The 2018 Formula 1 World Championship season finally gets underway this weekend with its traditional curtain-raiser, the Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit.
|Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit|
|Location||Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia||Circuit Length||5.303 km / 3.296 mi|
|Opened||1953||First Grand Prix||1996|
|Lap Record||1:24.125 – Michael Schumacher (Ferrari, 2004)||2017 winner||Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)|
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.
|Formula 1 2018 Rolex Australian Grand Prix – Schedule|
|Event Dates||23-25 March 2018||Free Practice Session 1||Fri 12:00-13:30|
|Free Practice Session 2||Fri 16:00-17:30||Free Practice Session 3||Sat 14:00-15:00|
|Qualifying||Sat 17:00-18:00||Race (58 laps)||Sun 16:10-18:10|
Session times quoted in Australian Eastern Daylight Time (UTC/GMT + 11:00)
Rewind to 2017
Ferrari upset the form book in last year’s season opener and ended a 10-year winless drought thanks to a canny strategic drive by Sebastian Vettel. The German started behind Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton – who equalled Ayrton Senna’s record of six Australian Grand Prix poles on Saturday – but it quickly became apparent that his car was quicker than the Briton’s in race conditions.
Ferrari opted to delay Vettel’s first pit stop after Mercedes called Hamilton in to switch to Soft compound tyres at the end of Lap 18. With Hamilton boxed in behind the yet-to-stop Red Bull Racing of Max Verstappen and unable to find a way by the Dutchman, Vettel put the hammer down to build a gap that would allow him to jump Hamilton when he pitted five laps later.
The moved worked a treat, allowing Vettel to leapfrog his rival as he exited pit lane and he was able to cruise to victory with a 10-second margin over Hamilton. Mercedes newcomer Valtteri Bottas finished third.
The race was a disaster for crowd favourite Daniel Ricciardo, who crashed out in qualifying. Compounding his woes, his Red Bull Racing then broke down on his reconnaissance lap to the starting grid. Track marshals were able to recover his car to the garage and he would later rejoin the race two laps in what was to become an extended test session, but his car again broke down at mid-distance.
Tyre Compound Selections
One of the new variables for the 2018 are a new range of softer construction tyres from Pirelli, which has increased its dry-weather compound offering to seven with the addition of the Ultra Hard and Hypersoft options at opposite ends of the degradation spectrum. This weekend will see Formula 1’s official tyre supplier offer a choice of the purple-banded Ultra Soft, red-banded Super Soft and yellow-banded Soft options.
With the race run in the late afternoon and the Melbourne Grand Prix circuit offering little in the way of degradation, it’s little surprise to see drivers have heavily invested in the Ultrasoft tyres – the Mercedes, Williams and McLaren drivers have all claimed the maximum allotment of nine Ultrasoft sets.
The Melbourne Form Guide
This weekend will offer us the first real indication of the true pecking order in this year’s field, although pre-season testing would suggest that the battle for outright championship honours will once again be fought by last year’s top-three teams: Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing.
The midfield pack behind them is set to be an extremely close-fought affair that could chop and change race-by-race. Last year’s midfield winners, Force India, look set to be under serious threat from Renault and an ambitious McLaren (now armed with Renault power), while Haas showed it might be a dark horse after some rapid pre-season testing laps. Toro Rosso may spring a surprise with its new (and seemingly reliable) Honda power units, while Williams and Sauber haven’t yet shown much pace in winter testing and are an unknown quantity for now.
You can read our team-by-team and driver-by-driver form guide here.
|2018 Melbourne Grand Prix Weather Forecast|
|Friday||19°C – 29°C||Saturday||18°C – 22°C||Sunday||10°C – 23°C|
Images via Formula1.com, Pirelli Motorsport, Scuderia Ferrari