Brundle’s 5 key talking points ahead of F1 curtain-raiser

It’s all eyes on the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit this weekend as the new Formula 1 campaign gets underway in the Australian sunshine.

Five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton will be looking to defend his crown but will no doubt face stiff competition from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

But it isn’t just the title tussle that will be exciting this season, with two new British drivers on the grid and improved cars which will hopefully be faster than ever before.

So, what are the key talking points according to the experts?

Former F1 driver Martin Brundle – speaking ahead of the start of the F1 season, which will be shown live and exclusively on Sky Sports F1 – has revealed all…

1. A competitive field

“Pre-season went very well, they had dry weather in Barcelona. Normally when you get new regulations – and cars are changing quite a lot in 2019, front wing and rear wings in particular – it scatters the pack because the big teams have the resources to keep on racing while developing a new car – and the smaller teams have to play catch up.

"But they all, well pretty much all of them, put their cars on the track in Spain and just pounded laps. It looked really good – and that bodes well. There was a good quality in depth.

"It does seem like it could well be Ferrari slightly ahead of Mercedes and Red Bull with Haas and Renault – and a very strong midfield pack chasing them.

"Reliability was incredible during pre-season testing and that all bodes well. The new regulations are supposed to make for more overtaking but we will wait and see if it works out.”

2. Overtaking could be better

“The new regulations should work and some drivers are saying it feels a bit better. Some aerodynamicists and designers are saying it won’t be better and might be worse – but I don’t believe that. We will wait and see.

“Of course you want organic overtaking, you want drivers out-braking each other and out-driving each other rather than the tools like the Drag Reduction System (DRS) and that. If you want cars that will go through corners at 200mph, they have got to have a lot of downforce.

“And if you have a lot of downforce, when you follow another car and you have all the dirty air tumbling out of the back of that car, you lose grip. It’s not exactly ever going to guarantee a lot of overtaking if, as soon as you get close to another car, you start to lose grip. They’ve hopefully improved that and I think it will be a bit better, yes.”

3. Teammate battles

“I agree that Charles Leclerc is going to be electric in that Ferrari – and Sebastian Vettel has got his chance to finally win a title for Ferrari as well. That’s going to be fascinating.

“I think Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes is going to come back much stronger, he’s got nothing to lose now. He’s driving for his career. If he doesn’t get on it, he’s got Esteban Ocon standing at the back of the garage, which is a crying shame he’s not on the grid. That is a travesty.

“But I think Bottas will be better, faster and he will give Hamilton a run for his money. But we know what Lewis is like. He’s just got the mental and physical stamina to drive the whole season flat out. It’s 21 races, the last one is December 1, it’s a long haul and Lewis remains the man to beat in that respect. He knows how to win championships. He’s got five of them already. It’s going to be interesting.

“Carlos Sainz in the McLaren, I don’t know how fast the car is going to be. Daniel Ricciardo at Renault, it won’t be easy beating Nico Hulkenberg – and he’s probably pleased he doesn’t have to try to beat Max Verstappen. But Hulkenberg will be no walkover either. I think all the way through the field, there is an interesting story.”

4. Hamilton’s bid for a sixth world title

“Lewis has got that lovely blend of speed, experience, confidence, calmness. He’s still brave enough, he’s still physically strong enough. There’s a perfect crossover and Lewis is right in the middle of it.

“He knows how to pace himself. He tends to come back from the summer break and moves into overdrive and leaves everyone behind. It’s like a good boxer, you know when to defend, when to attack. Lewis knows that in an F1 car. He’s learned to play the percentage game.

“Sometimes if you’re not going to win you’ve got to make the most of a bad situation. That’s when the patience comes in, and the confidence. You know if you lose a few points, the car breaks down or someone runs into you, it’s still game on for him. Whereas a lot of peoples’ heads (would drop).

“If you think about it, as soon as Vettel hit the wall in Germany last year, his head dropped and he was nowhere thereafter. All sport, it’s not just Formula 1, it’s about any sport. A large percentage of it is in your head.”

5. A rejuvenated Red Bull

“I think Honda will finally come good and will work closer with Red Bull. I think the car is pretty good, we know that, and they’ll develop it well.

“Red Bull-Honda has to work otherwise those two companies will go ‘well we’ve got nowhere else to go in Formula 1’ if this doesn’t work. If they’re not race-winning contenders in 2019 and championship-winning contenders in 2020, then it will be a disappointment.”

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