This weekend marks the long awaited first grand prix of the Formula One season. Down in Melbourne, Australia, the lights will finally go out to kickstart the race for the 2013 World Championship.
Last year’s championship was one of the closest and most competitive in the history of the sport, with seven different winners in the first seven races – an all time record – which became eight when Kimi Raikkonen took victory later in the season.
This season looks set to be even closer, with rules remaining the same, performance gains become ever smaller as teams reach the very edge of the potential of the rules. Also Pirelli has constructed a new range of tyres with the aim of 2 and 3 stop races becoming the norm. This was in response to criticism from some fans after a run of one stop races later in the season. Testing has shown the new tyres to be very delicate but more predictable and less erratic than the early 2012 versions which will surely come as a relief to the teams.
Predictions currently fill the F1 news-sites and magazines, but the only prediction that you can be confident about is that no-one, not even the team’s technical directors, know who the contenders will be.
Actually such is the current development rate of F1 that even the form for the first race is unlikely to tell us who will be on form come the final part of the season at the long-haul Asian races.
The big three teams – Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren – are all looking strong even if McLaren do seem slightly concerned that their car is lacking consistency in its pace.
These look likely to be joined in the battle for the championship by Lotus, led by Kimi Raikkonen – revitalised after his two year break, and Mercedes; boosted by the addition of one of the biggest names in F1, Lewis Hamilton.
These five teams appear to have a slight performance advantage over the remaining six teams. Williams, Sauber and Force India all look strong with Toro Rosso having made significant gains over the winter after the arrival of a new technical chief, former Sauber man James Key.
The midfield teams lack a couple of tenths to the bigger teams, however good tyre understanding and management or a bit of luck could, in a field so close, see them achieving the occasional podium.
Lagging behind the group, Caterham and Marussia look set to continue their quest for a single point. At the moment only an attrition filled race would bring such a result, but the two teams should edge closer to the midfield throughout the season.
The form of the teams may decide who is challenging and who isn’t but this weekend it’s finally the turn of the drivers to take their place in the limelight.