Red Bull contenders for victory? Your complete guide to Australian GP weekend

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Circuit Profile: 2017 Australian Grand Prix – Albert Park, Melbourne – Round 1

Introduction:

Finally the wait is over, and the new season is set to start this weekend in Australia. Will it be an exciting new dawn for F1, with super fast cars, more physical demands on drivers, new rivalries and a revised pecking order…or will Mercedes just romp home to a 1-2 and kill our hopes for a competitive season. Pre-season testing is notoriously hard to judge by, so let’s ignore all the hype (Ferrari), false modesty (Mercedes), predictions of doom and gloom (McLaren), and teams going a little bit under the radar (Red Bull) and look forward to seeing what the teams really have to offer in the season opener.

Today TJ13 reported that Renault have indeed managed to turn up the power to ’11’ for this weekend so surely the ‘Bulls of Verstappen and home boy Ricciardo are now in contention for top spots.

Also, we reported earlier in the week that Mercedes also have solved their reliability question marks and will also be at full power. With all of this power along with the aero performance gains allowed this season, the FIA will be clamping down on speeds sooner rather than later but don’t despair! As well as the relative fortune of the teams, the season offers us a host of fascinating team-mate battles to keep us entertained – Bottas vs Hamilton, Ricciardo vs Verstappen, Alonso vs Vandoorne, Perez vs Ocon, Grosjean vs Magnussen…and not to forget Raikkonen vs Vettel, so either way we’re in for a great season. F1 is back!!

Since joining the F1 calendar in 1985 the Australian Grand Prix has been won the most times by Michael Schumacher, who took all four of his Australian Grand Prix victories at Albert Park for Ferrari. 3 time Australian Grand Prix winner Jenson Button will be missed this year, while of the active drivers only Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes 2015 and McLaren 2008) and Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus 2013 and Ferrari 2007) have won here more than once. Vettel (Red Bull 2011) and Alonso (Renault 2006) have each taken a single Australian Grand Prix victory.

This time last year…

Last year’s season opener saw the introduction of a new controversial knock out qualifying format, that resulted in even less on track action than normal as Lewis Hamilton secured his 50th career pole position for Mercedes ahead of team-mate Nico Rosberg, while Ferrari filled the second row. To add to the tension at the start of the season the initial start was aborted after a problem for Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat on the grid. When the season did finally get underway, we were treated to an explosive start. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel rocketed off the line and darted into the lead between the two Mercedes, who had made sluggish getaways. Of the Mercedes drivers Rosberg’s start was the better, and going deep into Turn 1 he left no room for his team-mate, Hamilton forced wide off the track. This allowed Kimi Raikkon’s Ferrari to nip past Rosberg as Nico lost momentum, but Hamilton was crucially down to sixth place behind Verstappen (Toro Rosso) and Massa (Williams). The race was punctuated by a red flag following a huge collision between Fernando Alonso (McLaren) and Esteban Gutierrez (Haas) from which Alonso was lucky to walk away, although it would lead to him sitting out the following Grand Prix in Bahrain. This red flag period helped Haas to record an impressive points scoring finish in sixth on their debut, as the team cleverly had Romian Grosjean make his only ‘stop’ under the red flag. After a spirited start Ferrari botched their own strategy call at the red flag, opting to stick to plan and take an extra stop over Mercedes, who switched to the medium tyre to see them through to the finish, a decision which would see the Silver Arrows ease to the front, with Rosberg and Hamilton coming through to take a 1-2 result ahead of Vettel’s Ferrari. The first corner dust up between the Mercedes drivers ensured Rosberg would be the victor, with Hamilton ultimately falling out of contention due to time lost in traffic. Further down the field Max Verstappen seemed to lose the plot after Toro Rosso team-mate Carlos Sainz pitted before him despite running behind on track. Verstappen was furious on the radio, and worried about being undercut he made the decision to pull into the pits himself – but the team were not ready and Verstappen wound up losing time and track position, ruining what had been a great race up to that point. He would catch up to Sainz and bump into the back of him as he attempted unsuccessfully to get back past his team-mate, but fortunately both Toro Rosso’s survived to the finish in the last points scoring positions.

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History:

While an Australian Grand Prix had been staged as far back as 1926, Australia would have to wait until 1985 to be included in the Formula One Calendar. Since then it’s been an ever present on the calendar, enjoying stints as both curtain raiser and season finale that have provided the Australian Grand Prix with more than its fair share of interest down the years.

