Melbourne F1 Grand Prix preview
Neos Kosmos takes a sneak peek into this weekend's Australian F1 Grand Prix
Twenty-four drivers of 12 different nationalities will line up for the Albert Park race on Sunday March 18 when the 2012 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix gets underway next weekend. The starting grid will have six World Champions and the latest champ to make a comeback will be the flying Finn, Kimi Raikkonen who won the World Championship with Ferrari in 2007. Raikkonen claimed six race victories including Melbourne, to win by one point from Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.
After two years absence, Raikkonen returns to F1 with Lotus Renault GP, where the 32 year old Finn will be running alongside France's Romain Grosjean returning with added experience after winning the GP2 title during his own two-year absence following seven-races with Renault in 2009. Lotus had bad news after one day of track testing in Barcelona - the team suspended their activities when their E20 chassis was sent back to the drawing board after a Grosjean accident. Kimi Raikkonen's task in adding to his tally of 18 Grand Prix wins will become more difficult if a solution to the chassis problem facing the team is not resolved soon.
Michael Schumacher however - who has more titles than any driver in history - was out of F1 for three years after winning 91 races and seven World Championships and has yet to finish in the top three let alone win one, but will continue for a third season partnering Nico Rosberg in the AMG Mercedes Petronas F1 team. Reigning champion Sebastian Vettel, 24, is the youngest driver ever to take consecutive World titles and is very much in the hunt to make it three successive World Championships this year.
Only two other drivers in the history of F1 have won three in a row - Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher - so he will be in esteemed company if the young German can achieve it in 2012. Like Vettel, Spain's Fernando Alonso boasts two consecutive titles with Renault in 2005-06. This will be Alonso's third season with the most winning marque in Formula 1, Ferarri, but the new F2012 was not very competitive at Barcelona recently, failing to challenge the front runners. The last two of the six World Champions still racing in F1 currently are team-mates, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes McLaren.
Last season, Button pipped Hamilton for team honours but with the launch of the McLaren MP4-27, Hamilton has been to work even harder in pre-season altitude training in Switzerland as he prepares his new attack on the track. After the formidable six World Champions, two other drivers in this year's field are proven aggressive race-winners, Ferrari's Felipe Massa with 11 and Australian Mark Webber with seven wins.
This pair will definitely pick up races this year and do very well on points, maybe even win the World championship with a little fortune on their side. The only other driver to have picked up a F1 Grand Prix win is Caterham's, Heikki Kovalainen who took out one race in his short stay at McLaren a few years back. Lotus and Scuderia Toro Rosso are the only teams to have made a double driver change for 2012. After his impressive test sessions, Australia's Daniel Ricciardo has the chance to prove what he can do in the Red Bull sister team 'Torro Rosso'.
His team-mate, Jean-Eric Vergne, will be one of only two rookies in the field with the other newcomer Charles Pic at Marussia F1. Pat Fry, Ferrari's technical director said last Sunday that the Italian team will struggle to make the podium at the Australian Grand Prix in two weeks' time because of the dismal performances during testing at Barcelona. After four days of track work, Fernando Alonso managed only a time of 1min 22.250sec, fifth fastest with team-mate Felipe Massa managing only ninth position. Kimi Raikkonen, in a problem free Lotus, was the fastest overall. Sergio Perez, in the Sauber, McLaren's Jenson Button and Australian rookie, Daniel Ricciardo in the lowly Toro Rosso, all had times faster than the Ferraris.
Meanwhile back at the ranch... The Chairman of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, Ron Walker, said this week that there were no plans to stage the Melbourne race at night, but Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone had other thoughts and suggested the Melbourne race is the least viable on the F1 calendar and would have to be run at night if it is to be staged in Australia beyond 2015.
Once again, the Chair of the Australian GP Corporation, the State Premier and Melbourne's Lord Mayor play their little game of brinkmanship with Bernie in negotiating the race's future beyond 2015. I have news for our aficionados with short memories: Once you lose the race (like our friends in Adelaide did under similar 'brinkmanship' circumstances) you will never get it back. But what the heck, a V8 Supercars 'Moomba 500' around Albert Park in March sounds pretty good too!
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