MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: 2016 Australian GP

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The new Formula 1 season will roar into life this weekend with the traditional curtain-raiser in Melbourne, Australia.

Lewis Hamilton enters the new campaign chasing a fourth world championship, but with Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to contend with, he is unlikely to have it all his own way this season.

2016 marks the return of Renault as a manufacturer team and the arrival of Haas F1 Team, the first American operation to line up on the grid in 30 years, making this weekend’s race an important one.

The majority of the grid has returned for 2016, with just three rookies – Jolyon Palmer, Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto – making their debuts on Sunday.

Also returning for 2016 are the MST predictions. Myself and MotorSportsTalk editor Tony DiZinno will go head-to-head each race weekend on a number of picks – be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race WinnerNico Rosberg. Maybe it’s me being an optimist, but I’m going to go with Rosberg to win on Sunday. Hamilton may claim he’s back on the ball after letting things slip at the end of last year, yet I think Nico just has that extra focus right now. Losing in Australia would be a wake-up call to the defending champion.

Surprising FinishRomain Grosjean. Points for Haas on debut may be a bit of a stretch, but the baseline pace of the car has been good. With a race of attrition setting in and Grosjean at the wheel though, it’s very possible. RoGro to give Gene Haas a memorable debut.

Most to ProveLewis Hamilton. That he has regained focus over the winter and is ready to fight for a fourth world title. With Vettel also set to rival him in 2016, Hamilton needs to be on his toes to see off the threats from both inside and outside Mercedes.

Additional Storyline to Watch: New qualifying format. Some say it will be the best thing that ever happened to F1 qualifying. Others say it won’t change much. Either way, let’s see if the new quickfire eliminations on Saturday have an impact and justify the recent debacle surrounding qualifying.

Predict the Podium

1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton. New year, new focus. Even if Hamilton ended the 2015 season on a losing streak, he didn’t need to worry too much as he had the title already sewn up. Will seek to dispel the notion that Rosberg can set the tone for the year by winning the opener and winning the first psychological battle as well as the first one on track.

Surprising Finish: Sergio Perez. The Force India seems a good package and they got a double points finish here last year with an old car, albeit more on survival than outright pace. This year – and given Perez’s affinity for tire conservation – the combination of a good package and his ability to star given whatever compound he’s on could lead to a top-five result out of the gate.

Most to Prove: Nico Rosberg. Seems weird to say that of a guy who on paper would finish no worse than second, right? But if he can take the first win of the year it would prove a big occasion for his confidence and show he can win when it matters. Yes it’s only the first race of the year, but this is a very important weekend for him.

Additional Storyline to Watch: Haas and the newness. OK, two there but between the new qualifying format, the new tire regulations, the new drivers and most notably from an American standpoint, the debut of Haas F1 Team, there’s a lot more intrigue in these elements this weekend than there probably will be at the front of the field.

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari