F1’s rookies have surprise potential in Melbourne

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Five rookies – Esteban Gutierrez, Valtteri Bottas (right), Giedo van der Garde, Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton – will join the Formula 1 racing fraternity next weekend at the Albert Park street circuit in Melbourne, Australia.

All but five drivers (Sebastian Vettel, Romain Grosjean, Nico Rosberg, Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo) on the 2013 F1 grid have made their grand prix debuts in Melbourne.

You have to examine the amount of laps done in testing and the machinery at their disposal to gauge expectations. Of those five, it’s actually Chilton (202) who has run the most laps. Gutierrez (191) and van der Garde (174) were not far behind, while Bottas (147) and Bianchi (136) were near the bottom of the charts in terms of laps. Bianchi’s fastest lap, though, was nearly one second clear of Chilton and van der Garde, 18th of 23 drivers who have tested this preseason.

None of them has ever turned a lap in Australia. Learning the track and getting acclimated to the pressure of racing during a grand prix weekend, rather than merely running in Friday practice, will be the biggest challenges.

In recent years, the most exciting debuts have come from McLaren’s newest driver and its former one – Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton. Perez announced his arrival to the F1 world in 2011 with his ability to save tires, running a one-stop strategy in Pirelli’s first race back. He finished seventh but along with Sauber teammate Kamui Kobayashi was disqualified for a technical infringement.

Hamilton’s 2007 debut remains the high-water mark, having made a brilliant start, getting ahead of teammate Fernando Alonso and finishing on the podium in third place. That set the tone for his run of nine consecutive podiums to start the season.

Jenson Button (2000, Williams), Kimi Raikkonen (2001, Sauber), Mark Webber (2002, Minardi) and Paul di Resta (2011, Force India) have also made it to the points in their Australian GP debuts.

Such heroics are unlikely to be achieved this time around, but you’d figure Sauber and Williams have good enough cars to at least threaten the points, and Gutierrez and Bottas will want to push their teammates.

Down at the back, qualifying within 3-4 seconds of the Q1 pole time and avoiding the 107 percent cutoff mark will be an achievement for the other three. Marussia’s pair of Bianchi and Chilton is the first rookie pair to start their first races since HRT did in 2010 with Karun Chandhok and Bruno Senna at Bahrain. And getting to the finish will be the target since points are highly unlikely, but given Australia’s rate of retirements in the past, there could still be some surprises.

Supercross: Talon Hawkins to debut in Houston in relief of Jalek Swoll

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Talon Hawkins, 19, will make his Monster Energy Supercross debut on a 250 this week in Houston, Texas as a fill-in rider for Jalek Swoll.

During the Anaheim 2 weekend, the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna team announced Swoll underwent successful surgery to repair a broken arm suffered in a practice crash.

That same weekend, Hawkins made some noise. He took the lead from teammate Casey Cohran on Lap 2 of the 250 SX Futures Main and led for three laps before he was overtaken by eventual winner Daxton Bennick. Cochran also got around him to push Hawkins to third.

This will not be Hawkins SuperMotocross professional debut, however; he made three Lucas Oil Pro Motocross starts last year with results of 19th at Spring Creek in Millville, Minnesota, 27th at Ironman in Crawfordsville, Indiana and a best finish of 17th in the season finale at Fox Raceway in Pala, California.

Hawkins also has a top-10 finish in the 125 All-Star division at Pala in 2019 riding a Husqvarna.

Speaking with RacerXOnline.com before the Loretta Lynn Amateur Nationals, Hawkins predicted his future with Husqvarna would come down to how he performed in that race.

“It all just comes down to how I perform at Loretta’s,” Hawkins said. “Say I do really well, I get a top three in both classes and do a pretty solid job, I would like to go pro and just kind of finish out the rest of the series. But there’s also the option of waiting a little bit longer, going back out to [Aldon] Baker’s [Factory] or going anywhere and training, and just being prepared. I’m also open to that too. Honestly, it’s whatever the team wants. Whatever we think is the best option is what we’re going to go with. So, I don’t really have a plan right now, just looking into the future.”

Hawkins finished third overall in the 125 B/C and Schoolboy divisions at the Loretta Lynn Amateur Nationals.