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Australian GP: Flat out on an F1 circuit lined with walls - what's not to like?

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Australian GP: Flat out on an F1 circuit lined with walls - what's not to like?
Mar 21, 2017, 9:49 PM

The F1 teams may have covered 7,427 laps of Barcelona in testing with the new style F1 cars, but the first race at Albert Park, Melbourne always p...

The F1 teams may have covered 7,427 laps of Barcelona in testing with the new style F1 cars, but the first race at Albert Park, Melbourne always produces surprises and this year will be no exception.

Last season the race was red flagged mid-race and decisions made at that point cost Ferrari the win, while Haas lucked into a big points score on debut, largely because they had gambled on a Safety Car or Red Flag and it paid off in track position advantage from not stopping to that point.

As a track lined with walls and quite high speed, there is a strong chance of an accident and as examples down the years illustrate, from Brundle to Alonso, they tend to be big ones. This has to be factored into race planning.

Start Australia F1 2016

Also critical is the start; the entire process is now in the hands of the drivers, with no outside assistance on balancing out the massive torque of the engines, so we will see an even higher degree of variability in starts than last year and that will certainly shake things up.

Historically Ferrari is very strong on starts, Mercedes has had some patchy getaways - will that carry over into the 100% driver influenced starts of 2017?

Also with the cars now 2,000mm wide, overtaking will be tricky on this street circuit and we should not jump to too many conclusions based on one race, as only really when the cars race at China and Bahrain will we have a clearer picture of just how hard it is to overtake with these cars. Drivers have said they found it harder to follow another car in testing, but that's a call we can really only make after several rounds on different tracks.

At the front the battle this weekend looks set to be between Mercedes and Ferrari at the first round, with Red Bull likely to join that battle as the season goes on and they develop their car.

The tyre choice from Pirelli with the new wider tyres is Ultrasoft/Supersoft/Soft. The race will be a one-stop strategy event for most and that makes qualifying critical, where Mercedes has traditionally had the edge with its aggressive engine mode for qualifying. Ferrari is well aware of that; we have seen in testing how much they improved downforce and drivability for this year, but only on Saturday afternoon will we find out whether they can go toe to toe with Mercedes on maximum engine modes.

Other teams with a free tyre choice at the start outside the Top ten may be able to try a reverse strategy with the soft at the start and then a fast burst on Ultrasoft at the end.

For the seventh year, we will produce the UBS Race Strategy Report here on the JA on F1 site on Tuesdays after every Grand Prix. For an insight into the decisions made and what went on behind the scenes to decide the result, there's nothing else like it. The Report has input and data from several F1 team strategists.

Podium Melbourne F1 2016

2017 Australian Grand Prix in numbers

The 2017 Australian Grand Prix will be the 22nd F1 race to be held at the Albert Park track since the event switched from Adelaide in 1996. The circuit is notorious for interruptions, as eight out the last 10 races have featured safety car periods. In fact, in the last 11 Australian races there have been a total of 50 safety car laps, which is almost the equivalent of an entire 58-lap race around Albert Park.

Since Melbourne joined the F1 calendar any team that has scored a 1-2 result has gone on to claim the constructors’ championship and the winning driver has taken the drivers’ title. Across F1 history, the winner of the first grand prix has won the championship 34 times out of the previous 67 seasons (almost 50 per cent), which rises to 19 out of 27 (over 70 per cent) since 1990.

Lewis Hamilton

Heading into the 2017 season, Lewis Hamilton has the chance to claim yet more F1 records. If he wins at least once this season that will make it the 11th consecutive season in which he has achieved that feat and would surpass Alain Prost’s record of winning each year between 1981 and 1990. Only Michael Schumacher (1992-2006) possesses a longer record of sustained years featuring an F1 victory. Hamilton also currently has 32 wins from pole position, which is only eight short of Schumacher’s all-time record of 40.

Ferrari, which caught the eye during winter testing, enters 2017 hoping to improve its recent F1 success record. Although the Scuderia was the only team to score at every race in 2016, it has fewer wins since the start of 2011 than McLaren, which has 13 to Ferrari’s nine.

The Italian team, which has been winless twice in the last three seasons, including 2016, has also only taken five pole positions in this decade out of a total of 136 races. Sebastian Vettel’s pole at Singapore in 2015 is its most recent, and the only one Ferrari has scored in the last five years.

Some notable facts regarding recent driver records in Melbourne include Danill Kvyat’s two consecutive DNS results from 2015 and 2016 for Red Bull. The Russian driver’s only finish at Albert Park was on his F1 debut in 2014 when he finished ninth and in doing so became the 60th driver to score points in their first grand prix.

Kenvin Magnussen

Elsewhere, Kevin Magnussen’s second place for McLaren in 2014 on his F1 race debut made him one of only two drivers in the past 21 years to finish on the podium in their first grand prix event. The other was Hamilton, who finished third for McLaren in 2007.

Nico Hulkenberg will make his 116th F1 start this weekend, which means he is third on the all-time list of driver starts without scoring a podium finish, behind Pierluigi Martini (118) and Adrian Sutil (128).

And finally, this coming weekend is a big one for McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, who not only starts the first race of his career as a full-time F1 driver, but also turns 25 years old on the day of the race.

Who will win the 2017 F1 Australian Grand Prix?

What do you think of the prospects for the race in Australia? Will you watch it? Leave your comments below
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