It is this time of year when, like the majestic grizzly bear, Formula One fans awaken from their winter hibernation in anticipation of the new season. With only a few days to go until the first race, passions are stirring and wild predictions are being flung around like confetti. With good reason too as there is a lot to look forward to this year, even before the qualifying rules shake-up was announced!
The first Grand Prix of the season is always an exciting event, the whole world is able to see the relative pace of the new cars and drivers for the first time. Just to confuse this picture and keep the drama going just a little longer, Albert Park is not a traditional F1 circuit and often provides an exciting race with odd results.
The race was announced in 1993 after campaigning by the government and local businessman Ron Walker to move the race from Adelaide to Melbourne. The capital of Victoria looked to showcase itself to the world, and as their Olympic bid was unsuccessful for 1996 in comparison to Sydney’s successful 2000 campaign.
Therefore, they were looking at the Formula One race as a way of complimenting the appeal of other major sporting events in the city such as the Melbourne Cup horse race, the Australian Open tennis tournament, and the AFL Grand Final (described as Australia’s most important sporting event in 2006).
The local government has frequently played hardball with Bernie Ecclestone and often flirted with pulling out of the running for a race, but after tough negotiations it’s future was secured late last year with a contract extension until 2023.
The street circuit is based around the narrow public lakeside roads with overhanging trees, with changing surfaces and slippery painted lines adding to the challenge. Drivers and teams tend to love the spectacle and fans that gather for the opening race of the season. Generally quite a tough circuit to overtake on, the best spot is into the tight third corner at the end of the short DRS zone.
The shimmering water and green park land, overshadowed by the Melbourne city skyline provide a beautiful setting for a race, made more dramatic as the sun sinks low in the sky owing to the 5pm race start.
The short run to the first chicane often bunches up the field at the start of a race, frequently resulting in some flying carbon fibre. The ideal line is as close to the left side on entry, to then clip the inside Kerb (at Jones), then allowing the car to straighten as much as possible and drift wide through the exit of Brabham.
The quick blast to turn three will not always come off without incident, as Martin Brundle found out at the start of the inaugural event in 1996.
The cars then start weaving left then right through the car park, attacking the kerbs hard to gain laptime. In wet conditions these painted lines become treacherous. In barely a blink they dart through the very fast right flick of “Whiteford” turn under the trees. The leaves falling around the cars as their up-wash disturbs them from their stems is fascinating to see, but makes the next braking zone into the Marina tricky. Let the car run wide over the grass-crete kerbs to maximise exit speed.
The blind right handed acceleration zone (“Lauda”) leads into Clark chicane, an overtaking zone for an optimistic driver. The kerbs again are there to be clattered, but the run off area can be hazardous.
The circuit skirts right alongside the lake now on the back straight, which is definitely not straight at all. The fastest corners on the circuit come up very quickly with the 140 mph sweeping left then immediate right through Waite corner. The first kerb here unsettles the car so is best avoided, there is no room for corrections here and a mistake can prove very costly indeed. The run off on the outside is also lumpy and can spit cars off in odd directions.
The next straight through Hill (a very slight right kink) into the heavy braking zone at Ascari corner offers another great opportunity for an overtaking move. The last three corners have been described as a bit tedious by various pundits, but can be tricky to execute perfectly. If the leaders catch a backmarker in this section they can lose a huge chunk of time. Also watch for slow cars trying to find a gap in qualifying causing a mobile roadblock, especially with the new timed qualifying rules.
BRAKING WITH BREMBO
Melbourne is an urban track that winds its way through the Albert Park streets. It is a fast track and quite demanding for the brakes. The 9 braking zones on the track are all medium-high level difficulty for the braking systems and are characterised by variable stopping distance decelerations.
Because it is a non-permanent track, during the race weekend it is gradually rubberised, which causes an increase in deceleration and brake stress in terms of wear and temperature.
TYRES WITH PIRELLI
A new season, with brand new tyre rules that are among the most revolutionary in recent history. The teams get more choice, which should lead to more variation and at least two pit stops per race.
Albert Park is a street circuit, making it especially ‘green’ and dirty at the start of
the weekend. It’s all about acceleration and braking: the longitudinal forces are greater than the lateral ones. There are lots of slow corners, so the emphasis is on mechanical grip and high downforce. Turn 8 (a right-hander) is fast, like the long left-hander between Clark and Waite grandstands. The left-rear tyre is worked hardest – so that is the one the drivers have to look after. Weather is always unpredictable: there’s been bright sunshine and torrential rain in the past. The asphalt is reasonably smooth, so tyre wear and degradation is comparatively low.
THE THREE NOMINATED COMPOUNDS
- White medium: a low working range compound that is one of the most versatile in
- Yellow soft: a high working range compound with the accent on performance.
- Red supersoft: a low working range compound that is rapid but with a limited
HOW IT WAS A YEAR AGO
- Winner: Hamilton (one stop: started on soft, changed to medium on lap 25).
- Best-placed alternative strategy: Hulkenberg (two stops: started on soft, changed
to medium on lap 21, changed to soft on lap 44). Finished seventh from 14th on
- Most drivers stopped just once, with strategies affected by an early safety car.
PAUL HEMBERY, PIRELLI MOTORSPORT DIRECTOR:
“With far reaching changes to tyre regulations compared to 2015, we expect
strategy options to have extended considerably, with more possibilities open not
only to each team but also every individual driver. In fact, the tactical decisions
for Albert Park already began last year, as each team nominated their tyres: only
recently, like a poker game, did everyone have to finally show their hand. By
Sunday afternoon in Melbourne, we’ll see who made the right choices.”
