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. And what a show it promises to be!
We’ll be right in the thick of it and reporting to you straight from the F1 paddock, with RichardsF1.com securing full media accreditation to this incredible event once again. 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.
|2014 FORMULA 1 ROLEX AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX
|Date:||14-16 March 2014|
|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|
|Race (58 laps)||Sun 17:00-19:00|
|Lap Record||1:24.125 (2004)|
|2013 Winner||Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus)|
* All session times are quoted in Australian Eastern Daylight Savings Time (GMT +11:00 hrs)
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.
A 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. Despite the circuit being run on public roads, the track layout and fixtures have remained largely unchanged, with the exception of the Turn 11/12 complex, which has had new exit kerbing installed.
The History Bit
An ever-popular venue since it took over from Adelaide as the home of the Australian Grand Prix, 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 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 in 2011.
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.
In 2011, 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 2013 season saw Button return to the winner’s circle in Melbourne to claim his third win in four years at Albert Park. The McLaren driver fended off team-mate Lewis Hamilton at the start and took an assured win to kickstart his season. The race was punctuated by several safety car interruptions, while Pastor Maldonado crashed out heavily on the final lap to throw away a valuable points haul for the Williams team.
Last year’s race provided a great opener to the season. With concerns of high tyre wear, much of the field opted for a three-stop strategy in the race, but the erstwhile Kimi Räikkönen showcased the Lotus E22’s mastery of tyre management. He ran a two-stop race, and held off Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel to the finish.
The Form Guide
The 2014 edition of the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix welcomes in a new era for the championship, with the entire field running 1.6-litre turbocharged hybrid powerplants as part of the greatest regulations shake-up the sport has ever seen.
The sport has effectively become ‘greener’, with fuel capacities and flow limits greatly reduced, while engine power output has been capped at 760bhp, with a substantial amount of the power coming from the hybrid components of the powerplant, which use discharged braking and exhaust gas heat to run the cars. Certainly, the cars sound quite different – being rev-limited to 15,000rpm – and reliability has been very questionable while the new powerplants are being understood. Expect a race of high attrition, even though a number of the teams were able to complete whole race distances during the limited pre-season testing made available to them.
The end of 2013 seems but a distant memory despite being only a few months old, and after a quick recess, the action ramped up to a fever pitch as the grid’s eleven teams got down to the business of finalizing their 2014 preparations. There was barely a pause for breath in between, before we were into awards ceremonies, online and pit lane launches, and then three separate four-day pre-season tests: one in chilly Spain, and two in Bahrain.
The tests told us a lot, and equally very little, although with just days to go until the season-opening Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne, we have a slightly better idea of what we could expect around the Albert Park circuit.
We’re not going to get all of the answers on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. In fact, it will probably take several races – maybe even until the circus returns to Europe in May – before we have something resembling a ‘form guide’.
The twelve days of pre-season running – or for some teams, the relative lack of running – has given us something of a base from which to work. And in the case of the Renault-powered teams – Red Bull Racing, Lotus, Toro Rosso and Caterham – the challenge is perhaps greater than everyone might have hoped.
But that’s not to say that there are concerns just in the Renault camp – everyone is worried that their new cars may not last the distance in Melbourne.
Simply, there’s a lot more to wrap their arms around when it comes to such radically new technical regulations. Not only are there the new power unit guidelines, but there are a host of aerodynamic changes as well, and it’s up to the engine supplier and their respective partner teams to deliver.
Despite the stresses up and down the grid, there’s a joy in getting back to racing, crisscrossing the globe as the races tick by.
The added excitement of 2014 is the sheer enormity of the regulation changes. While very much uncertain, the sport and its fans will quickly embrace these changes and the unpredictability that is brought with it.
The move to greener technology is probably long overdue and Renault remains at the forefront of another pioneering chapter in the sport’s history that will enhance its relevance and appeal to a wider fan base. It is, and always will be, the greatest show on earth.
Don’t forget to enter your F1 Predictions!
The opening round of our 2014 RichardsF1.com F1 Predictions Competition is now open for business, and you can enter and edit your predictions for the first race of the season right up until five minutes before qualifying!
Entry is open to all of our readers, and it’s so easy to submit your predictions!
All you’ll need to do is predict:
- which driver will win pole position and the race
- which two teams will earn the best finishes in the race
- which eight drivers will finish in the top-eight positions
- who will post the fastest lap of the race
- who will gain the most positions relative to their starting position
You can also choose to ‘double up’ your points tally for the Australian Grand Prix – but be careful, you can only do this twice per season!
For this round only, you will also be asked to nominate which driver and team will win the 2014 Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship titles respectively.
To enter your predictions, click here!
Images via XPB Images