Dan Ricciardo will hope to upset the odds and become the first Aussie winner on home soil when he lines up on the grid for the season-opening 2016 Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix (March 20).
As the event comes of age with its 21st race at Albert Park, the 26-year-old West Australian knows he will be the focus of much attention and expectation as he and the Red Bull Racing team seek to put a disappointing 2015 season behind them.
But he will also know that there is little real evidence to support his and his fans’ wildest dreams.
Pre-season testing times suggest the big-smiling driver from Perth will not find it easy to triumph against champions Mercedes and their likely closest pursuers Ferrari. If, that is, he can resist the pressure from his Red Bull Racing team-mate Russian Daniil Kvyat.
The Italian team impressed with outstanding pace during two weeks of tests at the Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona in Spain where Mercedes, in an imperious demonstration of reliability, delivered ample proof with a series of race-distance runs that they also are set for another strong season.
Indeed, the champions of 2014 and 2015 will arrive at Albert Park with every reason to believe they can continue to dominate – the only question being about the motivation of three-time drivers’ champion Lewis Hamilton who appeared to ease off after winning the title last year.
That allowed the 31-year-old Englishman’s Mercedes team-mate German Nico Rosberg to seize the initiative and momentum with three late wins. The champion’s mind, it seemed, had drifted elsewhere – an issue that, he has said, will not have any affect on his focus this time around.
Hamilton, with his mojo restored, will seek to claim his third Australian victory and increase the overall total of British drivers’ wins to 10. After 20 races, they are currently on nine – of which another current racer Jenson Button of McLaren Honda has contributed three.
Germany are the second most successful nation with six victories – Michael Schumacher winning four of those – ahead of Finland on three and one each from Italy and Spain.
No wonder that Ricciardo’s father Joe is promising to perform a rain dance in a bid to assist his son’s attempt at raising the Australian flag on top of the victory podium.
If it remains dry, however, it is difficult to see beyond the usual suspects with Red Bull Racing, Williams and Force India also in contention. All three remain unchanged from last year and, like Mercedes and Ferrari, will have that element of consistency to fall back on in the opening races.
Of the rest, it will be interesting to see how Renault perform with a new line-up of Dane Kevin Magnussen and British rookie Jolyon Palmer, son of former F1® racer Jonathan Palmer, following their take-over of Lotus.
Toro Rosso, whose youthful duo of Dutch teenager Max Verstappen and Spaniard Carlos Sainz, shone last year, have switched engines from Renault to Ferrari and may be a bigger threat.
Sauber are also unchanged as are McLaren-Honda who suffered such a disappointing season in 2015. Another similar year of failures may expose the frustrations of their drivers two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso and 2009 champion Briton Jenson Button.
Such setbacks are to be expected for the new American Haas F1 Team and Manor Racing. Haas, powered by Ferrari, have overcome some difficult days already in pre-season testing while Manor have an all-new line-up after switching to Mercedes.