Mercedes On Top In The Land Down Under?

Craig Wright previews the Australian Grand Prix, which takes place this weekend.

The unmistakable sounds of ‘The Chain’ herald the arrival of another season of Formula One, and the return of the duel between Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.  The two teammates and childhood friends endured a somewhat rocky relationship at times last year, as both drivers scrapped it out in a fight for the World Championship, ultimately won by Hamilton. This year promises to be more of the same, with no team coming close to the speed and reliability of the Silver Arrows in pre-season testing.  As a result, many pundits expect a sequel to the blockbuster title fight of last season, with the result too close to call at the moment.

Williams appear to be the closest challengers to Mercedes’ dominance, although they still remain some way off the pace set by their German rivals.  With a settled driver lineup of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas, and a good all round car to work with, it would be surprising if Williams were not seen fighting for the podium positions once more.  Similarly, Red Bull will be looking to lay down a marker early on, with the ever improving Daniel Ricciardo spearheading their charge.  However, it remains to be seen if the loss of four time world champion Sebastian Vettel will hurt their chances, with the German having decamped to Ferrari in the off-season.  Whether or not he or team mate Kimi Raikkonen can guide the Prancing Horse back to winning ways remains to be seen, although initial signs are encouraging.

          

The events of pre-season testing also threw up some interesting developments lower down the grid.  Chief amongst them was the concussion suffered by Fernando Alonso in Catalunya, which has ruled him out of this weekend’s season opener in Melbourne.  His seat in a McLaren car (powered once more by Honda engines, echoing back to the halcyon days of the Senna-Prost duels in the late 80s and early 90s) blighted by poor reliability goes to Kevin Magnussen, with the young Dane somewhat unlucky to have lost his race seat from last year.  It remains to be seen who shall be racing for Sauber, however, after Giedo Van de Garde’s successful challenge regarding an unfulfilled clause in his contract.  The Swiss based team have to choose two from the trio of the Dutchman, Swede Marcus Ericsson and Brazilian rookie Felipe Nasr before the lights go out on Sunday.  Finally, it remains to be seen whether Manor Marussia will make it to the grid, having only recently been given the green light to return from administration.  Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi will hope to line up for the team that has come back from the brink.

Albert Park in Melbourne has been a perennial favourite of the drivers since its incorporation into the calendar in 1996, and has seen some spectacular season openers.  From David Coulthard’s relentless pursuit, and eventual defeat of, Juan Pablo Montoya in 2003, to Jenson Button winning for Brawn GP in their first ever race in 2009, you can always expect some form of drama and excitement from the Australian Grand Prix.  Let’s hope the 2015 edition is no different…

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