The Inside Line #46: Answers at last

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Who’ll be on top Down Under? That question (or at least a variation of it) was on the lips of everyone interested in Formula One before the pre-season tests started with a splutter in Spain in late January; the biggest regulation change to the sport in decades will do that. But the interest in the answer was only magnified after what was the most chaotic pre-season in memory. Slow teams from last year were fast, fast teams were scratching their heads as to why their new car kept breaking down [1], and the sport’s sharpest technical minds could only shrug their shoulders when asked to predict a pecking order for the opening few races of the season.

In what really is a step into the unknown, the only certainty for this week’s season-opener in Australia is that finally, the speculation stops. Are Mercedes that far ahead of the rest? Are Williams really back in a place that was so familiar to them a decade ago? And what can Red Bull salvage, if anything, out of Australia? It’s going to fascinating to find out.

With the lights set to go out for the start of the season late on Sunday afternoon in Melbourne [2], an Australian GP preview is the focus of Episode 46 of ‘The Inside Line’. As is a special look at the man who comes to Australia pursuing a record 10th consecutive victory, Sebastian Vettel.

That chase for Vettel looks to be a rather forlorn one given Red Bull couldn’t string together more than 20 straight laps in pre-season testing, and suggestions that the reigning world champion has already thrown his toys out of the cot in the pre-season (vehemently denied by Christian Horner, of course) will only provide further weight to those who feel the German’s demeanour could change rapidly if he’s placed under significant duress. Let’s face it, since he joined Red Bull in 2009, Vettel has had either the fastest or arguably the fastest car in the sport; in ’09, Red Bull was sunk by Brawn finding a double diffuser-sized hole in the regulations that it didn’t, and a year later Vettel won his first of four straight titles by leading the championship just once all year – after the final race. Since then he’s either been roaring home with a wet sail (2012) or utterly imperious (2011, 2013). How he fights back from adversity – and what he can scrabble together from the early races while Red Bull gets its house in order – will be compelling viewing.

There’s plenty more on this week’s ‘Inside Line’, but you’ll need to watch it to find out. I don’t want to carry on for too long after all [3]. The premiere is on SPEED TV Australia (Foxtel/Austar channel 512) at 7pm AEDT on Wednesday March 12, while there’s an encore on ESPN (Foxtel/Austar channel 508 in Australia) at 9.30pm AEDT Thursday March 13, the day before the season officially kicks off with first practice in Melbourne.

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[1] Pastor Maldonado’s cash can buy a lot of things (like, um, a drive in F1), but it can’t buy time – and given how far Lotus appear to be behind at the start of the season, it’s a shame Pastor’s bolivars can’t pay for a time machine to transport the team back to January.

[2] Yes, the 5pm start is inconvenient, especially for Australian journos filing for local newspapers with looming deadlines. But if you’re in Europe, don’t complain about having to get up early on Sunday morning to watch. As sleep-deprived Australian-based F1 fans are all too aware, struggling through Monday mornings on minimal shuteye after a late night on Sunday watching the latest race is part and parcel of being an F1 fan. True fans will watch; the rest will whine.

[3] Some of the sport’s older types do like to advocate brevity, except for when they’re writing lengthy press releases that nobody reads and should come with a table of contents.

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