2010 Australian GP Preview
Round two of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) Formula One World Championship takes place at the Albert Park street circuit in Melbourne, Australia. Teams arrive knowing that this temporary track presents a particular challenge, such as a little-used and therefore changeable track surface, and the much dreaded close barriers. In previous years the Albert Park circuit has frequently, combined with the unpredictable local climate, made the Australian Grand Prix eventful and has often provided exciting and chaotic racing, with spectacular accidents and dramatic changes of fortune.
Located near Melbourne's beachside St Kilda district, Albert Park is one of the most accessible of all current Grand Prix venues, with many fans and Formula One personnel choosing to walk to the circuit. As in 2009, this weekend's racing schedule has been adjusted to accommodate the needs of international broadcasters. Saturday's qualifying will take place at 17.00 hrs local time and the race on Sunday will also start at 17.00 hrs local time.
The FIA has appointed four stewards who will make up the F1 Stewards Panel for the race in Australia: German Dr. Gerd Ennser and Swiss Paul Gutjahr, will represent the FIA, Steven Chopping, represents the hosting country Australia, and last but not least, eight-time Le Mans 24 Hour winner and five-time winner of the 12 hours of Sebring Tom Kristensen, who will represent the drivers.
Teams will push harder in Australia
A number of drivers and teams have vowed to push harder during the race in Melbourne. McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton is very optimistic: "We believe we can close the gap on these guys [Red Bull and Ferrari] and hopefully be at the top of the podium. I need to go back and give the team the biggest push." Seven times world champion Michael Schumacher, who ended 41 seconds behind the winner in Bahrain: "The engineers are listening to what I have to say. I've just got to find something in the balance which suits my style more."
Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn admitted that his team wasn't competitive enough in Bahrain, and revealed the team has planned a few updates for Australia. Brawn: "Whilst our car is fundamentally strong, we have a development plan in place for the next few races which should bring the required performance improvements to compete at the front." Norbert Haug is also confident the team will be up to speed again: "It will take some time to close the gap but we will definitely close it sooner rather than later. Our spirit is first-class and the whole team is looking forward to the race weekend in Melbourne."
Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo thinks his team has some work to do: "We know that we have to work and there is still lots to be improved, such as performance and reliability: it's important to stay realistic. In Melbourne it will be fundamental to have a good qualifying on Saturday, because as usual on city circuits, also here in Australia to start from the front will determine the final outcome."
The top runners - Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, and Mercedes
In 2002 Mark Webber became the first, and to date only, Australian to score points at his home Grand Prix when he finished in fifth position in his Minardi. Webber is now driving one of the fastest cars on the grid, the Red Bull RB6, and local fans are hopeful Webber will also become the first Australian to win his home Grand Prix.
Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel will use the same engine as in Bahrain, the team is sure the problems he encountered in Bahrain were caused by a faulty spark plug. Vettel is also quite confident the team has sorted the engine problem: "There is no reason why we shouldn't be competitive here. I like Albert Park, it is a nice track. It is usually quite slippery in the beginning, but I think we had a good race last year."
Despite winning the race at Bahrain Fernando Alonso played down his chances: "In Melbourne we're starting from square one. Nothing has changed for me: there are four teams and eight drivers who can fight for victory and we have to give it our all to stay ahead of everybody else." Ferrari encountered some engine overheating problems at Bahrain, but other than that are happy with the performance of the Ferrari F10. There are persistent rumors Ferrari is working on a complete new diffuser, designed by Giuseppe Azzollini, a CFD expert who has previously worked for Toyota.
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh expects his team is in good shape for the race: "I believe that our start to the season has been mostly encouraging. Our race pace in Bahrain looked respectable and I think we now have a clearer idea of how to set the car up over a Grand Prix weekend." Whitmarsh also revealed they will update a number of smaller components on the McLaren MP4-25.
Current title defender Jenson Button is adamant the Australian circuit will suit his car better: "It's quite a contrast to Bahrain: no tight, low-speed sections and plenty of faster corners. We think the track configuration should suit our package." Team mate Hamilton was a bit annoyed when reporters still asked him about last year's lie-gate: "Being a racer you're always looking forward, and don't look back at what has happened in the past. I look at it as a stepping stone in my life and something I learned a whole lot from." But he is optimistic about the race: "I think we'll go well there and I don't think we'll have the same problems that slowed our progress in Bahrain".
