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10 key questions ahead of the 2016 season opener

20 Mar 2016

Qualifying might not have produced the hoped-for shocks, but there are still myriad reasons why the 2016 Australian season opener could be a thriller. From the big unknowns like tyre choices and radio bans to team mate battles and one man's bid to make history, we take a glance at the most intriguing questions ahead of Sunday's race...

Will Ferrari’s long-run pace be as impressive as it appeared in testing?

Ferrari arrived in Melbourne confident they had closed the gap on Mercedes over the winter. Based on the world champions’ blistering qualifying speed, some might dispute that. However, Friday’s poor weather means we haven’t yet seen what could just be the Scuderia’s forte - their long-run pace. It looked strong in testing - possibly stronger even than the Silver Arrows’ - and Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen will now be praying those looks weren’t deceiving…

Can Rosberg respond and continue his winning streak?

He may have lost the 2015 title to his team mate, but at the end of last year there was talk of a ‘new’ Nico Rosberg - one who could truly take the fight to Hamilton this season - thanks to his stunning six consecutive poles and three back-to-back wins. Thus far in Melbourne, however, Rosberg has been playing second fiddle once more. The question now: can he reverse that trend in the race?

Will Force India's decision to save tyres for the race pay dividends?

Both Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez could have attempted final runs to break into Q3, but neither man chose to - instead preferring to save rubber for the race. There is an added benefit too: they can choose what tyres to start on, while the top eight have to start on the tyres used in Q2. Will that allow them to roll the dice and pursue alternative strategies?

Which driver will be proved to have made the best call on tyres?

The top six drivers on the grid head into Sunday's race with four different tyre selections between them. Rosberg, for example, has an extra set of mediums compared to Hamilton, while Verstappen has far fewer softs - but more supersofts - than anyone else around him. Not since 2006 has there been such a variety in tyre choices. That diversity breeds uncertainty - and that can only be a good thing over 58 laps of Albert Park.

What effect will the radio clampdown have on the race?

Due to a more stringent enforcing of the regulations, drivers will have to manage every part of the race themselves. Say a car suffers damage, or that tyre degradation is higher than expected - suddenly they will be in the dark, forced to try and work out what the team is intending on the fly and while still racing. "We'll kind of have to guess," was Hamilton's take. "It's exciting - I hope it adds to the spectacle."

Will Max Verstappen have the pace to capitalise on best-ever qualifying?

Three times last year Verstappen started from inside the top seven. Three times he went backwards. Now starting from a career-high fifth, he is confident Toro Rosso have the pace to hold ground in Australia. There's an added incentive of course - stay ahead of the pack and he would be in tantalising reach of a first podium, a prospect that is far from impossible given the unpredictable nature of Albert Park.

Will Haas go the distance? 

After a bright opening in winter testing, F1 newcomers Haas suffered a litany of technical issues during the second week of running in Barcelona, including brake-by-wire problems and turbo gremlins. With limited time to work on the car between then and Australia – and limited running in Melbourne because of the weather – it remains to be seen whether the American team are now on top of their issues.

Can Kvyat salvage points from P18 on the grid? 

After showing encouraging pace during practice – finishing the three sessions in 2nd, 10th and 13th respectively – Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat looked a strong bet for scoring good points on Sunday. But that was before he became the first high-profile casualty of the new elimination qualifying format when he was knocked out in Q1 and consigned to 18th on the grid. Stranded behind a slew of closely-matched cars, it now looks a tall order for the Russian to score points – no matter how competitive the RB12 has looked.

Which rookie will impress most on debut? 

F1’s three rookie drivers – Renault’s Jolyon Palmer and Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto have all taken turns in the spolight this weekend. Wehrlein caught the eye with some rapid laps during practice, Haryanto made up for an embarrassing error in practice by outpacing the highly-regarded German in qualifying, and Palmer likewise upstaged team mate Kevin Magnussen in his first ever session. But which of the three will leave Australia with the most plaudits? One thing’s for certain: all three will be desperate to reach the chequered flag.

Will McLaren start the season in the points?

After their well-documented woes last season, cynics may have been forgiven for taking McLaren Honda’s talk of a 2016 turnaround with a pinch of salt. But true to their word, the Woking squad have looked much improved so far this weekend, as witnessed by Fernando Alonso’s and Jenson Button’s 12th and 13th grid spots. Failure to get at least one car into the points on Sunday must now surely be deemed a disappointment…