The 2019 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 – 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 Rolex Australian Grand Prix 2019 – Schedule|
|Event Dates||15-17 March 2019||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 2018
Sebastian Vettel won a tactical Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix, taking advantage of a mid-race Virtual Safety Car period to jump pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton and hold off the Englishman for an unexpected victory.
Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Räikkönen finished in third place to complete the podium, denying crowd favourite Daniel Ricciardo the top-three result he had coveted on home soil.
After rocketing to pole position with a record-breaking lap of the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit on Saturday afternoon, Hamilton was expected to open the defence of his 2017 World Championship title with ease. He led the field at the start and held off the two Ferraris of Räikkönen and Vettel to ensure they couldn’t challenge the Mercedes driver into Turn 1.
Hamilton held Räikkönen at arm’s length and pulled out enough of a gap to prevent the Finn from being able to use DRS. Third-placed Vettel dropped a few seconds back to preserve his tyres, keeping his powder dry as the pit stop cycle approached.
On Lap 18, second-placed Räikkönen was the first driver to pit in an attempt to force Mercedes’ hand into pitting Hamilton, and Mercedes took the bait. Unfortunately it was a slightly slow tyre change, and despite a purple-sector out-lap the Finn wasn’t able to jump Hamilton.
Vettel now led from Hamilton and Räikkönen, but the race then took a turn with the retirement of both Haas Ferraris in consecutive laps, both for identical reasons. its two drivers. Inexplicably, both cars were dispatched from their pit stops without all four wheels being properly attached.
Romain Grosjean’s stranded car triggered a Virtual Safety Car in the hope the marshals could safely push it off the circuit, triggering the remaining drivers to make their pit stops.
This was a bonus for Ferrari, who was able to pit Vettel and have him emerge ahead of an incredulous Hamilton, who was not expecting to be jumped by the German after being able to close the gap to the leader after his pit stop.
Once the race resumed, Vettel and Hamilton pulled a gap on Räikkönen, and over the next fifteen laps the pair traded fastest laps with Hamilton using DRS to stay in touch with the Ferrari. It was an impressive display between the two drivers, but Hamilton found himself unable to close up enough to truly mount a challenge or force a mistake from the German.
That’s how the race finished, with the combination of the Albert Park circuit’s tough layout and the current-era cars’ aerodynamics conspiring to ensure no further overtaking could take place.
Räikkönen claimed the final podium spot ahead of crowd favourite Ricciardo, while a jubilant Fernando Alonso finished fifth for McLaren in what owuld be the team’s best finish of a tough 2018 campaign. Max Verstappen, delayed by a spin early in the race, finished sixth.
Tyre Compound Selections
Having rid itself of the multi-coloured compound mix spanning from Hypersoft to Ultra Hard tyres, Formula 1’s official tyre supplier Pirelli has trimmed its dry-weather tyre compound mix to five varieties, out of which three (dubbed ‘Hard’, ‘Medium’ or Soft’) will be made available at every weekend. Two compounds must be used during the race.
With the Albert Park circuit not placing a great strain on the tyres, the drivers have predictably biased their tyre compound selections heavily in favour of the Soft compound (C4) rubber. Renault duo Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hülkenberg have opted for the maximum allocation of ten sets each.
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-two teams. Here’s our take on this year’s runners and riders:
Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport
The Silver Arrows will be attempting to claim an unprecedented sixth successive sweep of the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championship titles, yet it appears that the Brackley squad has plenty of work to do early in the season to achieve this. Blessed with abundant resources, stability (in personnel and drivers) and its traditionally clinical efficiency, the team has all the ingredients to be at the front of the field once again. Lewis Hamilton is at the peak of his performance and will be relentless in his quest to claim a sixth Drivers’ Championship title. Teammate Valtteri Bottas will need to start his 2019 campaign strongly after a horror season last year.
Ferrari looks to have the car to beat is pre-season testing is a true indication. Its SF90 chassis is quick and beautifully balanced, and while the team has undergone a major leadership shake-up with the arrival of new team principal Mattia Binotto, the environment appears much more harmonious inside the Scuderia. Sebastian Vettel will start the season as the de facto team leader and will need to iron out the errors that cost him a shot at last year’s Drivers’ Championship title. Much is expected of his new teammate, Charles Leclerc, who is hugely talented. How the Monégasque driver copes under the increased pressure of driving in Ferrari colours and how his four-time championship-winning team handles being beaten by the youngster will be one of the most interesting stories of the season.
