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History beckons Hamilton, favours Raikkonen

Stan Rayan

Slew of new rules aims to make it a level-playing field; Force India drivers settle down

— Photo: AP

SPEEDING ON WATER: McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen paddle in an F-1 season kick-off kayak race in Melbourne on Wednesday.

MELBOURNE: Formula One has realised that the sport is in danger of slowly moving away from its fans with big budgets and electronic gadgets mattering more than driving skills. Fortunately, there is a refreshing change this season which begins in Melbourne with the Australian Grand Prix this weekend.

Some crucial driving aids, like traction control and engine braking system to avoid skidding and wheel lock, have been done away with. Also banned is the race launch equipment with which cars would launch into action at the press of a button. Also all cars will have the new Standardised Electronic Control Unit.

Interesting season

With the drivers in control again, the new season should be interesting, especially for India with Vijay Mallya’s Force India making its debut.

The movement of some big names to different teams, two new street-track events and the first-ever night race at Singapore, should all have F-1 fans rubbing their hands in glee.

“Mistakes will be made and with the new changes, there could be more wheel spin this year. It is in the low-speed corners that you notice the difference, because that is where the traction control would normally kick in,” said former World champion Fernando Alonso, who drove for McLaren last season but is back with Renault.

“That means you have to change your driving style quite dramatically. Last year we used to go straight to full throttle but now we need to be gentler and feather the throttle.”

The big fight

The big fight will still be between Ferrari’s world champion Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, last year’s runner-up.

History favours Raikkonen. The winner of the Australian Grand Prix has finished the World champion in seven of the last 10 years. Ferrari also has won more frequently in Melbourne than any other team; six wins to McLaren’s three and Renault’s two.

But that does not deter Lewis Hamilton who led for a major part of last season in his debut year. “My motivation is even higher than last year, but in a slightly different way,” said the 23-year-old on F-1’s official website. “I would say last year was an uncontrollable determination and excitement and just not really knowing what was coming up, just going into the deep blue.”

Hamilton, who finished third last year in Melbourne, again will have a chance to become the youngest F-1 champion, breaking Spaniard Alonso’s record who took his first title at 24.

Settled down

Meanwhile, Mallya has already seen to it that his new drivers, Italy’s Giancarlo Fisichella and the young German Adrian Sutil, have settled down.

“I feel totally at home here, with both the engineers and the mechanics. It feels as if I have been at Force India for a long time,” said Fisichella, who has nearly 200 races to his credit.

“Australia is a good place for me to start the season and my Force India race career. I won the race in 2005 and started in second place in 2006 and with a car that was not as competitive as we would have liked,” said the Italian who finished fifth in Melbourne last year and eighth in the final season ranking with Renault.

Confident

“I feel confident for this first race with Force India. My first target is to get into Q2, but then the final hope is to score Force India’s first point in the championship.”

Force India, formed just a few months ago, is looking for a realistic mid-field finish and Adrian Sutil appeared very positive too. “You can see that the team is better structured this year, and everything seems to be going in the right direction. My goals are to do everything possible to be better this year; to make fewer mistakes and get a few points. I want to help the team move forward.”

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