2002 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix
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Speed vs. Reliability!
The 2002 season is finally about to start and unlike the
past few years, this year, very little has changed in terms of regulations
which will make it harder for those who got it right the first time to
improve dramatically while those who didn't could make significant
improvements. The end result would be a closer field and an exciting
The extended pre-season testing ban that went until the end of December of 2001 meant significantly reduced testing time in preparation for the new season. This meant that the teams would need to have their 2002 specification cars ready as early as possible in order to test them and ensure their reliability.
Being the first race of the season, the Australian Grand Prix will favour those teams that have sorted out their reliability problems even if they are not as fast as their rivals.
It will be very hard to predict who will come out on top but
we are almost certain that we'll have a 3 way fight in Melbourne. Both McLaren
and Williams have been testing their new cars almost round the clock while
Ferrari have opted for the more reliable F2001.
Ferrari: They have decided to
use the F2001 after the early tests on the F2002 proved that it is not yet
ready. This could be a very clever move by Ferrari as they are almost
guaranteed to finish the race with the F2001 and if Williams and McLaren
struggle then they could even win. The downside of course would be if both
Williams and McLaren proved to be both fast and reliable. That would make
Drivers: When Michael Schumacher drove the
F2002 he was confident he would be driving it in Melbourne but the team
decided against that. He may struggle with a slower Ferrari compared to
Williams and McLaren but if anyone can win in the Ferrari, it will be
Rubens Barrichello seems to continue his trademark of talking without actually delivering. He has claimed that he will take the fight to Michael this year but I don't think anyone believes him. Rubens didn't do much testing in the last few weeks and has yet to test the new car (even though it won't be used in Melbourne, his feedback would be crucial for his chances later in the season.). Expect a top 6 finish.
McLaren: They want to improve on their record in Melbourne. For the last 3 years they had finished just once. They would also want to capitalise on the fact that Ferrari won't be much faster than they were at the end of last season. The new McLaren seems to be very fast given that it has broken a number of lap records in testing but will it be reliable?. Recent history tells us it won't. Reliability 7/10 - Speed 9.5/10
Drivers: Every year David Coulthard claims that he
will win the championship and halfway through the season, cracks start to
appear. He is starting to sound like Rubens Barrichello. Having said that,
this season might be his only chance as Hakkinen is no longer there and it
will take Raikkonen at least this season to get used to the team so we could
see Coulthard in a position to get all the support he needs from the team and
become a threat to Michael Schumacher and the 2 Williams drivers.
Don't discount Kimi Raikkonen though, he may surprise everyone and win the race. Although unlikely, Raikkonen has proven that he is a very fast and mature young driver and that was the main reason why Ron Dennis decided to take him. It will be interesting to see how he compares to Coulthard on the grid. In the race, he could be lucky and have a more reliable car and win!. A podium is more likely though if his car lasts.
Williams: Were by far the
surprise of last season and if they continue to improve this year, they
could be untouchable however with McLaren receiving the same tyres they
have lost the tyre advantage and they have also lost their chief aerodynamicist
Geoff Willis to BAR. However they have the most powerful engine in the
business and as we've seen last year that helps a lot.
Drivers: Ralf Schumacher was slower than his
team-mate towards the end of last season and would want to stop Montoya's
momentum. It may not work though!
Juan Pablo Montoya is considered a serious championship contender this year and from his performance last year he has certainly earned it. However he needs a car that can sustain his hard driving. If his cars lasts he could win the Australian Grand Prix.
Sauber: After finishing an impressive 4th last year, they realise that the task of holding onto 4th place will be very hard. However during the early stages of the season, they should be able to comfortably finish in the points and create a points buffer between them and the Honda runners and Renault. In fact don't be surprised if a Sauber finished on the podium in Melbourne as they seem to have a very reliable car and a very powerful engine, possibly the same engine as the one Ferrari decide to use here. Reliability 9.5/10 - Speed 8.5/10
Drivers: Nick Heidfeld described the car as the best
he has driven, he also wants to prove to McLaren that they should have
signed him instead of Raikkonen. He is fired up and is hungry for a good
Felipe Massa makes his Formula 1 debut and if the
number of spins in testing is anything to go by, it is unlikely that he'll
finish the race. Speed wise, he is fast but he is not tested under race
conditions making it hard to make a judgement.
Jordan: They weren't
impressive in pre-season testing. At their launch on Friday they claimed
that they've sorted out the problems with their car. I'll believe it when
I see it. The Jordan not only seems to be unreliable but also slow. With
Sauber, BAR and Renault all appearing more prepared, this season doesn't
look like a good one for Jordan let alone the first race.
