Winter pause is finally over and F1 fans may return back to their passion and new battles in the World Championship 2016. This weekend the opening race as usual will start in Melbourne where Australian Grand Prix will disclose the readiness of the teams to meet a new season.
This year the drivers will be challenged in 21 races all over the world with a rather tight schedule. A new team enters the competition - Haas F1 Team, based in the USA, represented by the former Lotus driver Romain Grosjean and the former Sauber pilot and Ferrari test driver Esteban Gutierrez. Haas debut is not the only one: Manor Racing (former Marussia) will try from a clean start again by shifting from Ferrari to Mercedes power and with a couple of young new drivers: a 21-year old German Pascal Wehrlein and 23-year old Indonesian Rio Haryanto. In addition, Renault, having taken over Lotus, throw into competition their driving duo: a young Brit Jolyon Palmer and not a stranger to F1 Kevin Magnussen.
However, the main competition, of cource, is expected between Mercedes and Ferrari. Though one may never be sure of advancements the other teams managed to succeed during the holiday period. On Friday the first practices will reveal the real capacities and best car adjustments.
Changes in regulations
Changes in certain points of race regulations should definitely spice up the race. Especially those related to qualification, choice of tyres and radio communication.
On Saturday a new qualifying procedure will be initiated. In a nutshell, it will still consist of three-session knockouts but the slowest drivers will be eliminated in every 1 min 30 s periods after the first 7 minutes (out of 16) are over. Thus 7 drivers to be eliminated in Q1. Q2 will continue in the same framework, only it will last for 15 minutes and elimination starts after 6. Q3 lasts 14 minutes and the first slowest driver is eliminated after 5 minutes till 2 drivers are left in final 1 min 30 s. To be noted that in each session, the final elimination will occur at the chequered flag, rather than when the time is up.
When in practice and qualifying a broader choice of tyre will be available. For the first time Pirelli will bring three compounds for the race - the mediums, the softs and the supersofts - rather than the known two. This year the drivers will be able to build their strategies more on their driving style or track specifications, as they will be allowed to choose 10 sets of tyre themselves out of 13.
Radio communication restrictions between the driver and his team will also challenge the race. This year, as it is stated in FIA regulations, ""the driver shall drive the car alone and unaided". Thus Australian Grand Prix will demonstrate which drivers are capable of the right decision making without a communication flow coming from the boxes. No more engineer's remarks on technical performance, no more strategical insights.
Mercedes or Ferrari?
The reigning champion Lewis Hamilton looks optimistic and motivated as always, however, he also believes that Ferrari and especially Sebastian Vettel is more stronger than it seems (watch FIA Thursday press conference). And don't forget Nico Rosberg who has won the last 3 Grand Prix in 2015. He's got ambition, too. Will Mercedes still dominate the race? This weekend will make the scene clearer.
Enjoy the race!