Circuit: Albert Park
First GP held: 1996
Circuit length: 3.295 miles
Lap Record: 1:24.125 (Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, 2004)
The winter is finally over, the freight has been shipped, and the teams are getting ready to go racing now. All the predictions and talk of pre-season testing is about to be proven or disproven. The Australian Grand Prix heralds the end of winter break, and the start of the 2018 Formula 1 season.
The Australian Grand Prix has been on the calendar since 1985 with the Adelaide street circuit, though Albert park has hosted the Grand Prix since 1996. A favourite among drivers and fans, it always provides something of a party atmosphere for the opening race of the season. European fans may have to get up early for this one, but that has long been a part of the charm that comes from the excitement of a new season of F1.
Those fans who do get up at an ungodly hour over the years have been treated to some thrilling races here in the past, and one of the most memorable was the 2002 race. A fast-starting Ralf Schumacher in his Williams attacked Rubens Barrichello in his Ferrari on the way down to Turn 1. The two crossed paths, and Ralf went airborne over the back of the Ferrari. The ensuing carnage took out eight cars from the start, and meant Michael Schumacher went on to win the race. However the race is perhaps better known for home hero Mark Webber invading the podium with his Minardi team after scoring points on his F1 debut.
The Albert Park Circuit itself is a temporary track that is highly technical in nature. This means there is little room for error and should be a track to blow away the racing cobwebs. Those who do not blow them away however will find the walls of Albert Park unforgiving. A track that can catch even the very best of drivers out, the weather can also play a key factor here, with an autumnal shower always on the cards for mixed conditions. As we’ve seen in the past, Turn 1 often throws up some drama, as drivers get incredibly aggressive at the first start of a new season. A first corner incident is nearly a guarantee here.
New for this year is a third DRS zone to help overtaking on the way down to Turn 13. Despite it’s sometimes chaotic nature, thanks to it’s street circuit design Albert Park can often be processional in nature. It’s hoped a third DRS zone will combat this.
Pre-season testing may have only ended two weeks ago, but teams have been hard at work since then to maximise the most out of their cars, and fix any little gremlins they may have found during testing. There is a high likelihood that the top three teams will most definitely bring updates to Melbourne, while lower down teams will bring some minor updates too. One team to definitely watch will be Force India. The car the team ran in Pre-Season was, even by their own words, not the car they would be bringing to Melbourne. The VM11 was described by both Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez as “heavy” to drive. The Silverstone based team will need to have done some serious work over the last two weeks. Or there is a chance their cars may not even finish in the top ten.
The 2017 Australian Grand Prix last season, will be best remembered for Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel triumphing over the two Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. The win saw Vettel become the first non Mercedes driver to lead the championship since the start of the V6 turbo era. And led many to believe that this was a sign Ferrari would be able the challenge Mercedes in the championship. Perhaps though the best moment of the race came when the Ferrari team opted to try an overcut to get ahead of Hamilton’s Mercedes. Many thought the plan wouldn’t work, but on that day the overcut was the way to go. When Vettel finally pitted for a fresh set of new tyres, he came out just ahead of Hamilton. Prompting Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff to thump the desk in frustration. And thus the first 2018 F1 meme was born…