Albert Park: What You Need to Know

As we all know, we’re starting this season in Australia due to the civil unrest in Bahrain that started last month. A month ago today the Bahrain GP was called off officially, and the honour of being the season-opener fell into the laps of Melbourne (without the hefty fee), which may just turn their fortunes around. Renewal of the licence to host the championship race is soon approaching (2015), and with losses totalling around AUS$50 million each year, understandably there have been calls to drop it. Though it doesn’t help that Bernie Ecclestone had been flip-flopping about the importance of having a race in Australia, he began by saying it wasn’t needed, then he said it was as ‘important as Monaco’, and recently he’s taken he former stance. But can we really ignore a whole continent in a modern world championship? Or will we have to rename it to reflect the current push towards the Middle East and Asia?

Fact File: Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia

Laps: 58
Circuit length: 5.303 km (3.295 miles)
Race length: 307.574 km (191.071 miles)
Fastest lap: Micheal Schumacher 1:24.125 (2004)

The Albert Park track is classified as a street circuit as it is made up of two parkland roads (hence the name Albert Park). Within the re-profiled roads lies Albert Park lake which, at places, runs parallel to the track borrowing some of the glamour of waterside tracks. Refusing to cave into pressure, Albert Park have decided against becoming a night race, like Singapore, but it does start at 5pm local time creating the problem of the setting sun.

Image credit: Will Pittenger

Layout and Approach:

Albert Park has a healthy mixture of high speed straights followed by noticeably slow turns. This combination works the engines and brakes hard, and with 6 high speed stretches and 16 corners it can have a habit of leaving little opportunity for overtaking. However with the introduction of three new elements; KERS, moveable rear wings and Pirelli tyres, everything we assume about tracks must be taken with a pinch of salt.

Setting off from the start line, drivers head towards the first turn which is their first taste of a slow corner on the lap. Taking a right, they must avoid becoming another statistic at this regular crash destination, getting through the speedier turn 2 they hit another fast section. Brakes at the ready for turn 3 (the second right hander), and hands at the ready for a quick shift into a left handed right turn (4). Getting in the track rhythm, another quick straight crops up, after a fast corner (8), which is bookended by a quick series of turns at 6/7. Turn 8 sweeps right into a chicane (9), 10 takes the driver on a long left into a quick turns 11/12. Corners 13 and 14 are two sharp right handers which lead quickly into a hairpin (15). One final right handed turn and they are charging down the start/finish straight again. Easy…just do that 58 times.

Overtaking and Strategy:

If you’re looking for a high volume of overtaking, don’t count on Albert Park to give you that. It’s not as technically demanding on the drivers as other tracks, but success can be found in swift exits from those slow corners. Before you can exit though, you must slow down enough to get through that corner. Efficient brake cooling is a necessity here, they can be slowing down from around 300km/h to around 100km/h, this will happen at the end of each of the 6 high speed sectors.

Like many of the drivers have said, tyres will play a huge part in race results due to degradation and pit-stop strategy. Albert Park is known for being tough of tyres due to its street circuit nature, with the track exposed to daily traffic debris is common. It will give the best picture yet about how the Pirelli tyres will cope in race conditions, with fuel loads fairly similar across the board softer compounds will suffer in early laps. But as the load lightens, those same softer compounds will come into their own.

The teams that will do well here will be ones with strong downforce packages, excellent tyre management, and this year more than most, pin-sharp strategy with a firm grasp on the new elements. And with the current McLaren drivers winning here for the last 3 years, it would seem they have a tight grip on the place…if they can find that elusive second.

Why Australia Rocks:

The passion of the fans pairs up well with the often sunny weather that frequents the area, and that famous Australian hospitality makes it a welcome stop on the calendar. Being close to the seas can kick up some interesting weather situations, and despite being located in sunnier climes, rain is a common feature at this race. Issues over money and viability will be forgotten for the weekend as they revel in the glory and honour of hosting the first race of a season that promises to be better than last year.

5 Key Points:

  • Changeable weather
  • Medium/high downforce
  • High degradation
  • Fast stretches vs. slow corners
  • Hard on brakes

The Albert Park circuit is 5.3km long, and has a mixture of high speed stretches followed by slow turns. There are 6 high speed stretches and 16 corners, which make Albert Park hard both on the engines and brakes.

The end of the start finish straight at Turn 1 is a very slow right hander and a common crashing point leading into the faster turn 2, which in turn leads to a high speed stretch. The right hander at Turn 3 forces the drivers to hit the brake pedal hard and immediately switch directions for the left hander at turn 4. Another straight follows and the track’s pattern of straights followed by tight corners continues into turn 6 and 7. Turn 8 is a high speed corners taken in excess of 250 Km/h and leads to another straight followed by yet another hard braking point at turn 9. This then leads to a long sweeping left hander and a high speed chicane at turn 11, which is the driving highlight of the track. The exit then leads to a high speed section followed by two right handers and a left hand hairpin bend at Turn 15. Another right hander and its back across the start finish straight for the drivers, who will repeat the exercise 58 times.

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