Motorsport: Intriguing start to new F1 season in Melbourne

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Updated: March 15, 2014
Felipe Massa's move from Ferrari to Williams appears to be a masterstroke after a promising start to the new F1 season

Felipe Massa’s move from Ferrari to Williams appears to be a masterstroke after a promising start to the new F1 season

2014 F1 Australian Grand Prix: Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, March 14, 5pm – preview by Adam Gibbins

Formula 1 is in for a huge shake-up when the new season kicks-off in Australia later today. That’s the lesson from pre-season testing in Bahrain and practice sessions in recent days at Albert Park. Reigning constructors’ champions Red Bull look to be off the pace despite Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo snatching a front row spot for today’s race. It was only Ricciardo’s skill in the testing conditions during qualifying that helped overcome a lack of pace. Sebastian Vettel was bowled out of the race for the pole in Q3!

Some surprise names looking like genuine contenders to visit the top step of the podium this year. The Mercedes factory team and their drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg remain the favourites for both the first race of the season and the championship after a largely impressive run over the 12 days of testing in Spain and Bahrain. Having said that, even the fast silver cars ran into trouble with reliability problems creeping in over the final three days of running and again here in recent days.

The other teams who use Mercedes engines – Williams, Force India and McLaren – also look in pretty good shape, particularly Williams. The biggest technical rules shift in almost 20 years means all new 1.6-litre V6 turbo hybrid engines, which use extensive energy-recovery systems have been introduced. Cars can use no more than 100kg of fuel throughout a race. The Mercedes power-unit appears to have a significant advantage over those of Ferrari and Renault in terms of the amount of power it can produce for a given amount of fuel – a crucial element of the new F1.

Mercedes-powered cars have also topped the times in 11 of the 12 test days this winter. But it was a Williams, in the hands of former Ferrari driver Felipe Massa, that set the fastest time of all, rather than either Hamilton or Rosberg. Low fuel pre-season testing times are notoriously unreliable indicators of true form, but Williams’ insiders insist that their pace – which was equally impressive over longer, race-distance runs – is genuine. They were behind only Mercedes in the mileage charts, too. There’s certainly been a skip in Massa’s step since arriving in Melbourne.

This all adds up to a unpredictable first race of the year with many teams unsure of their place in the pecking order even after the practice sessions and qualifying over the past two days. To add to the lottery is the weather. It looms as a cool and windy race after yesterday’s warm, humid and showery conditions. These cars are already struggling for grip, so it could be an action-packed and fender-bending GP. With reliability no longer a given expect a high number of retirements, which has led to better prices on even the leading contenders.

 

Confirmed bets

Nico Rosberg WIN (one unit @ $5.00) – the most underrated driver in the top level of international motorsport looks like he has the equipment under him to greet the flag first. His consistent approach should see him in good stead versus his more erratic but highly favoured teammate.

Felipe Massa top 3 (one unit @ $4.00) – the reliability of the new technical package aside, Massa is a proven pair of safe hands and should be able to keep the newly Martini-branded Williams on the black stuff for a podium finish for which we’re getting a silly price.

Leans

Nico Hulkenberg/Sergio Perez top 3 (one unit @ $7.50 & $15.00 respectively) – look for the Mercedes powered team to shrug off their mid-field form for at least the early fly away races this year until the power houses of Ferrari and Red Bull inevitably get on top of their technical woes. The Force India pair are priced generously for an achievable top 3 result.

• Selections are listed in three categories – 1) Suggested (likely bet but yet to be finalised); 2) Confirmed (locked in at the price listed); and 3) Leans (tips, but not recommended bets); all times quoted are Australian Eastern Daylight Time (AEDT); prices with thanks to Unibet (except where markets are not available), correct at time of publication. Results/comments on today’s games/races will follow in the next post.

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