MEDLAND: Taking Melbourne with a pinch of salt

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MEDLAND: Taking Melbourne with a pinch of salt

Insights & Analysis

MEDLAND: Taking Melbourne with a pinch of salt


I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I really didn’t like the double points rule used at the end of the 2014 season. Other changes like new point-scoring systems, rewarding the fastest lap and so on are generally fine by me because they are the same rules in every race, so every grand prix counts just as much. But in Abu Dhabi in 2014, that one race was worth more than all the others in the season, and in my opinion that’s wrong.

It’s sometimes overlooked how the opening race of the season is just as important as the last one. The fact there are so many more races still to go makes Melbourne seem a little less crucial. The pressure is off to an extent as everyone finds out where they are. But the rewards on offer are exactly the same as any other race during the season.

So whatever happens here in Australia should be treated with equal weight to whatever happens at any other venue. And that is worth bearing in mind when judging this weekend’s offering.

There is genuine excitement among some of the drivers about the introduction of the new aerodynamic regulations and their impact on the racing. Kevin Magnussen and Sergio Perez were both very positive about how the car felt when following another car during pre-season testing, but the proof will always be in a race situation.

The problem is, regardless of the regulations, Melbourne is not a track that’s conducive to wheel-to-wheel action.

There are few big braking areas in which to try a move, and no corners where significantly different lines are possible to help a driver set up an attempt. With so many medium-speed corners, it’s just always going to be difficult.

And that’s worth bearing in mind when it comes to reacting to the impact of the new regulations. They can’t be deemed a success or failure based on the sample size of one Australian Grand Prix.

Obviously, it would be a positive sign if there was plenty of on-track action and drivers claim they can follow more closely in Melbourne, too. But there’s also a more powerful DRS to take into consideration, and where previous races in Australia have been devoid of battles, so often Bahrain has proved to be the complete opposite.

So that’s not to say a good race tomorrow will automatically result in another in two weeks, either. Different tracks will always produce different types of racing, and the wider influence of the new regulations will need to be understood across a variety of circuits.

It’s a similar story when it comes to the pecking order. In a piece after pre-season testing I used the example of Lewis Hamilton’s qualifying lap in Melbourne last year as proof the true competitive picture is not necessarily seen here this weekend.

Hamilton was stunning on that occasion as he secured pole position, and it was a performance that didn’t get the recognition it deserved at the time. The fact Sebastian Vettel had the car to take three consecutive poles after that speaks volumes for what Hamilton delivered, but it also highlights how one lap in Australia doesn’t cement the competitive order for the season.

There’s more than a sense of deja vu when reflecting on today’s result. Hamilton ends up 0.7s clear of Sebastian Vettel and the initial reaction from many is to dismiss Ferrari’s pre-season pace. Even if Mercedes walks off into the distance on Sunday — which is more likely with the front row lock-out — that’s not necessarily the shape of things to come.

In fact, this year could be far more intriguing than most on that front. The aforementioned regulation changes open up new development paths for all the teams, which can be seen in the way Ferrari has opted for a very different front wing concept compared to Mercedes and Red Bull:

So the development possibilities increase the potential for teams to find bigger gains, and certainly improve at a faster rate.

“We should be better than this,” said Vettel after qualifying. Mercedes made clear progress over the two weeks since the end of testing, and Ferrari will look to replicate that after Sunday’s race regardless of the outcome.

There are many reasons we have multiple races on different circuits around the world across nine months, and a big one is that a solitary Saturday in Australia isn’t going to decide the outcome of the championship.