Drivers: Giancarlo Fisichella will make the most out
of his car. The good news for Fisichella is that it can't be as bad as
last year's Benetton, the bad news is that it won't be a top runner
Takuma Sato is another rookie who makes his debut in Melbourne. He has done well in testing setting times close to Fisichella but again we haven't seen him in race conditions and given the reliability and performance of the Jordan, I don't rate his chances of finishing in the top 10 that high.
BAR: One has to wonder how
much of a negative effect has the departure of Craig Pollock and the
arrival of David Richard has had on the team. Everyone inside the team are
claiming significant improvements on the car and engine sides yet their
testing times have not been that impressive. However early on in the
season, they look to be more reliable and faster than their direct rivals
Jordan who use the same Honda engines.
Drivers: Jacques Villeneuve decided to stick with BAR for at least this season despite Pollock's departure. He was happy with the new car and Villeneuve usually says his mind. If the car lasts he'll finish in the top 10 and possible scoring a point or two.
Olivier Panis proved to be a match for Villeneuve in qualifying but faltered under race conditions. Even though Villeneuve no longer has special treatment from the boss, I don't see Panis beating Villeneuve unless Villeneuve loses interest in the team. A top 10 finish is possible.
Renault: They are expected to
be the surprise of the season and I would tend to agree. Last year when
they ran under the Benetton banner they qualified in 16th and 17th. By the
time they went to Japan at the end of the season, one of their cars
qualified in the top 6. This year they will certainly improve further.
Drivers: Jarno Trulli was very unlucky at Jordan and
will be hoping to reverse that at Renault. He is considered one of the best
qualifiers out there so expect him to line-up inside the top 10 on the grid in
every race. It will also be interesting to see how he does in races with a
Jenson Button had a disastrous
season year as he failed to adjust to the slow and un-tested Benetton.
This year will be crucial for him as his 2 year loan from Williams expires
and will need excellent results to either go back to Williams or drive for
another team. Driving alongside Trulli won't be easy and I would expect
him to lose more often that not.
Jaguar: Managerial changes continue to affect the team negatively. Technical Director Steve Nichols left the team after the new car had a serious flaw with it's front wing. Don't expect Jaguar to threaten the midfield (Sauber, Jordan, BAR, Renault) anytime soon. In fact in the early races they'll be threatened by Arrows. Reliability 7/10 - Speed 6/10
Drivers: Eddie Irvine needs to prove that he is
still needed beyond this season when his contract expires. He has shown
good form in the past but he needs to be more consistent.
Pedro de la Rosa will start to challenge Irvine this
season (last year he scored 3 points compared to Irvine's 6). However the
problems with the Jaguar won't help.
Arrows: They could be the other surprise of the season. With Cosworth power, Sergio Rinland's expertise and Heinz Harald Frentzen, Jaguar must be worried. How much further up the grid they can go though remains to be seen. Their main weakness will be their reliability as they have done the least amount of testing on their car. Reliability 5/10 - Speed 7/10
Drivers: Heinz Harald Frentzen will impress everyone in qualifying, perhaps even putting the Arrows inside the top 10. In the race though he might be one of the first retirements.
Enrique Bernoldi continues
with the team due to the Red Bull relationship. It would have been far
more exciting to see Frentzen and Verstappen together. Bernoldi has yet to
show signs of brilliance.
Minardi: With the Asiatech engines, they have made a step forward in power. They've also signed a number of Asian sponsors making the team better prepared for the new season. However they have only managed a few days of testing in the new car so reliability will be an issue. Reliability 6/10 - Speed 5/10
Drivers: Alex Yoong drove in the last 3 races of
last season but was significantly slower than Alonso (who was his
team-mate at the time). Melbourne is a new track for him so he is in the
same boat as the other rookies. His drive in Formula 1 seems to be more
sponsorship that skill but I hope I am wrong.
Mark Webber managed to impress Paul Stoddart so much in testing that he decided to offer him a drive. In testing he has outperformed Yoong and expect the same in Melbourne. Unfortunately for Webber, it is unlikely that the car will be able to match any of the other cars on the grid however Toyota and Jaguar might be within reach at the start of the season. Still given the late launch, it is unlikely that he'll finish.
Toyota: The new kids on the
block and they are actually an unknown quantity. Apart from a few tests
done in the presence of the other teams, most of their testing was done
privately. There are a number of senior figures in Formula 1 who are
claiming that Toyota will surprise everyone. I would disagree though and
would expect them to start at the end of the midfield and gradually move
up the grid.
Drivers: Mika Salo is a fast driver but given the
early stages of the car, it will be a while before he gets his chance.
Allan McNish is another rookie and an unknown
quantity. The car won't be much competitive early in the season and that will
make it hard on McNish.
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