It’s a very exciting time for everyone here as the Team begins the long trip to Melbourne’s Albert Park for the Australian Grand Prix. New season, new cars and everything to play for.
Albert Park is a great place to start the year – and not just because a little southern hemisphere sunshine is what everyone at the factory has been craving these last three months. It’s nice to start the season with a race in the city. There’s a buzz that comes with a crowd walking (or getting the tram) to the track, and then slowly dispersing in the evenings through the local pubs and restaurants, that you don’t get at an out-of-town track.
We're on the charge to the first race of the season, check out our season preview below!
Melbourne throws itself into the grand prix: it’s a city that embraces sport with a passion rarely seen elsewhere, which means we get a fabulous, knowledgeable crowd turning up for the whole weekend, plus a packed programme of racing courtesy of the Australian Grand Prix organisers who seem to work on the (entirely correct in this case) basis that more is better. When the F1 cars aren’t on track we’ll have the V8 Supercars, or the Porsche Carrera Cup, or Aussie GT, or historics. And in the rare moments there isn’t any racing we’ll have parades or the RAAF buzzing the circuit. Good times.
Albert Park doesn’t allow F1 to start its season gently. The circuit has unforgiving walls and gravel traps, plus a few lumps and bumps that have to be navigated. There’s always a better-than-average chance of a Safety Car arriving to roll the dice.
You’ll frequently see the track in Albert Park described as ‘dirty’. This isn’t a dig at the department of public works, rather it’s a comment on the difference between the tarmac on dedicated, permanent racing circuits and temporary street courses, of which Albert Park is an excellent example. Permanent circuits are smoother and get relatively little traffic – but what use they do get tends to clean-up the asphalt: blasting loose aggregate off the surface and laying down a coating of grippy rubber on the racing line. Temporary street tracks don’t have that. They’ll be given a brush up with a sweeper but what you have is still a road that has some loose stuff on top and very little grip.
This makes it pretty exciting for the drivers (which is why Daniel Ricciardo is such a big fan of street circuits). Conversely, it’s something of a headache for engineers, as the track ‘evolves’ hugely over the course of the weekend, as the many laps from F1 cars and support races successively sweep the racing line and put down a coating of rubber. It means throughout the practice sessions, the engineers are trying to set the car up not for the grip level they have now – but for the moving target of a grip level they expect to see on Sunday afternoon. It’s one of the reasons the Australian Grand Prix tends to be a lottery – which is good for everyone except the guys lining up on the front row.
The extra unknowns this year are the new tyres and aero packs. We’ve had eight days of testing but that doesn’t necessarily provide all the answers. Tyres will perform differently on a warm track in Melbourne to how they behaved on a cold one in Barcelona, and many teams will feature hefty aero upgrades over the launch-spec cars that ran at the Circuit de Catalunya. There’s also the human factor to consider: drivers will have to wrestle with the car a lot more on a low-grip street circuit than they did in Spain. The new cars are designed to be tougher to drive and we’ll really find out how much tougher here.
Should be exciting!