Australia Preview - Red Bull, or Prancing Horse? 25 Mar 2010
After all the anticipation of the opening round of the championship in Bahrain a fortnight ago, this weekends second round is almost as eagerly awaited - if only to see if anyone catch match Red Bulls fearsome speed, or unsettle Ferraris finishing ability.
As things stand after events at Sakhir, Red Bull start the favourite in Melbourne from Ferrari, with McLaren and Mercedes a little slower unless they can get effective updates on to their cars quickly enough.
"We are kind of on the same level as Mercedes, would say," McLarens Lewis Hamilton said after Bahrain. "We just did maybe a better job in Bahrain but it's a battle between us and Mercedes to see who can step up and improve faster and do a better job.
"As for the Red Bull, its ridiculously faster than anyone else. t's insane. The downforce they had on their car last year was at some points just about double what we had. Even at the end of the year they had so much more than us, even though we had won a couple of Grands Prix. They have got the fastest car by quite a big step. They should be quite a lot further ahead in general."
Hamilton also believes that, despite Fernando Alonso setting fastest lap in Bahrain by a second from Force ndias Adrian Sutil, that there is still a gap between the Ferrari and the Red Bull. Fernando was very quick in the race and they are obviously a little bit closer, but it's a good half second, said the British driver.
Ferraris team principal Stefano Domenicali was delighted with their first one-two since France in 2008, but says the reds need to raise their game after reliability concerns obliged them to fit fresh engines for the race, and Felipe Massa had an overheating problem in the race.
"We have just done a check of all the problems we faced in the three days we had in Bahrain," Domenicali said. Of course the result in the end was very, very good - it was excellent, a first and second place in the first race. t was really an outstanding achievement, but we have seen the list of problems was quite high and we need to address them all and make sure that these are solved before the start of the race in Australia."
Behind the big four, Renault and Force ndia are expected to fight for best of the rest honours, with Williams hoping to take a step closer to them. The R30 showed more speed than expected in Bahrain, but both Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov were unlucky not to score points. Force ndias Sutil will be hoping to avoid mistakes, while Vitantonio Liuzzi is determined to build on his good start to the season.
BMW Sauber, too, hope that they have cured the two disparate hydraulic problems that brought Pedro de la Rosa and Kamui Kobayashi to premature halts.
Among the newcomers, Virgin showed they have the fastest car so far but it too has been plagued by hydraulic issues, as was Karun Chandhoks HRT. The ndian will be hoping for a lot more track time than he got in Bahrain, as he and team mate Bruno Senna get to grips with Formula One racing, while Lotus are hoping that an update can get them some more speed.
Albert Park is a notoriously bumpy track and is always very green on Friday before it rubbers in. Grip levels are usually quite low anyway, so the set-up priority focuses on driveability to generate maximum driver confidence. t is also very hard on brakes, and there have been disc failures in the past.
The ban on refuelling may be felt even more keenly here because of that factor, and management of Bridgestones hard and soft compounds could be trickier than it proved in Bahrain even though the compounds are harder here.
nterestingly, the weather forecast suggests that rain showers might further enliven proceedings.