The streets of Adelaide provided the venue for F1 in its first guise as the final round of the championship, a position it would occupy from 1985 through to 1995. This allowed the Australian Grand Prix to witness both gripping championship showdowns, with Alain Prost stealing the title away from Nigel Mansell in 1986 (read more), while Michael Schumacher barged Damon Hill out of his way to secure his first title in 1994, as well as say farewell to former champions heading into retirement, from Niki Lauda in 1985 (read more) and Keke Rosberg in 1986 through to Nelson Piquet in 1991 and Alain Prost in 1993 (read more).

From 1996 on the venue would move to Albert Park in Melbourne, and a new slot on the calendar. The Australian Grand Prix would now have the honour of being the opening round of the F1 championship (with the exception of 2006 and 2010). This coincidentally meant that there were back to back Australian Grand Prix from the end of 1995 top the start of 1996! This afforded the event the opportunity to both witness podium grabbing debut drives from future champions Jacques Villeneuve (second in 1996) and Lewis Hamilton (third in 2007), as well as being the race that ends the yearly speculation over testing form and shows the real winners of the off-season development race, with the confirmation of Brawn GP’s surprise early dominance in 2009 and Mercedes home run on the regulation change in 2014.

Adelaide 1985-1995

McLaren and Williams would dominate proceedings in Adelaide, winning all bar two of the Grand Prix contested there. From its first outing in Adelaide in 1985 the Australian Grand Prix has always provided drama. Keke Rosberg Williams Honda survived the heat to take the 1985 victory, but Williams would suffer heartbreak in 1986, as Nigel Mansell’s hopes of a first driver’s title blew with his rear tyre, and team-mate Nelson Piquet then surrendered a title winning position for a precautionary tyre stop that handed McLaren’s Alain Prost a second consecutive championship. 1987 saw Ferrari pull off a one-two, with pole-sitter Gerhard Berger leading home the Lotus of Ayrton Senna on the road, with the second Ferrari of Michele Alboreto promoted to second place after Ayrton Senna’s Lotus failed scrutineering. 1988 would see the final race of the original turbo era, with McLaren’s Alain Prost taking the win from his newly crowned champion team-mate Senna. In 1989 the title had again been decided the previous round, this time in Prosts favour. The race was held in treacherous conditions, so much so that Prost pulled in on the opening lap and refused to race. That lap saw a crash, restart and then a litany of further crashes, with Senna crashing out of the lead after slamming unsighted in the spray into the back of Martin Brundle’s Brabham. The race was eventually stopped early on lap 70 of 81, with Williams Thierry Boutsen taking the win. In 1990 Nelson Piquet took advantage when mechanical trouble saw McLaren’s Ayrton Senna crash out of a certain victory, Piquet bringing his Benetton home after seeing off a challenge from the Ferrari of Nigel Mansell. In 1991, the rain returned, and again the race was stopped early, this time only lasting 14 of the planned 81 laps. Ayrton Senna managed to keep it on the road to record victory for McLaren. In 1992 Gerhard Berger took victory for McLaren in the final race of their original partnership with Honda after the second McLaren of Ayrton Senna crashed with Nigel Mansell while disputing the lead, forcing both cars out on the spot and giving Mansell an unhappy end to his championship year in his last race for Williams before departing F1 for America and success in CART. 1993 saw another dry race won by McLaren, Senna denying his old nemesis Prost a farewell victory in Prost’s last Grand Prix, in what would turn out to be the final career victory for Senna before his untimely death in 1994. 1994 would witness Nigel Mansell returning to claim pole position and the win for Williams (the last of Mansell’s career), but the race was all about Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill, who entered the race separated by a single championship point. Schumacher led from Hill, but went off under pressure from Hill, smacking his Benetton off the wall, and as Hill went to sweep by Schumacher slammed the door shut, the resulting collision taking Schumacher out on the spot, but the damage to the Williams suspension was terminal, and so Schumacher secured his first driver’s title.  1995 would see the final Grand Prix in Adelaide, Hill claiming the victory for Williams in a race that saw Williams David Coulthard throw away first place by crashing on his way into the pit lane and Michael Schumacher and Jean Alesi, who would be swapping seats the following race, take each other out of contention.

