Liberty Media and the FIA are showing signs of concern, last year we saw only a 1 stop race for the Australian Grand Prix with only 5 real overtakes.
As a result, and perhaps a nod to a lack of trust in Pirelli’s 2018 bubblegum tyres promoting overtaking, a snap decision was made during the lead up to the weekend, to chuck in a 3rd DRS zone, taking the teams by surprise.
Unfortunately for the teams, the clowns running F1 currently can do whatever they wish prior to a race weekend when mandating DRS zones. So now a rush to recalculate and reprogram DRS software to cater for the 3rd zone has begun in earnest.
Could the combination of the 3rd zone (between T12 & T13) which incorporates a curve, plus extra degradation tyres from Pirelli cause carnage in the race? Other drivers are perhaps grateful that the inexperienced pairing of Stroll and Sirotikin from Williams are very likely starting near the back of the grid after a poor showing in winter testing.
So what can we expect from the Australian Grand Prix?
At long last, the season finally begins this weekend in Melbourne with the Australian Grand Prix. The hope and optimism of pre-season testing will meet hard reality this weekend as we get the first real indication of where the teams stand relative to each other this year. Mercedes will start as strong favourites at a track where they have always looked strong in the PU era, but Ferrari shocked everyone last year, and will be hoping they can pull off a repeat of that performance this weekend.
Reigning champion Lewis Hamilton will be the favourite to take his fifth world championship this year with Mercedes, his main competition likely to be provided again by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who will be desperate to make amends for the way his title hopes fizzled out last year, and beat Hamilton to the fifth world title!
Behind the title favourites, there is already plenty of drivers under pressure to perform, with eyes already on the prime seats potentially available in 2019! Almost everyone has written off Valtteri Bottas hopes of retaining his Mercedes drive for 2019, let alone challenging Lewis Hamilton within the Mercedes team this season, and he will need a strong start to the year to prove he is worthy of continuing on at Mercedes.
Bottas showed glimpses of the pace needed to challenge Hamilton last year, whilst also showing the ability to remain calm and focused in the face of external pressure, and will be looking to prove himself a genuine championship contender this year. While plenty expect Bottas to miss out on another year at Mercedes, almost no-one gives Kimi Raikkonen a chance of retaining his Ferrari seat for 2019, but then that has been the case before, and Kimi has still survived. While he has not been able to consistently match Sebastian Vettel, Kimi has shown flashes of his previous form over the last few years, and if he can just get the Ferrari SF71H handling to his liking, he could still spring a surprise or two.
Of the drivers looking to displace Bottas and Raikkonen, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Force India’s Esteban Ocon are the most likely candidates. While Red Bull have tied down Max Verstappen to a long term deal, Ricciardo has not yet committed to Red Bull beyond this season, and while he might seem to be in a key position to take advantage of the potential vacancies at Mercedes and Ferrari, his own market value will surely suffer if he is outperformed by Max Verstappen as was the case in the second half of last season. Ricciardo needs to come out all guns blazing, and a podium at home would be a good way to start! Esteban Ocon impressed mightily last year, but he needs to step up now and start to dominate Sergio Perez if he is to prove his readiness for the works seat to the Mercedes top brass.
Perez on the other hand bet on himself by turning down Renault last year to keep himself available when a top seat opened up, but he will have to back up his belief by stamping his authority over the young Ocon this season if he is to have any hope of landing a top drive, expect more sparks to fly between the Force India pilots this year! At Renault, the battle between Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg promises to be intense over the course of the season, with a possible return to Red Bull still on the cards for Sainz should Ricciardo find a better offer.
Sauber’s new driver Charles Leclerc arrives in F1 as one of the most exciting rookies of recent times, having dominated F2 and GP3 over the past two seasons, and while Ferrari have traditionally looked for more experience in a driver, Leclerc could still make a case for an unlikely promotion to the senior Ferrari team if he can deliver some sensational performances, where surely nothing less than utter domination of Marcus Ericcson will do. The seasons other rookie, Sergey Sirotkin, will be under pressure to hit the ground running at Williams, as Robert Kubica will be ready to grab any opportunity he can to rekindle his F1 career should Sirotkin struggle to make an impact.
Lance Stroll’s financial backing makes him look like one of the drivers under the least pressure this year, but while he was granted some leeway in his rookie season against a Felipe Massa who looked past his best, there will be nowhere to hide for Stroll should Sirotkin upstage him. Haas have impressed in testing, and their driver pairing of Grosjean and Magnussen, who have both slipped through the fingers of the larger teams, will hope that the Haas is competitive enough out of the gate to give them an opportunity for an early highlight result that might just remind the bigger teams of why they were so highly regarded earlier in their careers, or at least, ensure they continue in F1 for another season.
Toro Rosso’s paring of Gasly and Hartley know the score with the Red Bull junior program, so pressure will be on to perform from the start, lest they join the likes of Sebastien Buemi and Jean-Eric,Vergne seeking refuge in Formula E. Oh, and not to forget about McLaren. It’s a case of no more Honda, no more excuses for McLaren. Fernando Alonso is looking at a last chance to end his F1 career on a high note, while Stoffel Vandoorne will be looking to prove his worth, and show the type of performance that saw him dominate GP2 in 2015, lest he go the way of Magnussen and Perez before him and find himself replaced by the next young thing at McLaren!
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. Of the active drivers Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes 2015 and McLaren 2008), Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull 2011 and Ferrari 2017) and Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus 2013 and Ferrari 2007) have each won here twice, while Fernando Alonso (Renault 2006) has a single Australian Grand Prix victory.
