Mid-March? It must be time for the opening round of the season...
Everybody starts from zero. It’s a cliché, but heading into this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix everyone is on a theoretical playing field. But which of the twenty-two drivers will head to next weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix with twenty-five points in the bag? Five teams will start practice with a feeling that they could emerge with top honours and with Sauber and Williams also strong in 2012, there could even be an outside contender. It may only be very early into a long season, but the points gathered here could for just as much as they do at the end of the year. No-one knows what will happen…
Formula One arrived in Australia for the first time in 1985 when Adelaide hosted the season finale. The popular street circuit was only part of the calendar for a decade but it played host to a number of memorable races: the dramatic 1986 finale when Nigel Mansell’s tyre exploded, the torrential rain in 1991, Ayrton Senna’s last win in 1993 and the controversial collision between Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill in 1994. For 1996 the race switched to Albert Park in Melbourne, and with it to the start of the season. Melbourne has hosted all but two of the season opening races since 1996 and like Adelaide usually hosts scintillating events. The 2002 running of the race began with a spectacular accident at the first corner that wiped out half of the field while in 2008 only seven cars finished the race.
The 5.303km street circuit takes place around the Albert Park lake, with an average speed of 210km/h and a top speed of 312km/h. The lap begins with a blast down the pit straight before heading under the bridge and into Turn 1, a ninety degree right hander that immediately opens up into the sweeping left hander of Turn 2. The run down to the third gear right hander at Turn 3 provides one of the best overtaking opportunities of the lap, before the drivers cut back to head through the car park at Turn 4. Heading under the trees between Turn 5 and 6 is a tricky section with very little run-off before the sweeping right hander of Turn 8. From Turns 9 and 10 the drivers drive past the lake – which of course they cannot see! – and have to negotiate the fifth gear chicane at T11-12, scene of Timo Glock’s huge accident in 2008. Getting a good line through T11 and T12 is crucial for the long run down to the heavy braking zone of Turn 13. The DRS detection zone arrives before the right hander at T14, with the activation point coming just after the final corner. A second zone lies between Turns 2 and 3.
Around 70% of the lap is spent at full throttle, with 54 gear changes per lap. There last ten races at Albert Park have seen the Safety Car deployed a total of thirteen times across six races. On the active driver front, McLaren’s Jenson Button is the standout performer in Australia with three victories (2009, 2010, 2012) and two pole positions (2006, 2009). Fernando Alonso (2006), Kimi Raikkonen (2007), Lewis Hamilton (2008) and Sebastian Vettel (2011) have also emerged victorious Down Under. All five current champions won in Australia in their championship year, with eleven of seventeen victors in Albert Park going on to win the title. Ferrari don’t have a favourable recent record in Australia, with just one podium in the last five events (Felipe Massa, 2010) since Raikkonen’s 2007 win. Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg will be hoping for a longer stint in Australia than his previous two events. Hulkenberg was wiped out by an errant Kamui Kobayashi at Turn 6 in 2010, while he lasted just four corners longer in 2012 before parking his punctured Force India. His team-mate, Esteban Gutierrez, is one of five drivers starting their first Formula One race this weekend (Valtteri Bottas, Giedo Van der Garde, Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton are the others) while four drivers will start their first race for their new team (Sergio Perez, Hamilton, Hulkenberg and Charles Pic).
Friday 15 March
Practice 1 12:30-14:00
Practice 2 16:30-18:00
Saturday 16 March
Practice 3 14:00-15:00
Sunday 17 March