TJ13 analysis – It is interesting to note that Mercedes have decided to split tyre strategies, with Rosberg taking one more set of the Medium compound rubber than his team-mate. The tight street surface of the Albert Park circuit would tend to heavily favour the soft and supersoft compounds in terms of pace, so we shall see how the teams and in particular Rosberg use the medium rubber. These allocations were decided before the new qualifying format was announced (even concieved!) and it was widely reported that the engineers, not the drivers, at that stage had made the decisions in the Mercedes camp.
MEMORABLE MOMENTS FROM ALBERT PARK
1996 – The story of the inaugural Grand Prix at Albert Park was Williams team debutante Jacques Villeneuve. Fresh from dominance across the pond, a dream result almost looked possible for the Canadian as he took the lead from Hill at the first chicane and dominated the race. Unfortunately for him an oil leak caused his car to slow towards the end and Hill was able to take the spoils, but Jaques had firmly arrived on the F1 scene.
1998 – A resurgent Mclaren team completely dominated the race. David Coulthard was leading after his team-mate had lost time in the pits, but a pre-race agreement between the two was upheld by Coulthard who graciously allowed Hakkinen to breeze past with two laps to go.
2002 – A calamatous opening grand prix of the season saw eleven drivers retire on the first lap, triggered by Ralf Schumacher flying over the back of Rubens Barrichello in dramatic style. It was also the debut for Mark Webber, who astonishingly managed to bring home his Minardi in 5th place at his home race.
2009 – After a traumatic winter, Brawn GP (previously Honda) scored a 1-2 finish, the first for a “new” team on their debut since Mercedes in 1954. Button led home Barrichello, who inherited second place after a late collision between Kubica and Vettel who were chasing hard for the victory.
Lewis Hamilton wrapped up his third drivers title in the USA in 2015 with three races to go, at which point he confessed he let his foot off the gas and cruised home, seemingly more interested in parties and his music than smashing Rosberg into oblivion. Everybody lets off steam in their own way and his is just more flamboyant than others may care to deem befitting of a top class athlete. However, this is a new season with a new prize at stake, you would be foolish to suggest that Hamilton will not bring his top form with renewed motivation. Problem is that Rosberg is definitely no slouch, as shown by his end of 2015 form, the intra-team battle will once again be fascinating.
There is plenty of evidence from testing to show that Mercedes will be the package of envy once again, but equally there have been strong shows of force from Ferrari, who may have closed the gap further. Many are really hoping that Ferrari (particularly Sebastian Vettel) can take the fight to the Silver Arrows and reignite the battle for the championship.
It historically used to be the case that the winner of the Australian Grand Prix was almost guaranteed to win the championship, but this prediction has only been correct 50% of the time in the last ten years.
Away from the front of the pack, most eyes will also be glued on Haas F1’s debut, carrying the hopes and dreams of the USA. So far the team has performed solidly in pre season testing, but they would have liked to cover more miles. Progression to Q2 and finishing the race would be an excellent achievement for them, but teething troubles could get in the way.
The FMX Grand Prix showcases some of the worlds greatest freestyle motocross riders, attempting to win over judges and crowds with jumps, stunts and showboating around a specially constructed track.
The “M-Lane” puts together some fantastic quality pop up diners, artistic exhibitions and when the evening draws in a music program that features some promising new Australian artists. You will also be able to see the historic and Auzzie V8 supercar paddocks and rub shoulders with the stars on “Legends Lane”. The De Walt Guaranteed Tough zone “sorts the men from the boys” where you can show off your DIY skills and be in line to win prizes for your work.
Rumours are that one of the Velociraptors from Jurassic World has escaped and has been seen running around Albert park. Check Twitter for #ausgp and #jurassicworldtheexhibition for the latest sightings. Watch out Arrivabene!
The Australian GP has a unique set of support races as many of the usual feeder series do not get underway until the circus returns to Europe.
The incredibly popular Aussie V8 supercar championship continues in Melbourne and is a huge crowd pleasing spectacle, with close robust tin top racing. Gone are the days of the exclusive and bitter Holden vs Ford rivalry as Nissan and Volvo have recently joined the fray. This championship might be the only way to see a Red Bull victory this weekend, with Jamie Whincup taking the win at race 1 of 3 in Adelaide. Nick Percat currently leads the championship.
The Penrite Oil Australian GT championship will bring yet more colour, noise and variety with 35 GT3 cars representing some of the world’s most exotic car brands including the likes of Ferrari, Aston Martin, BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Porsche, Lamborghini and McLaren.
The F1 support pillar, the Porsche Carrera Cup begins this weekend. The stars of the Cup range from experienced high-profile racers and young up-and-comers to businessmen who hold their own behind the wheel of a race car. This mix of drivers provides excitement and unpredictability. There will be four races over the duration of the weekend.
The Shannons Historic Demonstration celebrates Historic Motorsport with classic historic race cars from the 1950’s up to 1969 including Cooper, Aston Martin, Maserati, Brabham, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo, Porsche, Austin Healey, Lago Talbot, Ferrari, and Lotus.
|2015||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||Albert Park|
|2014||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes||Albert Park|
|2013||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus-Renault||Albert Park|
|2012||Jenson Button||McLaren-Mercedes||Albert Park|
|2011||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault||Albert Park|
|2010||Jenson Button||McLaren-Mercedes||Albert Park|
|2009||Jenson Button||Brawn-Mercedes||Albert Park|
|2008||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren-Mercedes||Albert Park|
|2007||Kimi Räikkönen||Ferrari||Albert Park|
|2006||Fernando Alonso||Renault||Albert Park|
|2005||Giancarlo Fisichella||Renault||Albert Park|