Melbourne 1996 – 2016

While Adelaide was dominated by Williams and McLaren, since the shift to Melbourne Williams has won only one more Australian Grand Prix, the first Melbourne Grand Prix in 1996 taken by Damon Hill. Hill would only win after rookie team-mate Jacques Villeneuve hit trouble late on after dominating proceedings, a late oil leak dropping him back behind Hill, in a race that saw two starts after Martin Brundle had a spectacular smash in his Jordan at the first start, his car flipped and skidding upside down through the gravel trap, with the image of Brundle running from the wreckage to take the restart in the spare car wonderfully showcasing both the bravery and craziness of F1 drivers! McLarens David Coulthard would take the win in 1997, opening McLarens victory account at the track, which would see Ferrari and McLaren the dominant forces over the years since its introduction. Coulthard’s McLaren team-mate Mika Hakkinen would win in 1998, although in controversial circumstances as Coulthard let him past to take the win due to a pre-race agreement. Ferrari would get off the board in 1999, with Eddie Irvine taking a surprise victory after both McLarens retired and lead Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher hit trouble. There would be no such trouble for Schumacher and Ferrari as he would win the next three Australian Grand Prix from 2000-2002. The 2001 race will sadly be remembered for the death of a marshal following a crash between Jacques Villeneuve (BAR) and Ralf Schumacher (Williams), with Villeneuve smashing into Schumacher from behind and the resulting impact sending a wheel from Villeneuve’s BAR flying. In 2002 Ralf was again involved in a spectacular accident, his Williams was sent airborne in a first corner pile up. David Coulthard (McLaren) interrupted Schumacher and Ferrari’s winning streak to record his final Grand Prix victory in 2003, before Ferrari and Schumacher restored order with victory in 2004. But the guard was changing in Formula One, and this would prove to be Schumacher’s final Australian Grand Prix victory. Renault would win the next two races, with Giancarlo Fisichella taking victory in 2005 and new champion Fernando Alonso taking the win in 2006 en route to his second consecutive world title. With Michael Schumacher retired, Kimi Raikkonen established himself as an early favourite at Ferrari with a victory over Alonso (now at McLaren) on his debut replacing the great German in 2007, in a race that saw a young Lewis Hamilton finish on the podium in his Grand Prix debut for McLaren. Hamilton would launch his 2008 world title season with a victory in Melbourne, in a race that saw his future Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg take his first career podium finish by coming home in third for Williams. 2009 saw Brawn GP rise from the ashes of Honda and propel Jenson Button to the world title, starting with a victory over Brawn team-mate Rubens Barrichello in Melbourne. Having switched to McLaren for 2010, Button confounded his critics with victory in Melbourne again in 2010, his delicate touch proving perfect in the slippy conditions of race day. 2011 was notable as Red Bull’s only Australian Grand Prix victory, with Sebastian Vettel taking his sole Australian Grand Prix win in a race that saw Vitaly Petrov become the first Russian driver to take an F1 podium in third place for Renault. Jenson Button was victorious for McLaren again in 2012. Kimi Raikkonen would shock the F1 world with a deserved victory for Lotus in 2013. Since the introduction of the new Power Units in 2014, its been all Mercedes in Australia, with Nico Rosberg winning in 2014 after polesitter Lewis Hamilton found his Mercedes wasn’t firing on all cylinders, in a race that saw Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo disqualified after finishing third following Red Bull’s decision to deliberately ignore the FIA mandated fuel flow meter. Lewis Hamilton gaining revenge with the win in 2015, before Rosberg kicked off his title campaign with a win last year as Lewis struggled to get off the line.

 

Circuit Characteristics:

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Run on public streets through Albert Park, the track will evolve throughout the race weekend as it becomes rubbered in. The track is going to give an early season test for the reliability of the braking systems, with plenty of hard deceleration on the circuit. It is also high on fuel consumption, although the possibility of a safety car appearance can mitigate this somewhat in planning for the race. The revision to the technical regulations for 2017 will see a number of changes with regards to runoff and barrier configuration at the track in anticipation of the higher cornering speeds, but the layout of the lap for the drivers will remain intact.

