Ferrari have been tipped to spring a surprise this weekend when Formula 1 returns to Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix.
It has been a disappointing start to the season so far for the Scuderia with Charles Leclerc retiring from P3 in Bahrain before a poorly-timed Safety Car consigned them to P6 and P7 in Saudi Arabia.
Given their dramatic tail-off in 2022, a slow start would have been the last thing both Ferrari and new team principal Fred Vasseur would have wanted and there is little to suggest their fortunes will turn around anytime soon.
But one F1 journalist is predicting the Italian team could do well as F1 returns to the streets of Melbourne this weekend.
Speaking on the F1 Nation podcast, Tom Clarkson said Ferrari could spring a “surprise” at a track they have always done well at.
“Yes, it’s hard to look beyond Red Bull,” he said. “But my surprise is actually Ferrari.
“I think they’ve always been pretty hooked up around Melbourne, whatever the regulations, since we first went there in 1996. They have a good setup there and Leclerc was dominant there last year.
“This year’s car is a continuation of the car that they were using last year, it’s an evolution, and while I’m not saying they’ve got the pace of Red Bull, I think we’re going to see Ferrari take a big step forward.”
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Ferrari have won a record 13 times in Melbourne, one more than McLaren and seven more than Williams, and a Ferrari driver has won three of the last four races Down Under.
“Let’s not forget that Leclerc qualified second in Saudi Arabia, just a tenth and a half of [pole sitter] Sergio Perez,” Clarkson said. “He then got the 10-place penalty which ruined his race.
“But you know if he can put it up there in qualifying, I think he’ll be there or thereabouts.”
But Clarkson was not confident enough to predict Leclerc would take the win, instead opting for title favourite Max Verstappen.
“So I’m going for a Max Verstappen win, Charles Leclerc second and Fernando Alonso third. And Sergio Perez getting that fastest lap that he didn’t get in Saudi Arabia.”
Perez heads to Melbourne one point behind World Championship leader Max Verstappen after the Dutchman pinched the fastest lap point away from his team-mate in Jeddah.