Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi says it’s all about Red Bull and Ferrari at this year’s Australian Grand Prix and, most likely, the teams to do battle all year long.
The Brazilian legend also believes that the four DRS zones at the revamped and sped-up Albert Park Circuit, venue for this weekend’s 2022 Australian Grand Prix, will provide extra entertainment for fans.
A two-year layoff is much too long, and while there have already been two races in Bahrain and Saudi but somehow the Melbourne race – traditionally the season opener – has a first day back to school vibe about it.
Back to an old(ish)-school track, and a revamped one in the sense that they have changed the layout to the point that lap times may be as much as five seconds faster than ever before; so we’re looking at the region 75 seconds around the 5.303 km street circuit.
Speaking to VegasInsider ahead of the 36th edition of the race in Australia, about the four DRS zones and layout changes, Fittipaldi said: “It will be even more key to be less than a second behind the other guy.
“I think that’s the key factor, you have to be trying to be less than a second behind all the time to take advantage. But, now again, I could see that in both Bahrain and Jeddah, with a new aerodynamic package, they are able to run closer to each other. That’s better racing, I like it.”
Four DRS Zones sure to add extra entertainment for F1 fans
Fittipaldi continued: “In my opinion, it was a big improvement for a more competitive race, when they are able to run closer. If you remember the last two laps between Max (Verstappen) and (Charles) LeClerc, they did some corners very close to each other.
“Even the high-speed corners. In the last years, with the old aerodynamic package, you could not do that. Now they can do it. In the last few laps of the race, the tires have already been used and they are still challenging each other.
“I like that. It’s a big improvement. I think it will be the fans who benefit the most from four DRS Zones,” reckoned Fittipaldi, who never raced in an Australian Grand Prix.
One of the biggest surprises of the 2022 season is the freefall of reigning constructors’ World Champions, Mercedes out of the top three teams with a package that has gone wrong for their drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.
Fittipaldi: Mercedes have a huge problem to solve
Mercedes won the race here last time out in 2019, with Valtteri Bottas beating Hamilton (second) and Max Verstappen (third) that day; Hamilton has been on pole at Albert Park every year since 2014 without fail, barring of course the last two missed years.
If any team can pull themselves from a rut, the Silver Arrows can as they have done on occasions before, however, this appears to be more than a mere rut but rather a deep hole according to Fittipaldi.
“Mercedes engines are down,” ventured the 75-year-old Brazilian legend. “They suffered a lot of performance in the first two Grands Prix. We know all the Mercedes teams are having a difficult time.”
“Lewis Hamilton had a great race in Bahrain where he got the podium. With that car, Lewis should not be on the podium.”
“They are struggling. The speed on the stretch is much lower. When you have less power from the engine, you sacrifice the aerodynamics. And then it’s a compromise of handling, as well.”
“Then you go into a vicious circle. You don’t have enough speed on the stretch, you take off some downforce, and then you lose on the corners and then it’s always a difficult compromise.”
“And the one who has a lot of power can put more downforce and then you are still strong on the stretch and much stronger in braking, cornering, saving the tires. They (Mercedes) have a huge problem, in my opinion, to solve.”
No stopping Red Bull and Ferrari who are the teams to beat this year
Round 3 of the championship this weekend means a move away from the dust-bowls that are Jeddah and Sakhir to the crisp greenery of Albert Park Circuit, a welcome respite from the khaki sand of the past couple of months.
Looking ahead to the weekend Down Under, Fittipaldi said: “The track is more smooth (than Jeddah). The cars are very sensitive to bumps now and it’s very difficult to get the suspension working over the bumps and not to lose the mechanical grip.”
“It looks like Ferrari is really running strong. They got the best out of the new rules in grip, downforce, and power. And for sure, Red Bull is running strong as well. This year it will be between Ferrari and Red Bull,” added Emmo. (Quotes by VegasInsider; Additional reporting by Paul Velasco)