The Formula One season opener at Melbourne, on March 9th this year, is always one of the highlights of the year. Just a few kilometres from Melbourne city centre, the Albert Park street circuit is set around an artificial lake and at just over...
The Formula One season opener at Melbourne, on March 9th this year, is always one of the highlights of the year. Just a few kilometres from Melbourne city centre, the Albert Park street circuit is set around an artificial lake and at just over 5km, it's one of the longest tracks currently on the F1 calendar.
Previous winners of the race in Melbourne were Damon Hill, David Coulthard, Mika Hakkinen, Eddie Irvine and Michael Schumacher. The Australian GP, hosted by both Adelaide and Melbourne, has only been won by four teams -- McLaren seven times, Williams five, Ferrari three and Benetton once. Jaguar's Mark Webber is currently the only Australian on the grid and sent the home crowd wild last year when he finished fifth with Minardi.
Although not one of the most challenging circuits, Albert Park is generally liked by most of the drivers. For a street circuit it's fairly fast, with a combination of slow corners and flowing bends. The first turn after the pit straight is one of the best overtaking opportunities
The track requires high downforce and medium to soft suspension for some rather bumpy sections and setting up the car can be tricky. The Australian heat can also mean brakes are a significant factor but the track surface is generally smooth so tyre wear is not so much of an issue. However, it can be quite slippery so understeer can be a problem.
Michael Schumacher has won the last three Australian GPs and will no doubt be aiming to make it four in a row this coming weekend. Last year's season opener went with a bang on the very first lap, when Rubens Barrichello and Ralf Schumacher collided at the first corner. Ralf went airborne and the resulting pile-up saw nearly half the field out of the race.
Confusion reigned when drivers making a mad dash back to the pits for the spare car realized the race hadn't been stopped. The safety car was out and David Coulthard led once it went in, only to have it back out just a few laps later when Jarno Trulli's Renault was stuck on track after hitting a wall.
Ferrari is arguably the favourite to win the first race of the year -- Williams has expressed doubts that the new FW25 is fast enough yet and the team is still tinkering with the aerodynamics. McLaren are looking strong but the MP4-17 wasn't fast enough to beat the Ferrari F2002 last year, so its doubtful it can this time around. However, both cars are now developments of 2002 chassis' so it remains to be seen how much improvement has been made.
The new qualifying system could well bring about a few surprises and with the other regulation changes, such as no refueling and less work on the cars between qualifying and race, there could well be a few surprises this coming weekend. As proven in the 2002 Australian GP, anything can happen in the race -- how many cars make it to the finish line on Sunday we will soon find out.