From the grid there is a 350m burst past the pit exit into turn 1, a right hander that immediately opens up and winds into the left hander turn 2. Positioning into Turn 1 will be crucial, with Lewis Hamilton needing no reminder after his race and championship challenge were compromised by being squeezed on the outside of Turn 1 here last year. The short dive from the pit exit into Turn 1 should also allow for plenty of action, and expect the action around pit time to continue on as the track straightens out on the exit of Turn 2 down a straight with DRS activation (the scene of the Alonso/Gutieerez smash last year) before braking hard into Turn 3, a 90 degree right hander that winds back into a left hander (Turn 4). Turn 3 is a sure-fire overtaking spot, Max Verstappen showed us exactly how to get the job done here last year, hustling his Toro Rosso around the outside of Jolyon Palmer’s Renault to snatch the last points position at the end of the race! Max didn’t leave Palmer any chance to get back into Turn 4, something Palmer had managed when new Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas tried a similar manoeuvre in his Williams earlier in the race. Exiting Turn 4 the cars move back over to the left of the track for a short burst into Turn 5, a fast right hand flick running wide onto another winding straight, the cars moving to the left side in preparation to brake into the right hander Turn 6, the track curving out on exit into to the left into Turn 7 (where Pastor Maldonado lost control and smashed his Williams off the wall on the final lap while harrying Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari for fifth position in 2012). The track loops right around Turn 8 (the fastest corner on the track onto another short straight into another right left pair combination of Turn 9 and Turn 10 and another chance for cars to get side by side – Valtteri Bottas will have fond memories of Turn 9 (edging his Williams around Palmer’s Renault here last year), but will recall clouting the wall at the exit of Turn 10 in 2014, bringing out the safety car (although he would subsequently put in a stirring recovery drive to fifth!).  ..

From the exit of Turn 10 the track winds left flat out before baking hard into the flowing left right of Turn 11 and Turn 12, a fast combination that can set a driver up for attack as the track winds right towards Turn 13, hard on the brakes for the right hander which can tempt drivers into having a look (a frustrated Romain Grosjean saw his Lotus unceremoniously barged out of the way here by the Williams of an opportunistic Pastor Maldonado in the early laps of the 2012 race!). From the exit of Turn 13 the cars run wide on the exit as the burst past the DRS detection point into the right hander Turn 14.Again wide over the kerbs on exit the cars drift back across the track and straight into the left hander Turn 15, the slowest corner on the circuit, accelerating out past the pit entrance into the final right hand Turn 16, down the pit straight with DRS to help make a charge into the first turn.

TYRES WITH PIRELLI:

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A new season is born with brand new rules that are among the most revolutionary in recent history. Added to tyres that are 25% wider and cars around five seconds per lap faster (compared to 2015) is a new tyre philosophy for 2017: less degradation and fewer peaks of temperature, allowing Formula 1 drivers to push hard during every stint.

THE THREE NOMINATED COMPOUNDS

1/ PURPLE – ULTRASOFT

2/ RED – SUPERSOFT

3/ YELLOW – SOFT

THE CIRCUIT FROM A TYRE POINT OF VIEW ·

A semi-permanent track: always ‘green’ and dirty at the start of the weekend. · Hard acceleration and braking: longitudinal forces are greater than lateral ones. · Lots of slow corners: emphasis on mechanical grip and high downforce. · Left-rear tyre is worked hardest. · Anything can happen with the weather: from bright sunshine to torrential rain. · Reasonably smooth asphalt, so tyre wear and degradation is comparatively low.

MARIO ISOLA – HEAD OF CAR RACING

“The teams completed 7427 laps of Barcelona during pre-season testing, using all the compounds but concentrating on the medium and soft tyres, which were the ones best suited to Montmeló. In Melbourne, it’s going to be interesting to collect more data on the ultrasoft and supersoft compounds, which we’ve not been able to fully assess up to now.”

WHAT’S NEW? · Pirelli takes the ultrasoft compound to Australia for the first time. · There are new rules governing race starts (where the drivers will have more clutch control) and re-starts after safety cars in wet conditions (from the grid). · From Australia to Spain, teams will have identical tyre allocations: seven sets of the softest compound available, four sets of the middle compound, and two of the hardest compound. In Australia, these are ultrasoft, supersoft and soft (in order). From Monaco, normal rules apply: teams will select 10 sets of the 13 available. Pirelli will communicate the selections on the Tuesday, 10 days before the race.

MELBOURNE MINIMUM STARTING PRESSURES (SLICKS)

22 psi (fronts) – 19.5 psi (rears)

Form Guide:

It’s a fresh start for everyone, so the teams and drivers can forget about your previous problems and start a new chapter. Is Ferrari’s testing pace genuine? Do Mercedes have a magic go fast mode for their mighty PU that will destroy the hopes of the Tifosi? Will Red Bull close the gap? Will McLaren make it to the grid? It’s all to play for. The season starts here.

