If the opening two Formula 1 races are anything to go by, Max Verstappen should comfortably win the Australian Grand Prix and extend his lead in the championship.
Verstappen will have two highly motivated Mercedes drivers behind him, in Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, on the grid but the outright pace of the Red Bull will almost certainly make the Dutchman unbeatable.
Reliability could be an issue following driveshaft issues for the RB19 in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, but other than that, it’s hard to see how Verstappen doesn’t win.
Russell keen to fight Verstappen
Even if Verstappen loses out at the start, as long as he doesn’t get absolutely swamped or involved in an incident, he should be able to fight back to the front, especially with four DRS zones and the Red Bull with DRS open is in a league of its own.
Red Bull will probably have around three tenths of a second, at least, per lap on the rest of the field and that’s simply indefensible, although Russell is up for the task.
“We’ve got to go for it, haven’t we?” said Russell. “We’ve got to go for a win. Max is going to be extremely fast, there’s no hiding that.
“I think it’s difficult to overtake around this circuit, so the start, lap one, is going to be vital – but the Red Bull has extraordinary top speed.
“It’s going to be very difficult to fight with Max. But let’s see. Let’s see how we get on. We’ve got to do our own race. If the opportunity is there, we will go for it.”
Hamilton added: “I think it’s difficult to say. I haven’t even done a long run. So, going into the race, will be the first time I do so. I’ve not seen where we tally up compared to them.
“We have to expect they are going to be a quarter of a second, half a second, at least, quicker than us.
“But maybe in the tow, maybe we can just about hold on. Maybe the fact that there’s two of us and only one Red Bull, maybe with strategy, maybe we can apply some pressure to them.”
It’s great to see the Mercedes pair are very upbeat and to have any hope, you feel like both drivers must be ahead of Verstappen after Lap 1.
Even then it will be a big ask, so let’s look at the podium fight and what the Mercedes, Aston Martin and Ferrari drivers will have to consider.
One-stop strategy limits options
Albert Park is a low degradation track so, unless there is a late race safety car, a one-stop will be the play.
Given the relatively cool conditions, tyre warm-up is going to be a big problem so starting on the C4 soft tyre might bring a bigger advantage than usual on the opening lap.
Although Pirelli recommend the quickest strategy is medium-hard, don’t be surprised to see the soft-medium utilised, simply due to the amount of time you could lose during the early stages of a stint on the hard compound.
The overcut could be powerful too, which means if you have track position, you shouldn’t stop until your rival behind you does.
This could make things tricky for Alonso, who would need to overtake the Mercedes on track and the Aston Martin straight line speed is slightly weaker.
Ferrari might be on the back of the Mercedes–Aston Martin train, but they have not looked strong compared to the opening two rounds so it would be a shock if Carlos Sainz or Charles Leclerc were in third.
How far will Perez get up the order?
First of all, whatever issue Perez was suffering from on Saturday, he needs that to be resolved or else he will struggle to finish the Australian GP.
You will find it hard to see a driver go off so many times in a practice session without crashing, than what Perez did during FP3.
His off in Q1 summed up the day but the only way is up for the Mexican, and he should be able to pick cars off one by one.
The only problem he may have is getting stuck in a DRS train, which will cost him a lot of time.
This is why having the confidence and balance to stay close through the twisty sections, like the final part of the lap, is key in order to make a move into the first chicane or, more likely, Turn 3.
Don’t expect Perez to easily come through the field and a top five would be an excellent result to limit the damage.
An Australian GP of unknowns
As Hamilton alluded to, the lack of consistent dry practice time and stop-start nature of Friday has thrown a lot of questions up in the air.
The teams that can adapt to this situation best should score points and we will also see how well the cars perform in cooler conditions, which may explain Mercedes‘ upturn in pace.
Alpine appear to be in the tight midfield to back of the grid battle, but should be favourites to be inside the top 10.
But, the layout of Albert Park does suit Williams and Alex Albon has done an incredible job to qualify eighth, so if he can keep it clean and tidy, he will be hard to pass.