Melbourne is likely to witness a case of deja vu this weekend with the three teams that led the way in Bahrain setting the pace in Australia. Red Bull-Renault were very quick in the season opener and Sebastian Vettel would have won it had he not had the problems that slowed him down in the final stages.
I would expect Vettel and Mark Webber to be right up there along with Ferrari, who look very strong and took advantage of Sebastian's problems to win through Fernando Alonso in Sakhir. McLaren-Mercedes have got a lot of work to do if they are to get back to the front, but given their experience you would expect them to be able to do so. How quickly they do it will be the key. McLaren were fast in the second half of the race in Bahrain but they do not have the pace to beat either Red Bull or McLaren in a straight fight. I think those three cars will be fighting for the top prizes on Sunday.
One car that is not a contender is the Mercedes GP and, while I think they can fight for points with Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg, they will not be able to do much more than that. One interesting thing this year is the strength of the driver line-ups at the top teams. No longer is it just team against team, but the inter-team competition is going to make up a big part of the season. You have Alonso, a double world champion, up against Felipe Massa, a man who came close to winning a title in 2008.
At McLaren there is the world champion in Jenson Button up against Lewis Hamilton, the previous champion, and Red Bull have two genuine top drivers in Vettel and Webber. Australia is a big race for Button, Webber and Massa as they were all beaten by their teammates in the opening race and will know they need to fight back and put in a strong display to ensure they maintain parity within the team. Jenson has come to Australia and made positive noises about putting in a better display after his seventh place in Bahrain, but he needs to raise his game massively. This is a very important season for him; he wants to hold on to his championship, but to do that he needs to improve and beat Hamilton.
The first person you have to beat is your teammate and Jenson needs to be a lot closer to Lewis then he was in Bahrain and ideally be quicker than him. Sebastian did the better job at Red Bull in Bahrain, but I think Mark has a lot of mental strength and has proven himself very tough before, and I wouldn't be surprised if he puts in a strong display at his home race. There has been a lot of criticism of the racing in the wake of what was a dull Bahrain GP and I think it will be better in Melbourne.
The Albert Park track offers a little more in terms of overtaking, as you can pass at turn two, at turn seven and also at the end of the back straight. There have been plenty of exciting races there in the past, but it can also be the case that if the fastest guy gets it right and leads from the start the rest will not see him until the finish. I think one thing that did not help things in Bahrain was the television coverage that focused purely on the guys at the front.
There was action further back and some overtaking, but very little of that was seen as the TV cameras followed the leaders, which offered little in the way of excitement. It is too early to judge how the new regulations will impact on racing in the long-term, but there is more to evaluate it on than simply what is going on at the front and I do think we will have a more enjoyable race on Sunday. @Email:email@example.com Watch the practice sessions for the Australian Grand Prix today live at 5.30am and 9am on Abu Dhabi Sports 2