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It could be the first race from hell  
28 February 2001 Volume 3 - Issue 3  

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Although, like always, it is very difficult to predict the potential performance of the various teams as we were never sure what they were testing during the off season and/or what setup they were running when they did their fastest lap of the day, we can make some predictions or educated guesses:

Australia has experienced one of the hottest summers in history and if the weather lasts and we do not have a wet race, it could be a lot hotter than most if not all of the teams have planned for. It is reasonable to expect Melbourne to be hot, but this year there is a chance that it could be very hot with trackside temperatures near 35 degrees Celsius and track temperatures well above that.

Apart from the risk of overheating engines this year introduces another wild card: new and very different tyres.

It is not a case of Bridgestone having the upper hand because they have so much experience from previous years. Last years experience is pretty much meaningless as they were focused on producing controlled tyres that would last. This year they have to compete with Michelin and safer but slower are no longer an option.

I am expecting to see a lot of tyre blistering again this season and with the potential of a very hot Sunday, Melbourne may well be a rough start for tyre manufacturers.

Melbourne's Albert Park circuit is one of the fastest of the season (only Monza and Hockenheim are faster) with one very slow corner and 5 moderately slow corners. Average speed will exceed 225km/H. It is hard on both cars and drivers. Being a fast circuit with several slow corners it is taxing on brakes and transmission.

It is not a good track to assess the impact on overtaking ability of the changes in aerodynamics and tyres. Melbourne has very few overtaking opportunities. The pit straight is too short and on the rest of the track deviating from the optimum line is considerably slower.

Pit strategy will be very important. Tyre wear will be high (unless it rains) and with so many rookies we must expect some mistakes that will result in pace car laps, which will reduce fuel consumption and tyre wear allowing cars to stay out longer than planned.

The teams and drivers that I will be paying particular attention to are:

McLaren and Ferrari. I am still expecting them to be considerably faster than the rest of the grid. If Ferrari maintain their impressive early reliability record, we may see Schumacher get an early lead in the championship again. McLaren cannot afford another year of early retirements; it will be interesting to see if they can finish the race.

Hakkinen always seems slow at the start of a season almost as if he is struggling with the feel of the new car. I hope he does not repeat that again this year, he can't afford to give Schumacher the lead and then spend most of the season playing catch-up again.

Coulthard and Barrichello may do well too but I am not expecting much from Barrichello, other than talk, and even if Coulthard is fast in this race he will probably lose heart at some stage through the season again and become pedestrian.

Prost was very fast in practice and that may mean something. I would like to see Alesi do well again but I am not convinced that he has a car that will finish.

Both Prost and Sauber's best chance of scoring championship points will be early in the season which is when last year's Ferrari engine will be most competitive. As the new engines are settled down and developed over the season, we can expect the gap in horsepower to get bigger too.

BAR and Williams could be involved in a struggle from the first race. They seem evenly matched and both teams should have reliable cars. I do not think that either team will be fast enough to challenge for the lead yet, but both will be anxious to earn as many points as possible.

With many new drivers, some with very little experience, I also think that there will be quite a few crashes, and subsequent retirements. That may allow some of the slower but reliable teams like Jaguar and even Minardi to sneak into the points.

Main 2001 Australian GP Page 
Previous Heretic Issues 
The Heretic's 2001 Season Preview

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