Aston Martin Red Bull Racing
All signs indicate that Red Bull Racing has a strong car and its new partnership with Honda is off to a strong start after an almost faultless run in pre-season testing. The Japanese motor doesn’t yet have the legs to match the Mercedes and Ferrari power units, leaving the Milton Keynes team to target the less power-dependent venues for possible race wins. Max Verstappen ended his 2018 season strongly after a very untidy start and will assume the role of team leader, but he will need to show maturity in the face of the inevitable setbacks as Honda chases performance. Promoted from Scuderia Toro Rosso, his new teammate Pierre Gasly is fast and dependable but is not expected to match the Dutchman.
Renault F1 Team
Renault has thrown plenty of resources – financial and technical – as it continues its quest to return to championship-winning glory, headlined by its major signing of Daniel Ricciardo from Red Bull Racing. The RS19 looks solid, but it hasn’t set the world on fire in pre-season testing and it will need a reliable and more powerful power unit to propel it into genuine top-three contention. Ricciardo is clearly playing a long game with his decision to switch teams and will face a tough battle scrapping in the midfield for points and the odd podium. Teammate Nico Hülkenberg – whose podium-less 156 Grand Prix career an unwanted record in F1 – will face his toughest test against the Australian.
Rich Energy Haas F1 Team
Enjoying a strong technical partnership with Ferrari, the American team has produced another strong car that could potentially position it as the best of the midfield runners early in the season. If it can iron out the driver and team errors that cost it valuable points last year, the team could realistically target fourth in the Constructors’ Championship standings. The mercurial Romain Grosjean can be brilliant one day and hopeless on the next; the Frenchman must show more consistency in order not to have his seat put under threat. Teammate Kevin Magnussen was stronger than the Frenchman over the majority of the 2018 season and – while not as quick – is one of the most combative drivers in the field.
McLaren F1 Team
McLaren has moved on from its diabolical 2018 car and has cause for optimism this year on the back of a strong pre-season. Despite some quick, low-fuel lap times in Barcelona, the team is not going to be a sudden frontrunner and its all-new driving line-up will have a steep challenge ahead of them over a long season. Having migrated from Renault, Carlos Sainz will need to use his experience to help propel the team forward and claim points’ finishes. Rookie teammate Lando Norris has been on McLaren’s development program for years and knows the environment, but the graduation to F1 is a tough baptism for everyone and he will need time to settle in.
SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team
The team formerly known as Force India was rescued from administration by a consortium led by Lance Stroll’s father, Lawrence, who has injected much-needed funding to rebuild the Silverstone-based team which has a reputation for punching well above its weight. The team ran a rudimentary version of its RP19 chassis in pre-season testing but has promised a succession of upgrades that will propel it up the timesheets. The team’s long-standing driver Sergio Pérez will again be an aggressive midfield runner capable of springing a surprise result and leading the team forward. The Mexican is joined by Lance Stroll, who followed his father’s mountains of cash from Williams; the Canadian will face his sternest test to prove whether he truly deserves a seat in F1.
Alfa Romeo Racing
The Alfa Romeo name returns to Formula 1 for the first time since 1985, although the former Sauber outfit will maintain its Swiss routes. The Hinwil squad is on an upward trajectory, releasing one of the most radical car designs on the grid that could see it become a genuine midfield contender. Kimi Räikkönen returns to the team with whom he made his Grand Prix debut in 2001 and seems re-energised by his move away from the shackles at Ferrari and playing second-fiddle to Sebastian Vettel. The Finn is joined by GP2 Series runner-up Antonio Giovinazzi, who will need to shake off any leftover reputation from his two rather unimpressive stand-in races for the team in 2017.
Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda
The Red Bull ‘B’ team has a year of experience with Honda power behind it and with a stronger technical partnership with its senior team, the Italian-based outfit should perform well despite the loss of technical director James Key to McLaren after a protracted legal battle. History has shown, however, that its early season promise has generally waned as the year wore on. Anglo-Thai driver Alexander Albon will make his F1 debut after an impressive run in last year’s Formula 2 Championship and is considered a real talent. He will be paired alongside Daniil Kvyat – returning to full-time driving after previously being dropped by the Red Bull programme – and the Russian will need to tidy up his game if he is to see out the season.
ROKit Williams Racing
After finishing bog last in the championship standings last year, its time as a title-winning outfit seems like a lifetime ago. The Grove squad embarrassingly missed the first two-and-a-half days of testing after it failed to complete the assembly of its new car, and the lack of track time sees it well off the pace as the season gets underway. Robert Kubica will make his long-awaited comeback after his horrific accident injuries sustained in 2011 and has not had enough track time to get comfortable with the new car or assess his true fitness. He is joined by rookie teammate and reigning Formula 2 Championship winner George Russell, who is considered a star of the future. Despite both drivers’ talents, they have a huge task ahead of them.
|2019 Australian Grand Prix Weather Forecast|
|Friday||12°C – 21°C||Saturday||14°C – 27°C||Sunday||15°C – 27°C|
Images via Formula1.com, Pirelli Motorsport, Ignite Image