Despite his McLaren-Mercedes MP4-24 having appeared to languish woefully off the leading pace in pre-season testing, defending Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton has stated that in his opinion it will be 'all the usual suspects' battling it out for glory in this weekend's 2009 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix – even if he conceded that a surprise result could be on the cards.
With the form book having been ejected out of the window by the top flight's dramatically different technical and aerodynamic regulations this year, there is very much a feeling within the paddock that Melbourne could just about be anyone's
race. Having triumphed Down Under this time twelve months ago en route
to his maiden title success, Hamilton is determined that the man standing atop the podium at weekend's end will once again be him.
“I think the usual suspects will be up there,” the nine-time grand prix-winner contended, “but because it's a bit of an unknown with the cars not being an evolution of [those from] the previous year, we can't say Ferrari are going to be extremely quick or BMW are going to be competing. We don't know who's going to be at the front – for example, it might be Force India or it might be Toro Rosso. Who knows?
“I've had a great time there over the last two years. Obviously I had my debut race there, where I was on the podium, and last year – my second year in Melbourne – we got the win. It's such a great event to go to.
“With the build-up obviously – the new car comes out, the testing happens and then you make the trip out there – you prepare yourself weeks in advance, and then you arrive there and you're on the grid on pole position. If you win the race too it's just such a great feeling.”
Whether Hamilton and McLaren prevail again this weekend is perhaps less likely, but the British star was confident of one thing – that fans will be able to clearly perceive the changes that have taken place to the appearance of the cars in-line with the new rules.
“I think the public will definitely be able to tell the difference,” the 24-year-old stated, “because the look of the cars is quite a bit different to last year. We've got a much narrower rear wing and slick tyres obviously, while the front wing is huge – it's wider almost than the front tyres.
“Also we no longer have all these free bits – different things hanging off the sidepods or whatever. It's now pretty smooth. I'm sure they'll see the difference, but in terms of racing it's too early to say. I can't tell yet whether it's going to be closer or not.”
The Stevenage-born ace was finally asked about the prospect of the Australian Grand Prix becoming F1's second event to be held under floodlights following the resounding success of the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix back in September. It is a move Albert Park officials are adamant they do not
want to make – and Hamilton agrees.
“I think the show they have right now with the great weather [and] the fans all out enjoying the great scenes in the park [doesn't need changing],” he underlined. “I as a driver don't personally want it to be a night race.”