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The shape of things to come

EVENT COUNTDOWN

ALBERT PARK

12-15 MARCH 2015

Okay, let’s take a deep breath… and have a think about where we are.

Yes, we’re at Albert Park and it’s race day for the 2103 Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix – but there the familiarity ends.

F1 veterans will feel it’s just like old times, when qualifying was split into two sessions over Saturday and Sunday and we aggregated the lap times.

It’s not quite like that this time, is it? Even Formula 1’s powers-that-be can’t influence the Melbourne weather, so we have to resume a qualifying hour cut short after the opening 20-minute segment and get on with the job of establishing the grid for the first race of 2013.

Six drivers are already out of the process, and the only biggish name among them is that of Pastor Maldonado in the Williams Renault. Last year’s Barcelona winner admitted the team was paying the price for a poor Friday and it would have been hard to break into the top 10 anyway.

Meanwhile his new teammate Valtteri Bottas was the only one of the five Melbourne rookies to squeeze through Q1, a very creditable effort when the quintet have enjoyed so little time in a Formula 1 car in the wet.

That left Marussia pairing Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton out in the cold, along with Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde and F1 sophomore Charles Pic – and Esteban Gutierrez, admitting he made a mistake in his Sauber Mercedes on his first outing as replacement for Sergio Perez.

Will Sebastian Vettel add to his tally of 36 poles and claim a third here in Melbourne? Might Mark Webber upstage him with what would be only the Aussie’s second front-row start in his home race? Could Mercedes spring a surprise?

Or will Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen take the impressive weekend form of Lotus Renault to the next stage? Grosjean was quickest in third practice and is working hard to set aside his ‘bad boy’ image from last year.

“It’s frustrating to delay the rest of qualifying, but there were some good things for us to take from Q1,” said the Frenchman on Saturday night. “It’s no secret that wet conditions did not favour our car last year, but from what we saw today there have definitely been some improvements.

“I’m sorry for the fans as they have been fantastic all week and stuck around despite the weather. We have a big day tomorrow and it looks like staying dry, so hopefully we can put on a good show for them.”

Aussie fans will hope Dan Ricciardo can get a bit more out of his Toro Rosso Ferrari – he and Jean-Eric Vergne feel the car has good mechanical grip but may be wanting on the aero side of things, so track conditions could be critical for them.

And what of Señor Alonso? None of Fernando’s 22 poles so far has been achieved here, and the imperious Spaniard has been relatively low-key so far. But Ferrari are determined not to start 2013 on the back foot as they did 2012, so if he’s not on the front row, keep your eye on a red rocket coming through when we get to race time at 5pm.

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