When the piercing scream of the Formula One circus rattles the eardrums of onlookers during Friday afternoon’s opening practice at the picturesque Albert Park circuit, it will signal the beginning of the end of an era.
The 2013 season – the 64th in F1 history – will be the final in which the 2.4 litre V8 engines will be used; with the much-maligned introduction of 1.6 litre supercharged V6 engines being used from 2014 onwards.
What this means for this season is that it is extremely unlikely that we will see a repeat of the roller coaster opening half of last year, where there were seven different winners after as many races because teams have simply tinkered with the 2012 cars, preferring to spend their vast recourses in designing cars for the 2014 season.
This doesn’t at all mean it won’t be as exciting.
Australian GP historical info graphic: Credit Jake Stevens – @CobbaStevens
Due to the decrease in development, there will be a reduction in technical gains. Mid-pack teams will have closed the gap on the teams at the front, which should result in closer racing.
Pirelli have once more produced a tyre that will give teams many a headache. The Italian company have designed a rubber that increases thermal degradation, meaning more pit-stops, but also hopefully more overtaking.
Once again, Australian hopes will rest on Red Bull’s Mark Webber, who will be hoping to mount a title challenge by finally winning his home Grand Prix and get his eleventh year in F1 off to a flying start.
Twenty-three-year-old Western Australian Daniel Ricciardo will be looking to get one over his Toro Rosso teammate Jean-Eric Vergne in a fierce battle that will see the winner presumably replace Mark Webber at sister team Red Bull once the 36-year-old decides to leave, or is pushed.
The usual suspects – Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren – will be fighting for both the constructors and drivers championships, however Mercedes and Lotus both cannot be discredited, especially with the former picking up 2008 World Champion Lewis Hamilton as well as technical director Paddy Lowe, both from McLaren.
THE FRONT RUNNERS
1. Sebastian VETTEL (GER)
2. Mark WEBBER (AUS)
Average in pre-season testing, there were whispers around the paddock that the current three-time world champions were bluffing by running heavy fuel loads. However, there is nothing to suggest they won’t be the early pace setters, with the RB9 being an evolution of the RB8, which completely tore apart the field in the second half of 2012.
Sebastian Vettel will be eyeing a fourth straight title, and there won’t be many betting against it. Time is starting to run out for Mark Webber and he will have to get off to a good start to avoid playing second fiddle to the German yet again.
3. Fernando ALONSO (ESP)
4. Felipe MASSA (BRA)
The F138 already is miles ahead of where the F2012 was at the same time last season, with lead driver Fernando Alonso confident the team have ironed out many of the problems that plagued his championship hopes last time round. The Spaniard, widely regarded as the most talented driver in the field, may finally have the machinery at Ferrari worthy of matching his talent.
His teammate, Felipe Massa, showed massive improvement in the second half of 2012 after a terrible opening, however Alonso is the clear number one in Maranello and the team will do all that is possible to help the 31-year-old to an elusive third world crown.
5. Jenson BUTTON (GBR)
6. Sergio PEREZ (MEX)
Although the British outfit started superbly in pre-season testing in Jerez, it hasn’t been exactly smooth sailing since. Both Jenson Button and his Mexican teammate Sergio Perez have complained that they find the MP4-28 difficult to understand despite topping the time sheets early on in testing.
Part of that may have to do with the McLaren being the most ‘revolutionised’ of all cars on the grid, however there is no doubt they will be strong not only in Melbourne, but as the year progresses.
7. Kimi RAIKKONEN (FIN)
8. Romain GROSJEAN (FRA)
Reliability issues dogged Lotus’ pre-season, however they showed signs of their competitiveness with both drivers putting in quick times in both Jerez and Barcelona, leading the time sheets on three separate days. Led by the consistent Raikkonen, the E-21 has the raw pace to win races, however the team must get on top of reliability.
9. Nico ROSBERG (GER)
10. Lewis HAMILTON (GBR)
A real dark horse for 2013, the UK-based German team have a driving line-up that most teams will be envious of. After a horror start to testing where Lewis Hamilton ploughed into a barrier after brake failure, the F1-W04 started to show its potential and produced the overall quickest time. One to watch.
THE CHASING PACK
11. Nico HULKENBERG (GER)
12. Esteban GUTIERREZ (MEX)
Two brand new drivers for 2013, but both are more than capable of helping push Sauber into the group of frontrunners. The C32 has shown solid signs in testing, and the Swiss team will be hoping it’s as easy on its tyres as its predecessor.
Nico Hulkenberg came close to a podium at Interlagos last year and whilst Esteban Gutierrez is a rookie he has a strong junior pedigree and is highly rated by F1 experts.
14. Paul DI RESTA (GBR)
15. Adrian SUTIL (GER)
The Silverstone-based team are in a similar boat to their main rivals Sauber in that they both are looking to break the stranglehold of the ‘big five’, although there is no doubt that that will be an enormous task.
Adrian Sutil returns to the team after a year out and in testing didn’t look like he missed a beat. The battle between him and his teammate Paul Di Resta will be one keeping an eye on, as they both have an eye on bigger and better seats in the future.
16. Pastor MALDONADO (VEN)
17. Valtteri BOTTAS (FIN)
There is a strong sense of optimism coming out of the Williams camp in 2013. The British outfit feel the FW35 is a step up from the FW34, despite the car only being ready for the second Barcelona test.
In Pastor Maldonado they have a driver who on his day is exceptionally quick, however has a tendency to be a tad crash happy. Rookie Valtteri Bottas comes in with massive wraps and is definitely one of the next big things in the sport; a real coup for Williams.
18. Jean-Eric VERGNE (FRA)
19. Daniel RICCIARDO (AUS)
Toro Rosso will be aiming to jump Williams and really challenge the Sauber’s and Force India’s in 2013.
Both Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo seemed frustrated last year, as they felt they were not able to showcase their talents in what essentially is an audition for Mark Webber’s seat at Red Bull. Formerly close friends in junior categories; both drivers have stated over past weeks that whilst they maintain a good working relationship, they are no longer mates.
Watch this space.
20. Charles PIC (FRA)
21. Giedo VAN DER GARDE (NED)
The CT-03 already looks an improvement on the CT-02, however both drivers are new to the team (Van Der Garde in a full-time sense) and complained they found the car to be a bit of a handful. Caterham have two hungry young drivers out to make a name for themselves, however not many will predict them to fight with the mid-pack cars. Battling with Marussia to not finish bottom of the constructor’s championship.
22. Jules BIANCHI (FRA)
23. Max CHILTON (GBR)
Losing Timo Glock is a blow in an on-track sense for Marussia, but it is financially sensible for a team not exactly swimming in cash. Proof of their financial difficulties came to the fore after the team dropped rookie Luiz Razia only weeks ago due to the young Brazilian’s sponsors not being able to produce the money promised to the team.
He was replaced by Jules Bianchi, a Ferrari Academy driver who was tipped to get the Force India seat before it was given to Adrian Sutil. Max Chilton has a strong junior pedigree, but will have his work cut out in F1.
Daniel Baricevic is a third-year Bachelor of Journalism (Sport) student. You can follow him on Twitter: @danielbara4