In Depth

F1: Red Bull have high hopes for Max Verstappen’s title bid and are ready to fight for Australian GP win

Despite coronavirus fears the season-opening grand prix in Melbourne is still going ahead… for now

Marko: Red Bull ready to fight Mercedes

Red Bull Racing advisor Helmut Marko believes the team can rival reigning champions Mercedes for the victory in the season-opening Formula 1 grand prix in Australia on 15 March. 

With pre-season testing now complete, all ten teams are now preparing for the first race of the 2020 campaign.

Red Bull have ambitions of ending Mercedes’s domination and for Max Verstappen, 22, to become the youngest-ever F1 world champion. 

Speaking after testing in Barcelona, Marko said: “The car does what we expected and what we hoped for. We start the season with a very positive feeling. We have come a step closer to our goal of making Max Verstappen the youngest world champion.

“Testing is deceiving and the teams hide what they really are doing. But we are certainly much better prepared than in recent years. I think we can fight with Mercedes for victory in Australia.”

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Australian GP ‘going ahead’ for now

The coronavirus outbreak is putting many major sporting events at risk of cancellation but F1 Australian Grand Prix officials insist that the Melbourne race is going ahead.

F1’s 2020 season starts down under on Sunday 15 March and with two weeks to go it’s reported that ticket sales for the Albert Park event are up this year.

Martin Pakula, Australia’s minister for tourism, sport and major events, told the Sydney Morning Herald that although the situation may change because of the coronavirus spread, the Australian GP is still on. 

Pakula said: “I’ve got the latest information from both the Commonwealth and Formula 1 management and the grand prix is going ahead as planned.”

F1 Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia

‘All systems go’

Australian GP boss Andrew Westacott said it was “all systems go” in Melbourne, which is gearing up to host its 25th Formula 1 GP.

Westacott added: “The finishing touches are being put on the circuit, Formula 1 freight and personnel are arriving in the coming days and we’re looking forward to opening the gates to the public.

“The health and safety of everyone at the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix 2020 is paramount. The Australian Grand Prix Corporation has robust health, safety and emergency management arrangements in place at each event and we are working collaboratively with health agencies and related government and emergency services organisations in addressing this matter. 

“We continue to closely monitor the situation in the lead-up to the grand prix and are taking guidance from subject matter experts, including Victorian and National Chief Health Officers and the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.”

Concerns for Italian contingent 

Despite officials declaring that the Australian GP is going ahead as planned, there are major concerns within the paddock, especially for the contingent based in Italy - Ferrari, Alpha Tauri and Pirelli.

GrandPX reports that there’s a “very dark cloud” hanging over F1’s 2020 season, with a number of races in doubt following the postponement of the Chinese GP

Italy has the most confirmed cases of coronavirus in Europe, Crash.net reports, but Australian GP boss Westacott said: “At this stage there is no indication of further travel bans, nor is there any indication that Formula 1 and the teams will not be arriving as usual. 

“Formula 1 has again confirmed overnight that the Australian Grand Prix is going ahead and we’re looking forward to welcoming them and the teams to Melbourne.”

However, Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto is seeking clarity before the team jets off to Melbourne, GrandPX adds. 

“We need to protect our employees,” said Binotto. “I don’t think we can discover on a plane what can be or what will be the situation.”

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