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Round 1 Preview - Australia 15-18 March 2012

Venue: Melbourne

Circuit Length: 5.303 km

Laps: 58

Lap Record: 1:24.125 = 226.933 km/h - M. Schumacher (Ferrari) 2004

2011 Results

Pole Position:

Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault); 1:23.529 = 228.552 km/h

1st: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 1:29.30.259

2nd: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes)

3rd: Vitaly Petrov (Renault)

Fastest Lap:

Felipe Massa (Ferrari), 1:28.947 = 214.631 km/h on lap 55

Preview:

“Finally, we can stop trying to read the tea-leaves from testing and actually go racing”: Mercedes ace Michael Schumacher sums it all up perfectly after the pre-season round of testing in Spain!

Mercedes could actually be the dark horses: it’s the third year of the new Silver Arrows and they claim they have had their best preparation yet. Michael has yet to be on the podium since his comeback began two seasons ago; team-mate Nico Rosberg is still looking for his first GP victory.

Ferrari look to be off the pace – but we thought that a couple of years back and they started the year with a 1-2 finish in Bahrain, so let’s not count Messrs Alonso and Massa out just yet.

The usual reservations apply: green track to start, variable weather conditions, and 24 drivers desperate to make a statement about the year ahead.

Just two rookies this year, both from France: Jean-Eric Vergne, or JEV as he is known, at Toro Rosso and Charles Pic at Marussia.

Marussia and HRT both have catch-up work to do after finalizing their 2012 challengers after Spanish testing ended.

McLaren’s double Melbourne winner Jenson Button expects a typically feisty Albert Park start to the year: “I think the new rules have definitely made it a more competitive place – it’s easier to pass here now than it ever was. And I think the potential of a second DRS zone will be a real benefit: last year, along the startline wasn’t enough for overtaking – I think we’ll get more benefit from a second zone. Finally, the walls around here are close enough to keep your mind focused. I can’t remember a race here that wasn’t eventful or surprising in some way, so it’s the perfect place to kick off the season.”

This year we have two Australians to barrack for: Mark Webber of Red Bull Racing is back for his 11th Albert Park event (is it that long ago that he finished fifth on debut?) while Dan Ricciardo gets his first home race start in Toro Rosso colours.

Mark’s been fifth three times here, so a maiden podium in Melbourne would be a great start to the year. Dan did 23 laps in Friday free practice last season and despite 11 race starts for HRT in 2011 he knows this is a big moment for him: “It does feel a bit like my first race! It’s quite special – to have the opening race of the year at home creates even more of a buzz.” He said it…

But maybe it’s former Albert Park winner Lewis Hamilton who sums it all up best: “Melbourne is a city that has sport running through its veins,” says the 2008 World Champion, “and the crowd lives and breathes it. It’s a great place to start the season. For me, Melbourne means sunshine, smiling faces, a great paddock – a but compact but very friendly, a great city with a really positive vibe – and a racetrack that’s really made for racing.”

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