Memorable Moments

1985 – The inaugural Australian Grand Prix on the F1 calendar served up a treat as Keke Rosberg and Ayrton Senna battle for the honour of victory, with Rosberg coming out victorious for what would be his final career victory. Read More

1986 – Nigel Mansell’s title dream disintegrated with his right rear tyre as McLaren’s Alain Prost stole the drivers title, benefitting from an early puncture to snatch the title from the Williams drivers. Read More

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1993 – Alain Prost’s final F1 race – with Ayrton Senna upstaging the Williams driver to take what would turn out to be the Brazilian great’s last F1 victory in his final F1 outing for McLaren before his ill-fated move to replace Prost at Williams. Read More

1994 – Despite dominating 1994 in a manner rarely seen in the sport, Benetton’s Michael Schumacher arrived at the season closing Australian Grand Prix with a slender one point lead over Williams Damon Hill, thanks mostly to disqualifications and suspension for the Benetton driver. While Schumachers ban handed Hill a lifeline, it also required a stirring drive from Damon in a rain soaked Japanese Grand Prix to set up the title showdown. The returning Nigel Mansell would steal the show in qualifying, taking pole for Williams from the nervy title contenders, but would fade back in the race. Schumacher, with his first title seemingly under control, buckled under pressure from Hill, and went off – but slammed the door shut as Hill went to move by. Schumacher was hurtled out on the spot, but Hill’s race was also over as his Williams had suffered terminal suspension damage in the impact with the Benetton, and the title was Schumacher’s. Mansell would go on to claim his last Grand Prix victory after a duel with Ferrari’s Gerhard Berger.

2009 – Jenson Button would kick start his world championship winning 2009 campaign season with a victory from pole position for the newly formed Brawn team, coming home ahead of Brawn team-mate Rubens Barrichello in a stunning debut for the team hastily formed following a management buy-out of the departing Honda works team. The race would finish under the safety car following a collision between Red Bulls Sebastian Vettel and the BMW-Sauber of Robert Kubica – triggering controversy as Toyota’s Jarno Trulli was initially disqualified from third place for overtaking Lewis Hamilton on track during the safety car period. Trulli would subsequently be re-instated after radio conversations between the McLaren pit wall and Hamilton confirmed McLaren and Hamilton had lied to stewards about letting Trulli past Hamilton, which would see McLaren fire sporting director Dave Ryan.

Support Races

Although the European based feeder formula stay at home, there will be plenty of action of offer over the course of the weekend, with the warm up racing provided by Australian GT, Supercars and the Porsche Carrera Cup, with plenty of demonstrations on offer to keep the crowd entertained in between F1 sessions.

Previous Results:

Year Driver Constructor
2016 Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2015 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2014 Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2013 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault
2012 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes
2011 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault
2010 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes
2009 Jenson Button Brawn-Mercedes
2008 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
2007 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
2006 Fernando Alonso Renault

 

10 responses to “Red Bull contenders for victory? Your complete guide to Australian GP weekend

    • apologies Cav, i figured it out finally. This thing has more buttons than an F1 steering wheel 🙂

      I’m guessing you’re not referring to Fast Eddie getting ahead of Schumacher 🙂

      Brundle running back a major memory for me as an ex-Jordan fan 🙂

    • cheers, would have added more but i ran out of time 😦
      would have liked to done a bit of a write up on the 2009 and 2010 races..does that make me a closet JB fan I wonder 😉

  1. Very comprehensive write up, very impressive.
    It is going to be an interesting race with so many unknowns with the cars and also how the tyre strategies work out. I hope McLaren have sorted out their lawn-mower engine in time for the race. Also that we can have more than one team fighting for the championship.

    • Thanks Mike,
      I too hope the lawn-mower is sorted (although I imagined it as a flame thrower for some reason 🙂 ). season is a write off (again) for Macca sadly, but if they can get their act together, it would be great to see Alonso doing that thing he does (racing, finding a way to win) towards the end of the season. I know Alonso gets a lot of hate, but man, is he something special on his day, it will be F1s loss if/when he gets fed up and leaves.
      Aus not great as a form guide for the ‘proper’ circuits to come, but will be great to see if Ferrari can put up a challenge to Merc, and I’m not discounting Red Bull yet either. Can’t wait!!!!

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