Following a tightly-packed winter testing schedule, the sport has rolled into Australia for the opening round of the 2016 campaign, as Lewis Hamilton begins his charge for a fourth World Championship.
This season will be the longest in Formula 1 history, with 21 rounds, two more than 2015, with the addition of the European Grand Prix in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, and the return of the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim.
The grid has remained relatively stable, but there have been some changes, including the return of Kevin Magnussen and debut of Jolyon Palmer at Renault, which has made a comeback after taking over Lotus. Meanwhile, Manor has recruited Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto, but one of the biggest focuses has been on Formula 1’s first new team in six year, Haas.
The American-founded outfit has formed a strong alliance with Ferrari and has recruited Romain Grosjean from Lotus and ex-Sauber racer Esteban Gutiérrez to lead its charge.
This year’s Australian Grand Prix will be the 21st to be held at the picturesque Albert Park Street Circuit in Melbourne, following the event’s switch from Adelaide.
The 16-turn track layout remains largely unchanged since the inaugural race in 1996, which was won by Williams driver Damon Hill, who went on to claim that year’s championship.
61% of the lap is spent at full throttle, with the DRS zones placed on the pit straight and the straight between Turns 2 and 3.
Most of the corners are low to medium speed – as is usual with a street circuit – though the kink at Turns 11 and 12 requires commitment and a car with a strong front end, leading to an overtaking opportunity into Turn 13.
Fuel consumption is the second highest of the entire campaign due to short bursts of acceleration from low speed, while there are typically 56 gear changes per lap.
“This track is always exciting to drive, partly because of its street circuit nature – tight run-off areas, a bumpy surface and low grip – but also because everyone is impatient to go racing again” says McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.
“The important thing is to get a good start – usually everyone is eager and it’s quiet common for there to be some drama off the line in the first race.”
With technical regulations remaining relatively stable across the winter, the focus has been on several sporting changes, which could spice up the action.
There have been increased restrictions relating to pit-to-driver communications, in a bid to place the emphasis of control away from the engineers and back towards the racers.
Qualifying has also been tweaked, with drivers now eliminated during Q1, Q2 and Q3 at selected 90 second intervals, before two drivers are left to battle it out for pole position.
Three tyre compounds will now be taken to each race by Pirelli, with drivers given free choice for 10 of the 13 allocated sets.
For Australia, Pirelli has taken the Super Soft, Soft and Medium compounds, with a set of each mandatory for every driver; a set of the Super Softs is set aside for Q3, while drivers must use one of either the Soft or Medium compounds during the race.
Aside from those three sets and regulations, drivers are permitted free choice from the remaining 10 sets.
Six different drivers have emerged victorious from the most recent six season-openers, with Hamilton beginning his 2015 title triumph with success at Albert Park, as he led a Mercedes 1-2.
Out of the current drivers, Jenson Button is the most successful driver at the venue, having emerged on top in 2009, the wet/dry 2010 event and in 2012.
Three drivers will make their Grand Prix debuts this weekend and each has selected their permanent numbers: Palmer will run with 30, Haryanto 88 and Wehrlein 94.
Two DRS zones, along the pit straight and approaching Turn 3, will be retained as per 2015, with a single detection point in the final sector, while Martin Donnelly will act as the drivers’ representative on the stewards panel.
Timetable (GMT +11)
Friday 18 March
- Practice One: 12:30 – 14:00
- Practice Two: 16:30 – 15:30
Saturday 19 March
- Practice Three: 14:00 – 15:00
- Qualifying: 17:00 (60 minutes)
Sunday 20 March
- Race: 17:00 (58 laps or two hours)