With the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix, key F1 figures and fans will be rejoicing in Melbourne’s rightful return as the opening race of what looks set to be a fascinating championship season.
Fortunately, Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit has traditionally provided F1 fans and drivers with a great race weekend, and it remains one of the most popular fixtures on the F1 calendar, despite ongoing mutterings from various sections of the community that it would be better if the race went elsewhere.
This year’s event will again be a twilight race timed more to bolster the TV audiences in the key European market than for any other factor. The move has not necessarily proved popular for drivers, but the added issue of the low-lying sun has added another factor for the drivers to contend with.
|2011 Formula 1 QANTAS Australian Grand Prix
|Date:||27 March 2011||No. Laps||58|
|Lap Length:||5.303km||Race Distance:||307.574km|
|Lap Record:||1:24.125, Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) – 2004|
For a circuit run on public roads around the picturesque Albert Park lakeside, it is surprisingly high-speed. Its layout is punctuated by chicanes, and its dusty surface usually sees plenty of practice spins and trips through the gravel as drivers explore its limitations.
The situation generally changes little in the race, and the near-magnetic attraction of the concrete barriers that line the circuit should see a few safety car interruptions.
Without any massively long straight to speak of, past races have still managed to provide plenty of overtaking opportunities, with the usual points being at the end of the main straight and into the Turn 3 right-hander.
The History Bit
An ever-popular venue since it took over from Adelaide as the home of the Australian GP, almost every year has provided a thrilling race for drivers and fans alike.
The first race in 1996 saw Jacques Villeneuve take pole position in his debut outing in F1, and he looked on course to win until he was forced to cede the race lead to team- mate Damon Hill when his Williams Renault developed an oil leak. That year’s even will be remembered most for Martin Brundle’s spectacular opening-lap accident that saw his Jordan launched into a frightening series of barrel-rolls and from which he was lucky to emerge unscathed.
The 1998 race provided a team orders controversy when David Coulthard ceded the lead to his McLaren team-mate Mika Hakkinen, after the Finn made an inadvertent trip to the pit lane.
The following year’s race was punctuated by safety car incidents and just 8 cars finished. Eddie Irvine took a surprise maiden win for Ferrari, while his team-mate, Michael Schumacher, finished last!
Tragically, the 2001 event was marred by the death of a trackside marshal, but spirits were lifted at the following year’s race when Mark Webber scored 2 points for the minnow Minardi team on his F1 debut, sparking a wave of patriotism and emotion across the country.
Incredibly, Webber has never managed a better result on home soil than his first-race effort, matching it in 2005 for Williams.
Albert Park has proved to be something of a Michael Schumacher benefit, with the German picking up a hat-trick of wins in 2000-2, and then a fourth win in 2004. The German is unlikely to be a race-winning contender this weekend unless a bit of luck falls his way.
Last year’s race sought to arrest concerns that the 2010 season was going to be a snooze-fest, with action aplenty as wet weather hit the circuit as the joker in the pack. A clever strategic call saw Jenson Button take his first win for McLaren, while home fans were disappointed with local boy Webber, who drove one of the more error-ridden races in his career.
What to expect?
As our Season Preview alluded, trying to pick a clear favourite for this weekend’s event – when so much is unknown – is not an easy thing to do.
A host of teams have looked strong in pre-season testing, but this is never a clear form guide. If anything, the true pecking order will only be established once qualifying gets underway.
All of the teams and drivers will again face a stern test this weekend. The safety car is a regular visitor to the front of the field as there usually accidents aplenty.
We look forward to bringing you all the action from this weekend’s event!