This time last year at the Australian Grand Prix
Ferrari had looked fast in pre-season testing, and confirmed that was no PR stunt with a sensational win for Sebastian Vettel in the season opener. Lewis Hamilton had taken pole position for Mercedes, but despite converting the pole into the race lead, he was caught out in the pit sequence, stopping earlier on and getting stick behind Max Verstappen’s Red Bull, with Lewis losing just enough time for Vettel to be able to leapfrog him into the lead. Vettel never looked back, and surged clear to give Ferrari a victory that had them dreaming of an end to Mercedes dominance in the world championship. Lewis came home in second place just ahead of new team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who got his Mercedes career off to a satisfactory start with a podium place. The second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen came home in fourth, while Max Verstappen was best of the rest in fifth place for Red Bull.
History of the Australian Grand Prix
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.
Australian Grand Prix: 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. Mercedes were dominant in the first 3 years of the new power unit regulations, with Nico Rosberg winning in 2014 and 2016 and Lewis Hamilton taking the victory in 2015, but Ferrari stunned the F1 world last year when Sebastian Vettel jumped Lewis Hamilton at the pit stops and never looked back, handing Ferrari their first win in Australia since 2007!
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.
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. The short burst from the pit exit into Turn 1 should provide plenty of drama during the race, last year’s race providing a great example as Sebastian Vettel just sneaked out ahead of Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton in a move that would ultimately decide the race, but simply getting out of the pits ahead at the first corner is no guarantee of keeping the position, as Sergio Perez showed with a clinical move around the outside of Carlos Sainz into Turn 3 last year. With the burst between Turns 2 and Turn 3 hosting a DRS activation zone (activated by the same detection point that sets up the DRS activation zone on the main straight), Turn 3 is a sure-fire overtaking spot, and sure to see plenty of action on race day! Turn 3 is a 90 degree right hander that winds back into a left hander (Turn 4). 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 in 2016), 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 passing the first DRS detection point baking hard into the flowing left right of Turn 11 and Turn 12, a fast combination that can set a driver up for attack with the benefit of a new for this season DRS activation zone as the track winds right towards Turn 13, hard on the brakes for the right hander, which could already tempt drivers into having a look without the aid of DRS, so should see more action this weekend (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 they burst past the second 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, a corner certain to see its share of overtaking attempts on Sunday.
TYRES WITH PIRELLI:
Although the tyre nomination for the Australian Grand Prix is the same as last year – soft, supersoft and ultrasoft – the compounds are all a step softer in 2018, contributing to the big performance increase already seen in pre-season testing. With new cars, new drivers, variable weather, and plenty of track evolution, Melbourne is always one of the most unpredictable and eagerly-anticipated races of the year.
THE CIRCUIT FROM A TYRE POINT OF VIEW
- Albert Park is a semi-permanent street circuit that’s not used extensively during the year, so the track can be particularly ‘green’ and slippery at the start of the grand prix weekend.
- It’s generally made up of short to medium straights, and low to medium speed corners.
- Traction is key in order to get a good drive out of the many corners onto the short straights.
- Wear and degradation is on the whole quite low: most cars stopped just once last year, with the most popular strategy – used by the top three – being ultrasoft to soft. Softer compounds this year could mean different rates of wear and degradation, so more pit stops.
- There’s a reasonably high chance of a safety car: the 2006 race featured four safety cars.
- Lateral forces are not particularly high: total energy going through the tyres is about average.
- Pit lane time loss is around 25 seconds; there are no major changes to the track since 2017.
MARIO ISOLA – HEAD OF CAR RACING
“Barcelona testing already provided an indication of the step forward in performance taken by the 2018 cars and compounds, and we should see this carried through to the very different conditions in Australia. Exactly what those conditions could be is yet to be seen: the weather at this time of year in Melbourne can vary from cold and wet to very warm. From what we can see so far, this year’s softer compounds should open up the possibility for either one or two pit stops this year, as opposed to one for the majority of drivers last year. As usual at the first grand prix of the season, there are still a number of questions to be answered, but we hope to see an exciting race with tyre strategy playing a key role.”
- There is a new start time of 16.10 (local time), with all the races this year starting at 10 minutes past the hour, in order to accommodate television schedules.
- The new Formula 1 two-seater car is scheduled to make its debut in Australia, based on an updated version of the original 1998 Tyrrell design, with Pirelli tyres.
MIN. STARTING PRESSURES (slicks) EOS CAMBER LIMIT
22.0 psi (front) | 19.5 psi (rear)
-3.75° (front) | -2.00° (rear)
Most pundits have Mercedes still out in front, with Ferrari and Red Bull behind but clear of the midfield battle. Ferrari ended testing with the outright quickest time, but the general impression is that Mercedes are the strongest. Mercedes didn’t look to set a splash time in testing, avoiding the hypersoft tyre altogether, but they did run the most number of laps, showing impressive reliability straight out of the box and looked quick when they ran, an ominous sign for the season ahead. Ferrari grabbed the fastest time, but look like they will have their work cut out to remain ahead of a resurgent Red Bull team, who look very confident with their latest challenger. Still, Red Bull’s limitation will remain their Tag Heuer badged Renault power unit. Behind the midfield battle promises to be tight, with Renault looking like they have made a step forward, with Haas looking like potential dark horses after their own impressive run in pre-season testing. Force India look to be behind the curve, while Williams are also struggling. Toro Rosso racked up impressive mileage in testing with their new partner Honda, while McLaren did not. Sauber look to be behind the curve to start the season, it will be interesting to see if the increased investment from new partner Alfa Romeo will see them close the gap as the season develops.
Memorable Moments at the Australian Grand Prix
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, Porsche Carrera Cup and Ferrari Challenge.
|2011||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|