It’s been two long years since Formula 1 last visited Albert Park in Melbourne due to the Covid-19 pandemic, where racing always proved to be fruitful and entertaining. The Australian Grand Prix has traditionally been the season opener in recent times, but unfortunately the 2020 GP was cancelled at the last minute after a team member from McLaren was found to be positive with Covid-19, sending the eagerly waiting fans back home. Albert Park was set to make a return for the 2021 season however, due to the country’s strict entry and quarantine restrictions, racing down under was once again halted.
Patience pays off as F1 is ready to go racing again in this new era of the sport. A few changes have been made to the circuit since we last visited. The chicane at turns nine and ten has been removed, at turn thirteen the corner entry has been straightened and widened by 3.5 metres, whilst corners one, three, six, and fifteen have all been widened by 2.5 metres. This will prove helpful to the drivers and their new machinery as the new cars haven’t exactly been compliant in the slow speed corners.
So what can we expect from the teams this weekend? It’s hard to tell with a new track layout, new cars and new tires. The performance dynamics have changed quite drastically however, we’re expecting the hard working and ever striving Mercedes to bring an upgrade package, more specifically a new floor. They hope that this can help to bring them closer towards the front of the pack and replicate their dominance since we were last here in 2019, and perhaps another iconic radio message, to whom it may concern of course.
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In reality though, we’re expecting the fight between Red Bull and Ferrari to continue. I would say that the track does suit Red Bull slightly better and the odds reflect this with Verstappen being the favourite, although LeCelerc isn’t far behind. Those two won’t be the center of attention though as McLaren’s Aussie born Daniel Ricciardo is expecting a heart warming welcome back, with some welcome back banners already posted up around the circuit.
Albert Park hasn’t always been kind to the Australian native with his best result being fourth on two occasions during his time at Red Bull. He’d hope that the boys back at McLaren would have optimised their cars’ performance to try and achieve a better result, that is, if he can overcome his teammate Noris who’s been looking strong in all of his races.
2019 was a decent year for Haas, in fact K.Mag finished sixth at his last outing down under, and given the decent performance Haas is enjoying in this new era, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him finishing in the top ten yet again.
Seb Vettel is expecting to make a return after missing out on the Bahrain and Saudi Arabian Grand Prix due to contracting and testing positive for Covid-19. The German has a good track record here, having achieved three poles, winning three times and finishing on the podium a total of seven times and achieving eight point finishes in 12 races, not bad. The Aston still hasn’t been fully optimised to extract its performance and it’ll be eager to see how Vettel will handle his new car around a track that he knows so well, albeit with a few changes.
Don’t discount Bottas, who was the last race winner here to make a top ten or even a top five appearance if he can push his Ferrari powered Alfa Romeo enough around this tricky circuit. The Alpines are also a pair to keep a close eye on, their performance has been impressive so far and with the experienced Fernando Alonso at the wheel, expect some hard racing from him and his team mate Esteban Ocon.
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