Schumacher already arrived in Melbourne last week to prepare himself for the race. He has spend the days training and adapting to the Australian climate. Schumacher, who has won the event four times: "I am sure that Melbourne will help me to get into the rhythm even more and I am looking forward to it. Australia has always been one of the highlights on the Formula One calendar and this has never changed for me in all my years of competing."
Nico Rosberg, who finished ahead of Schumacher in Bahrain, is confident he can score points this weekend. He already finished in third place during the race in 2008, and is more at ease with the typical understeer of the latest generation of Formula One cars than Schumacher. Rosberg: "I feel very comfortable in the car at the moment, we do still have some small problems that need resolving." When asked if he can beat Schumacher once again he answered: "What I want this season is to be at eye-level with Michael. And I think that I can show a strong performance in Australia."
The other teams
Williams will bring a few updates for the FW32 to Melbourne which will be tested on Friday during the first free practice session. Rookie Nico H?lkenberg has never driven in Melbourne, but has spend some time in the Williams simulator to get an idea of the circuit. Toro Rosso brought both cars to the finish in Bahrain, and both drivers have also spend some time in the simulator at the teams headquarters located in Milton Keynes in the UK.
Renault's chief race engineer Alan Permane believes his team is strong enough to challenge the top four teams. Their main target will be getting Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov into Q3 and score some points this weekend. Renault will also bring some aerodynamic upgrades to Australia, including a new front wing, and an improved rear wing configuration which will hopefully give them more downforce.
BMW-Sauber is the first team to introduce their own version of the McLaren venting system, but whether the team will use it during the race is unknown. Pedro de la Rosa claimed the system was so new, that he even doesn't know how it exactly works.
The new teams
Virgin, Lotus and HRT F1 all had problems with the hydraulic systems of the XTrac transmission units they are using this year. Virgin has decided to build their own gearbox, but still use the hydraulic system supplied by XTrac. Virgin and Lotus are now considering to design and build their own hydraulic system as well, and HRT team principal Colin Kolles told he had been working with XTrac engineers to find a solution, and expects there will be a few upgrades available for the system this weekend.
The Spanish HRT F1 team had a very tough weekend at Bahrain, and it won't be easy for them in Australia either. While Bruno Senna managed to run for 17 laps during the race, his team mate Karun Chandhok only finished one lap before he crashed and the team has therefore a very limited track experience. Interestingly enough, when asked if he thought he would last long enough in the race to make a pit stop Chandhok answered: "I'm not sure, if we do, it will be interesting because we haven't had the time to practice any pit stops yet."
Pit stops and tyres
Expected pit stop schedule for Melbourne:
For 1 stop - between laps 29-34
For 2 stops - between laps 21-25 and 35-43
For 3 stops - between laps 15-18, 29-33 and 42-47
Bridgestone has allocated the Hard and Soft tyre compounds for Melbourne, the Soft compound will be marked with a green band on the sidewalls of the tyre. New in 2010 is that TV viewers will now see the total time of a pit stop displayed on their TV screen. The FIA has, because the pit stops are very fast due to the refueling ban, decided not to time the actual pit stop itself anymore, but instead came up with a new system that records the total pit stop time, including the time needed to enter and exit the pit lane.
After the Bahrain GP many in- and outsiders believe something should be done about the lack of action on track. Most teams were on a one stop strategy and many drivers complained it was difficult to overtake. Schumacher: "Overtaking is basically impossible, other than if somebody makes a mistake. That's the action we are going to have with unfortunately this kind of environment of race strategies." Webber told he was shocked by the lack of overtaking maneuvers, and said the race was also pretty boring for himself: "I spent 48 laps staring at a the gearboxes of first Schumacher and then Button and there was nothing I could do to pass them. We can only hope that other circuits will lend themselves to overtaking more than Sakhir."
McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh believes the FIA should introduce two mandatory pit stops, and thinks Bridgestone should produce less durable tyres. Whitmarsh about the tyres used at Bahrain: "The tyre [compounds] were much closer in the race than we expected and they determined the spectacle. There was no real serious degradation of the tyres." William's technical director Sam Michael said the race in Bahrain gave a good indication as to what will be the most likely pit stop strategy in Melbourne, meaning he expects most teams will be on a one-stop strategy again.
Other drivers and teams have called for more patience, and think it is ridiculous to change the rules after just one race. Bernie Ecclestone emphasized there is no panic or crisis in Formula One, and suggested to wait until after the race in China, before jumping to conclusions. "It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things" are the words of American writer and philosopher H. D. Thoreau, and both gentlemen are right, let's wait and see, and enjoy the race in Melbourne.