Round one of the 2008 FIA Formula One World Championship takes the Honda Racing F1 Team to Melbourne, south east Australia. The 58-lap race is held on the Albert Park street circuit, situated just two kilometres south of Melbourne's Central...
Round one of the 2008 FIA Formula One World Championship takes the Honda Racing F1 Team to Melbourne, south east Australia. The 58-lap race is held on the Albert Park street circuit, situated just two kilometres south of Melbourne's Central Business District.
Albert Park has hosted the Australian Grand Prix every year since 1996, when the race was moved from Adelaide. However, the track's association with Formula One goes back further than 13 years: it staged two non-championship F1 races in 1953 and '56.
The 5.3km (3.3-mile) circuit utilises public roads surrounding the man-made Albert Park Lake. Unlike other street circuits, however, it's a relatively high-speed track. On three occasions, the cars reach 300kph (185mph) and they average 225kph (140mph) around the lap.
ALBERT PARK - THE TECHNICAL CHALLENGE
Being the first race of the year, Melbourne is a huge technical challenge as it's the first time that all of the teams have gone into battle with their new cars. Although the Honda Racing F1 Team has done several race distances during winter testing, there's no substitute for race mileage.
Albert Park is a technically demanding track because it's bumpy, particularly in a couple of the braking areas; it's hard on brakes and it's slippery. The grip from the asphalt improves throughout the race weekend as more rubber goes down, but it never reaches the levels that the teams have been used to in winter testing. As a result, car set-up is a constant battle against understeer and a lack of traction.
The need to achieve high top speeds forces the cars to run without maximum levels of downforce. This reduces grip through the many second-gear corners, making it harder for the drivers to get back on the power. In the days when traction control was permitted, the system worked hard around Albert Park; without it, the rear end will move around more.
But the challenge of Albert Park isn't only technical. There is a lot of time to be gained through the quick chicane at Turns 11 and 12, should the drivers get it right. It's a place where bravery is rewarded.
Full throttle: 69%
Brake wear: Medium-to-hard
Downforce level: High - 8/10
Tyre compounds: Soft and medium
Tyre usage: Easy
Average speed: 225kph (140mph)
HONDA TEAM TALK
Ross Brawn, Team Principal
Q: How does it feel to be commencing your first season with the Honda Racing F1 Team?
"I'm looking forward to it! We have a very talented group of people in the team, whose collective expertise is good enough to succeed in Formula One and I have every faith that we will. For now though we must continue to take it one step at a time and our first goal is to improve the RA108 at every race."
Q: How has pre-season testing gone?
"We've made steady progress with the RA108 since its launch at the end of January. Practically all of the aerodynamic and mechanical parts have been updated and when we ran our Melbourne-spec package for the first time last week, we saw some positive changes to the performance of the car. We now have to see what that improvement equates to on the race track and relative to the competition."
Q: What are your thoughts on the RA108 as you head into the first race?
"It's a very driveable car, which gives us a good basis to build on. It still lacks a bit of speed, but we've made improvements at every test in many areas and I'm confident that this level of development can continue throughout the year."
Q: What have you been doing to prepare for the start of the new season?
"Like all of the drivers, I've been busy with testing the new car and there's no substitute for that kind of training. But I've also been working on my fitness away from the track and I'm fitter now than ever before. I've got a new physio, Mike Collier, and we've done three training camps together in Lanzarote."
Q: What are your realistic expectations for the opening rounds?
"The mid-field is going to be very close this year, so we could see an interesting battle. It's almost impossible to say where we'll end up in Melbourne because the lap times will be close. So it's a case of wait and see."
Q: Do you like driving without traction control?
"I feel like a boy with a new toy! Having driven without TC for many years in the '90s, it didn't take me long to adjust. It will throw up new challenges, particularly when it's wet, but they are challenges that I'm looking forward to."
LAP OF THE TRACK with Alex Wurz
"I love the Aussies. They are very friendly and open-minded, and they just love it when the grand prix comes to town. The racetrack is in a park, so it's a mix of public roads and permanent racetrack. It's only used once a year, which creates an extra challenge for the teams because the grip level is always changing. The track is usually four or five seconds quicker in the race than it is in free practice, which means you're always reacting to it with the set-up. It's quite difficult to stay on top of it.
"As for the circuit, you approach the first corner in seventh gear, at about 300kph. It's a very bumpy braking area, so you have to make sure you're not over doing it. Turns 3, 4 and 5 make up a flowing part of the circuit: Turn 3 is taken in second gear and the next left and right are challenging and quite fast.
"Turn 6 should be almost flat - if you have a good car - before you're hard on the brakes for a chicane. A long right-hander follows before you come to another second gear chicane. It's quite a difficult braking area because we arrive at 300kph, but you're quickly on the throttle again and powering past the lake, through a long, bumpy left-hander.
"Then there's the high-speed chicane at Turns 11 and 12. It's a really nice part of the circuit, particularly as the level of grip increases. We drive through it at a minimum speed of 220kph and the rear gets a bit light, so it's a good challenge for the car and it certainly keeps you awake in the cockpit!
"Then you come to the last sector. The last two corners look a bit Mickey Mouse, but there's a lot of lap time to be gained there. As you arrive at the penultimate corner, you have to stay really calm and get your braking point just right. Then it's a matter of carrying as much speed as you can out of the last corner and over the start-finish line.
Honda in Australia
Honda Australia recorded its fifth consecutive car sales record in 2007. The company sold 60,529 units, a rise of 11.7 percent over '06, which increased its market share to six percent. Australia is now Honda's eighth biggest market for cars.
"It's wonderful to see another record result," said Honda Australia managing director and CEO Yasuhide Mizuno.
Following the launches of the new Honda Accord, Euro and Jazz, Honda Australia aims to sell 70,000 units in '08.