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Australian Grand Prix predictions

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Jonathan Legard | 14:20 UK time, Friday, 27 March 2009

It is a tough job predicting the podium and points places for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix but someone has got to do it, and the task has fallen to me.

The rule changes for the 2009 Formula 1 season, the row over diffuser design and the emergence of the Brawn Grand Prix team cast the competition wide open before the cars hit the track.

Finally the cars have got up-and-running in Melbourne and after months of suspense we can get some indication as to form - or lack of it.

My top eight predicted finishes for the Australian GP are:

1. Rubens Barrichello (Brawn GP)
2. Jarno Trulli (Toyota)
3. Jenson Button (Brawn GP)
4. Timo Glock (Toyota)
5. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
6. Fernando Alonso (Renault)
7. Nico Rosberg (Williams)
8. Giancarlo Fisichella (Force India)

I have picked Brawn GP to sweep up two of the podiums places with the oldest man on the grid, Barrichello, picking up the victory with team-mate Button third.

Rubens Barrichello, Melbourne practice session

There is no denying that both Brawns are flying and the team are feeling confident.

Although there are some question marks over the cars' reliability and balance, those concerns do not appear to be too serious.

The car seems right on the money and was quick in both early practice sessions, even though it has not done much testing compared to the others.

Barrichello has been on pole in Melbourne before and has finished second on three occasions. His experience will be crucial on Sunday and that is why I am picking the Brazilian for the win.

Button's record in Australia is shocking - he has only had one points finish in nine years. When a driver gets in a bad run of results, he finds it difficult to get out of the rut.

I may be letting my heart rule my head by predicting Button for third but I will stick my neck out.

I have chosen the Toyotas to take second and third places because Toyota have been reliable in testing and were consistent last season.

Toyota put the most miles on their car over the winter and I am told that they have not done any low fuel runs before coming to Australia.

I am picking Trulli to pick up second place because he is a good qualifier and is due a good result here.

Glock is under-rated and I predict the German will come fourth. He was pretty solid in practice and the key for him is a good qualifying session.

You may have noticed that the teams I have predicted to fill the top four places are all running with the diffusers that are under appeal.

The unique, split design of those diffusers, as opposed to the model used by the seven other teams, looks to be worth around half a second, and so you can see why the other teams lodged a protest against it.

From the top four down, making predictions gets a little trickier.

The low, wide front-wing designs for 2009 means cars could easily get tangled up and you should keep your eyes peeled for carnage.

Any car which qualifies in midfield could get into trouble on the approach to the first corner.

With that in mind, I am picking Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen to take fifth. The Finn has a great record in Melbourne, taking pole and victory in 2007 and winning his first points here in 2001.

Ferrari are running with the kinetic energy recovery system (Kers) which is designed to give the drivers an extra boost of power for seven seconds per lap.

But based on the times we have seen in practice, Kers does not really seem to be helping any of the teams using it to gain the extra pace it promises.

But if the conditions are warm, Raikkonen should be able to get enough heat into his tyres, which is often Ferrari's biggest problem.

The Finn finished third in first practice but then 11th in the second session and that was because as the temperature dropped later in the day so did the performance of his tyres.

I am predicting Fernando Alonso will follow Raikkonen home in sixth. He is also running with Kers and he does not have the advantageous diffuser design, but I expect he will tuck in to the battle anyway.

The Renault driver is canny enough to get himself out of trouble and into the points. He is a good operator and can make things happen.

My pick for seventh spot could leave some people wondering if I have got these predictions completely wrong. Yes, Nico Rosberg topped the timesheets in both of Friday's practice sessions in a Williams car which is running with the beneficial diffuser.

But there has to be a joker in the pack and I just wonder if Rosberg will get caught up in some trouble early on in the race.

No-one would have predicted that he would finish third here in Australia last season but I just have a hunch he won't repeat it this time around.

Lastly, I've picked Giancarlo Fisichella purely because I think there will be problems elsewhere and he can do a decent job of clearing up.

Force India did a solid job in practice and Fisichella is my wildcard. I am backing him to win the team their first points with a Mercedes engine in Melbourne.

There are some notable omissions from my predictions, such as Ferrari's Felipe Massa and BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica, but predictions are just that, and they both have the capabilities to prove me wrong.

It is a different story with the McLarens of world champion Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen.

Their worse fears were confirmed in practice as Hamilton finished 16 and 18th in the timesheets.

McLaren are struggling and Hamilton and the team have admitted as much.

They cannot get the car working how they want it to and are still trying to resolve issues with the rear of the car.

I have heard from within the team that big updates are on the way but not until the Spanish Grand Prix on 10 May.

They expect to come out flying in Barcelona but for the next four races it will be a real battle.

That means in the coming weeks we will find a lot out about Hamilton and Kovalainen. Hamilton's job will be to keep his head up and the team's spirits - it will be interesting to see how he fares.

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