F1 2014 Australian Grand Prix qualifying: Hamilton favourite in Melbourne
PUBLISHED: 16:21 14 March 2014 | UPDATED: 07:31 15 March 2014
Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton will start qualifying for the 2014 Australian Grand Prix as favourite to claim pole position for the season-opening race in Melbourne.
The 29-year-old Mercedes AMG Petronas star from Hertfordshire led his Silver Arrows teammate Nico Rosberg in the first practice sessions of the new F1 season.
And bookies William Hill make the Stevenage-born racer 5/4 to qualify fastest on Saturday and 15/8 to win Sunday’s grand prix around the Albert Park circuit.
Following a winter of discontent for last season’s champion, Red Bull ace Sebastian Vettel is all the way out at 11/1 to win in Melbourne, and 4/1 to win the 2014 FIA World Drivers’ Championship.
“Lewis is definitely the man to beat at this early stage of the season, but never discount Vettel and at 4/1 he is bound to have a touch of interest for the Drivers,” said William Hill spokesman Joe Crilly.
"We want to bring both cars to the flag in the best possible position."
Traditionally, the first race of the season is a bit of a shot in the dark as punters hunt around for a bit of outside value and Williams newcomer Felipe Massa at 10/1, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen at 14/1 and Valterri Bottas at 16/1 are proving popular and could each spark five figure payouts should they win Sunday’s race.
Ahead of the first qualifying session of the season, Hamilton said: “With all the changes within the sport and the hard work that’s been going on within the team, I believe this can be our year to really show what we’re capable of.
“That’s not to take anything away from our opposition, who will be incredibly tough to beat as always, but I feel like I’m equipped with the tools I need to succeed.”
Of the challenge in Melbourne, Hamilton said: “I love Albert Park. It’s a circuit that really puts drivers to the test.
“It’s a half-and-half mix between street circuit and race track, with a really bumpy surface that’s tough on tyres.
“There are two high-speed sections, but the majority of corners are rated as low or medium speed, so you need to try and put as much downforce on the car as possible.
“Overtaking is tricky here but not impossible. It’s usually pretty close between a move coming off and ending badly, which is why we see a lot of safety cars.”
Albert Park is not a permanent circuit. This is most obvious in the wet, when drivers frequently make mistakes over the painted lines.
"Lewis is definitely the man to beat at this early stage of the season, but never discount Vettel."
Hamilton picked out the key points around the circuit.
He said: “In terms of layout, the end of the start / finish straight is the fastest section with quite heavy braking into Turn One.
“It’s so easy to out-brake yourself here and there’s always a few tense moments over the course of the weekend as drivers push the limits.
“You quite often see incidents on the first lap here too, as it’s pretty tight which, added to the adrenaline of that first race start of a new season, has created plenty of drama over the years.
“Turn Three offers the best overtaking opportunity, but it’s far from easy to make a pass stick.
“You have to get a good exit from the first two corners and be brave and decisive when you make your move.
“Aside from that, it’s through the final two turns, 15 and 16, that you really want the car to work best.
“These are very slow and are where the most lap time can be gained from the car. A good run through here determines your speed down the start / finish straight.”
Mercedes colleague Rosberg added: “The circuit at Albert Park is not a permanent race track. Outside of the Formula 1 week, parts of the circuit are used by ordinary traffic.
“Consequently, the surface is generally very dirty and greasy on the first day of practice and it takes a while before it develops the right amount of grip. It’s also essential to take it steady over the kerbs.
“In principle, overtaking around the Albert Park Circuit is difficult. This year, however, there should definitely be more opportunities thanks to the boost provided by the two electric motors.
“For a period of 33.3 seconds per lap, we have an additional 160 horsepower available. That gives you plenty to play with.
“The best place to try it is through the corner at the end of the home straight. It’s possible to pull off some great overtaking manoeuvres there.
“At Turn One, you put the driver ahead under pressure, then you finish the move at Turn Three. Apart from that, Turn 12 in Sector 3 can also be a key point.
“This is the fastest corner on the track, and it is especially exciting for spectators watching the race there.”
Another factor to come into play is fuel consumption, which is relatively high in Melbourne. Managing the new 100kg maximum fuel allowance this year will play an important role.
Rosberg said: “My engineers have told me that this new fuel limit will be a real challenge at Albert Park. Fuel economy is not just a matter of engine settings; much will also depend on individual driving styles.
“We have to drive efficiently, which means, for example, coming off the gas at the end of the straights, even before you’ve reached the actual braking zone.”