Australian Grand Prix Preview Australian Grand Prix Preview Albert Park

After what has seemed like an eternity (but has actually been a matter of just a few months), the Formula 1 show is back on centre stage once again, with Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit playing host to the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

For the first time in our website’s history, we’ll be right in the thick of it and reporting to you straight from the F1 paddock, with securing full media accreditation to this incredible event. So let’s take a look at our race preview…

The 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 them to contend with.


The Circuit

Albert Park Circuit Map
Date: 16-18 March 2012
Lap Length: 5.303km
Race Lap Record: 1:24.125, Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2004) – 2004
Event Schedule: Free Practice Session 1 Fri 12:30-14:00
Free Practice Session 2 Fri 16:30-18:00
Free Practice Session 3 Sat 14:00-15:00
Qualifying Sat 17:00-18:10
Race (58 laps, 307.574km) Sun 17:00-19:00
Past 10 Years’ Winners: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault RB7) 2011
Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes MP4/25) 2010
Jenson Button (Brawn GP Mercedes BGP001) 2009
Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes MP4/23) 2008
Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari F2007) 2007
Fernando Alonso (Renault R26) 2006
Giancarlo Fisichella (Renault R25) 2005
Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2004) 2004
David Coulthard (McLaren Mercedes MP4-17D) 2003
Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2001) 2002

Between 1985 and 1995, the Australian Grand Prix was held at Adelaide and occupied the last slot on the calendar, but a new tradition took over in 1996 when Melbourne snatched the race and the Albert Park circuit assumed the honours of the championship curtain-raiser.

A hugely popular destination for the teams and drivers – many of whom arrive almost a week ahead of schedule to adjust to the climate and to take a quick holiday – the fans also flock here in droves.

Albert Park is laid out on the perimeter roads of Albert Park LakeA circuit made up mostly of public roads set around Albert Park’s lake, it has minimal elevation changes and features the usual hallmarks of a street circuit.

A dusty and slippery surface awaits drivers at the start of the weekend’s activities, the track gradually builds grip and is at its quickest during Sunday’s race.

Certain section of the track offer little in the way of available run-off, and the cement walls are more than willing to pluck wheels and wings off cars if the drivers make a mistake. Historically, the race has claimed plenty of casualties and thrown up more than a few surprise results.

The most popular section of the track are the high-speed Turn 11 and 12 sweeps at the back of the circuit, which are taken at well over 140mph.

Take a look at our Albert Park Circuit Guide:


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.

Hill claimed victory in 1996The 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 eight 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 two points for the tail-ender 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 and again last year.

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. Despite Mercedes’ improved form over the pre-season testing period, the German is unlikely to be a race-winning contender this weekend, unless a bit of luck falls his way.

The 2010 race sought to arrest concerns that the 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.

And last year, Sebastian Vettel kicked off his 2010 championship defence with a comfortable win, one of umpteen he would claim over the course of an utterly dominant championship season for the German and the Red Bull Racing team.


The Talking Points

So what do the readers and contributors think will will be the major talking points this weekend?

Geoff Burke, Journalist

“I’m getting set to travel down to Melbourne to cover the Australian Grand Prix for our readers all over the world, and I can’t wait to share all of the latest gossip and behind-the-scenes stories with you! We have some great interview opportunities and feature stories coming your way, so make sure you visit our website – as well as follow our Facebook and Twitter feeds for the latest action!

“This weekend’s season-opener can’t come soon enough, and it will go a long way to answering the many questions that have been raised during the off-season. Just how bad has Ferrari’s pre-season been? What technical tricks are lying under the covers of the Red Bull and Mercedes? How will Kimi fare on his return to F1? I can’t wait to see how it all pans out!”

Matt Lennon, IndyCar Correspondent

“With every new season brings an aura of unpredictability, which is why a prediction for the first race of the year is somewhat difficult.

“Of course I want the main hometown hero Webber to do well, as he needs to start his season well to build momentum for the flyaway races. Australia’s other hometown boy is still an unproven and mostly unknown quantity and can’t be judged on his few experiences as a backmarker in what was a horrible car anyway.

“And what to make of Ferrari? Are they as bad as people are saying? How will Kimi readjust to F1? Does Lewis have his head screwed on right? Can Jenson put him in the shade again? So many questions, and Sunday can’t come quick enough to give us those answers.”

Matej, Richard’s F1 reader, Croatia

“The ongoing future of the Australian Grand Prix continues to be a talking point at this time of year, and once again Bernie Ecclestone stoked the embers and drummed up some interest in the race with another hint that the event will be dumped when its contract runs out. It’s all to do with TV audiences, and Bernie doesn’t want the majority of his viewers – who, like me, live in Europe – to get up at the crack od dawn to watch a Grand Prix in Australia. So why not make it better for the Europeans?

“Well, it also messes with the Australian audience. Lighting a circuit for night racing is extremely expensive, and unless a rich oil baron wants to fund that process in Melbourne, they should just let it be. If we have to get up early once or twice a year, so be it. Our Aussie friends are up ‘til midnight and beyond for almost every other race during the year!”

Would you like to contribute your race preview thoughts during the 2012 season? Just email us and we’ll add you to our panel – too easy!


The Players and Form Guide

As is the case with any season-opening race, 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.

One major item of note is that, for the first time in the sport’s history, we will see a total of six Formula 1 World Champions on the grid, sharing some fourteen titles between them.

Defending champion Sebastian Vettel will be aiming for a third successive championship title – a feat only ever achieved by Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher – while Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso will also be chasing his third championship crown. The McLaren pair of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton will be targeting their second titles, along with F1 returnee Kimi Räikkönen. Miles in front, Michael Schumacher will be desperate to prove that he still has what it takes to claim an eighth championship crown as he started the third year of his F1 comeback.

Also in the hunt for championship honours will be Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg, who have proven that they have the mettle and skill to warrant their own tilts at the title, assuming they have the equipment to help them achieve it. Likewise, Felipe Massa will be hoping he can rekindle his championship-challenging form from 2008, as questions continue to linger about the Brazilian’s place in F1.

Pre-season testing has shown that Red Bull Racing and McLaren look to be the pace-setters, with Mercedes and Lotus not too far behind.

Ferrari, meanwhile, seems to be struggling, and unless the team has been able to stage a miraculous turnaround in form over the last two weeks, it looks set to lead the midfield scrap that will also include Force India, Sauber, Toro Rosso, Williams and possibly Caterham.

In any case, all will be revealed after Saturday’s qualifying session and at the end of Sunday’s 58-lap race thriller.

Buckle up for what should be an action-packed Australian Grand Prix. We look forward to bringing you all the action from this weekend’s event!


Don’t forget to enter your F1 Predictions!

The first round of the 2012 F1 Predictions Competition is now open, and you can enter your predictions for the race right here to be in the running for some great prizes throughout the season and at the end of the year!

The cut-off to submit your predictions is no later than five minutes before qualifying starts, so make sure you’re in it to win it!

To enter your predictions, click here.

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.