are all here to find out.”

And find out we shall with the first Formula One free practice session just hours away. The first chance to see if Red Bull has closed any of the gap pre-season testing showed.

testing Red Bull

Pre-season testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Photo credit: Red Bull Racing.

Red Bull is expected to turn up to Albert Park with a car heavily upgraded from what we saw in Spain, as well. With the previously dominant team a little further back from Ferrari and Mercedes in testing than they would have liked to be.

Speaking of Red Bull, their man’s infamous defensive driving lead to the implementation of the ‘Verstappen rule’ towards the end of the 2016 season. But for 2017, that rule has been tweaked and ‘every move under braking’ will no longer be investigated.

Instead, each incident will be treated as its own incident. With some of the incidents investigated last year potentially no longer investigation-worthy – potentially incidents such as Vettel and Ricciardo’s coming together at the Mexican Grand Prix.

2016 start - AusGP

The start of the 2016 season-opener, with Mercedes one-two off the line. Photo credit: AusGP.

The season-opening Australian Grand Prix will certainly be a testing time for the McLaren-Honda relationship. With Fernando Alonso continuing to joke about the team’s Japanese engine partner.

Throughout pre-season testing, serious competitive running was always a stretch too far for McLaren as their latest Honda power unit struggled for reliability and speed. Leading Alonso to joke about the pace he could carry through the corners and bemoan how much pace he was losing on the straights.

Even in the official pre-Australian Grand Prix press conference, Alonso made a quick joke at Honda’s expense. Claiming if he could change anything in the sport, he would welcome equal engines to level the playing field as he bids for a third World Drivers’ Championship at long last.

Even Lewis Hamilton joined in on the Honda bashing jokes as the panel of Vettel, Ricciardo, Hamilton and Alonso discussed bigger engines that were not electric.

For the 2017 Australian Grand Prix, the 58 lap bout will unfold on the city streets of Melbourne once again – with the track set around Albert Park.

The 16 corner track utilises a host of short straights and quick chicanes, calling for a car with a good steering rack and power unit to suit. Making it a perfect blend of speed, challenge and racing opportunities.

Those opportunities, however, mainly come at the end of the two DRS zones. But with the added cornering speeds of 2017, turn eight could produce a greater amount of opportunities into the difficult turn nine and ten.

Track map 2017 - Formula1.com

Track guide to Albert Park, the home of the Australian Grand Prix. Photo credit: Formula1.com.

For Formula One fans in the UK wishing to watch the racing action throughout the weekend, live coverage is provided via Sky Sports F1 (while qualifying and the race will be simulcasted onto Sky Sports 1). Channel 4, on the other hand, will cover the weekend via highlights.

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
24/03 – 00:30 – Practice 1
24/03 – 04:45 – Practice 2
25/03 – 02:45 – Practice 3
25/03 – 05:00 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports 1)
26/03 – 04:30 – Race coverage (also Sky Sports 1)
=> 04:30 – Track Parade
=> 05:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 05:30 – Race
=> 08:30 – Paddock Live
Supplementary Programming
23/03 – 04:00 – Driver Press Conference
23/03 – 20:45 – Paddock Uncut: Australia
24/03 – 07:00 – Team Press Conference
24/03 – 07:30 – The F1 Show
29/03 – 20:30 – Report: Australia Review

Channel 4
Sessions
25/03 – 13:00 – Qualifying Highlights
26/03 – 14:00 – Race Highlights

BBC F1
Sessions
23/03 – 21:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
24/03 – 00:55 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
24/03 – 04:55 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
25/03 – 02:55 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
25/03 – 05:55 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
26/03 – 05:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Mercedes 2016 - AusGP

The rear-end of the 2016 Mercedes during the Australian Grand Prix. Photo credit: AusGP

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