MARCH 5, 2003
AUSTRALIAN GP - PREVIEW
And so we head into another new era of Formula 1 and the big question that everyone is trying to answer is whether or not this will make any difference to the pecking order in Formula 1. The signs are that the best team will still be the winning team and that means that we are probably looking at another year of Ferrari domination. But you never know and Melbourne has a habit of throwing up an unusual result as teams are rarely totally ready for the start of a new season and reliability is always an issue. The attrition rate in Albert Park has always been high with eight finishers in both 1999 and 2002, nine in 1998 and 2000. Never more than 14 cars have reached the finish in Albert Park. Thus the old motor racing adage "To finish first, first you must finish" is as important as ever. Ferrari's biggest triumph in recent seasons has been its amazing reliability rate and if this continues one be sure that the red cars will be at the front. But will McLaren or Williams be challenging?
The new regulations are going to make that a difficult question to answer at least until Sunday as we will not know how much fuel cars are running in qualifying and so the grid will not necessarily be a good indications as to the real competitiveness of the cars. There is the potential for a struggling team like Minardi or Jordan to try to pull rabbits out of hats to impressive potential sponsors by running at the front for a while. This will not convince those on the inside in F1 but gullible sponsors may be taken in by it.
When all is said and done it will be a miracle if any team other than Ferrari, Williams or McLaren win a race in 2003. Renault seems to have a good chassis but remains handicapped by its engine; Toyota looks promising but it is unlikely to have made enough progress to get a winning edge while BAR, Jaguar, Jordan and Minardi will all be fighting to get into the Sauber-Renault bracket on the grid. Things behind the big boys are very tight indeed. But getting to this level is not such a difficult task if you use your resources wisely. The big problem is finding the extra one or two percent to pull ahead of the crowd. A small error or a miscalculation can make all the difference and there are signs this year that Sauber has an aerodynamic problem which may blunt its performance. The initial signs are that Williams too is not in too a good a shape at the start of the year although the team is very confident that progress will be rapid in the months ahead.
There is much excitement in F1 about the effect that the rejigged rules will have and we await answers in the weeks ahead.