• Australian Grand Prix Preview

The pressure is on

Laurence Edmondson March 25, 2010
A virtual tour of Albert Park

After the "Bore-rain Grand Prix" two weeks ago, expectations ahead of this weekend's race are set at a more appropriate level. This is F1's chance to prove itself, and although Albert Park isn't that conducive to overtaking, it has put on a brilliant show in the past. In the last four years there have been eight safety car periods and 32 retirements. The combination of tight but high-speed corners wrapped either side by close concrete barriers means Albert Park rewards the brave but heavily punishes mistakes.

In Form

Ferrari may have taken a one-two in Bahrain but Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull was the fastest car. Nobody is quite sure how, but the Red Bull appears to have found a very neat solution to get around the changes in ride height a car experiences under different fuel loads. Drivers always want to run the car low to generate as much downforce as possible from the floor and diffuser. So, being able to skim the track surface when the car is empty in qualifying and not run too low with the extra weight of a full tank at the start of the race will give Red Bull a massive performance advantage in Q3. This could make the difference on the bumpy Albert Park track where every ounce of downforce is at a premium and the winner often starts from pole.

Out of Form

Whichever way you look at it Jenson Button was well and truly beaten by team-mate Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain. He qualified and finished four places behind him and looked unable to push the car as hard through the long and winding middle sector. His strength lies in his ability to extract the most from the car without putting too much strain on the tyres or fuel consumption. But with the Bridgestone rubber proving exceptionally durable in the heat of Bahrain he will have to up his game to compete with Hamilton.

Robert Kubica could emerge from the shadows in Melbourne © Getty Images
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One to watch

A spin on the first lap in Bahrain wrecked Robert Kubica's chances of a points finish, but he still managed to scramble back to 11th place just seven seconds off Rubens Barrichello at the finish. In Kubica's hands the Renault is definitely quick - he was two tenths off Button in Bahrain qualifying - and he is in prime position to get among the front runners on the unpredictable Albert Park circuit. He's also very quick on the parkland track and has qualified inside the top five on all three attempts. The fact he has never actually finished a race here might play on his mind, but if anything it should be the impetus he needs to get a good result on Sunday.

Talking points

The safety car - Accidents happen in F1 but they seem to happen much more regularly in Melbourne compared to anywhere else. As the track runs through a public park and between catch fences it is sometimes quite difficult for the marshals to clear crashed cars quickly and safely. The inevitable result, as in Monaco or Montreal, is the increased likelihood of a safety car being deployed. We didn't see the sleek new Mercedes SLS pace car in Bahrain so there is still a big strategic question-mark over what will happen if it is called out. It should mean a free pit stop, but because a team can only service one car at a time, one team-mate will have to wait while the other one pits. Potentially it's an intra-team argument waiting to happen.

The start time - As it did last year, the race begins at 5.00pm, meaning the sun will be going down in the closing stages. The idea is to make sure the race is broadcast at a more sociable hour in Europe where the sport's biggest market is. The drivers moaned about the low sun affecting their visibility last year and Button has kicked-off the complaints this year. It'll be a popular excuse for anybody who crashes or underperforms in the closing stages.

Tyre graining - Albert Park is only used once a year and as a result the surface is very slippery at the start of the weekend. Session-by-session the F1 tyres put rubber down on the circuit and as a result there is considerably more grip at the end of the race than at the start. But during this process the tyres suffer in the form of graining - whereby balls of rubber roll up on the tyre's surface, separating its contact patch from the track and causing a loss of grip. Both soft and hard compounds are susceptible to graining so it could have an influence on strategy and the outcome of the race.

Mark Webber - As the only Australian in the field the pressure is always on Webber to perform in Melbourne. However, this time he has a race-winning car at his disposal so expectations will reach an all-time high. Whether he will rise to the challenge in the same way Nigel Mansell did in front of the British fans at Silverstone remains to be seen.

© ESPNF1
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The Circuit

Built around a man-made lake and using public roads, Albert Park is one of F1's most popular venues. While overtaking is limited to turns one and three (and even those are at a push), there are plenty of opportunities for drivers to make mistakes. An abundance of gravel traps rather than concrete run-off areas restricts the margin for error even further.

Stat Attack

  • This will be the 26th Australian Grand Prix; the race was first staged in 1985 at Adelaide
  • Michael Schumacher is the only multiple Australian Grand Prix winner on the grid, having won the race four times
  • Five of the last six Australian Grands Prix have been won from pole position
  • Michael Schumacher's fastest lap of 1:24.125 set during the 2004 race still stands as the official lap record. The best lap time last year was a 1:24.855 set by Jenson Button in Q2
  • There have been eight safety-car periods in the last four races in Melbourne
  • There have been 32 retirements from 86 starters in the last four years
  • The race distance of the Australian Grand Prix is exactly 191.117 miles
  • Damon Hill won the 1995 race in Adelaide by over two laps, only the second time in history anyone has achieved such a large winning margin

Trivia

  • Up until 1995 the race was held in Adelaide and was traditionally the season finale. In 1996 it moved to Melbourne and has hosted the season opener every year since, with the exception of 2006 and 2010
  • Albert Park staged two non-championship Formula Libre Australian Grands Prix in 1953 and 1956, although the cars ran around the circuit anti-clockwise
  • The 1953 event was made up entirely of Australian drivers but the 1956 race was timed to coincide with the Olympics and attracted big names such as Sir Stirling Moss and Jean Behra, who were both entered by Maserati in 250Fs. Moss won the race by over two minutes from Behra and by a lap over the rest of the field
  • The fastest corner is turn five, a sixth-gear right-hander taken at 150mph and usually with the throttle wide open
  • Amenities in and around the circuit, including a large aquatic centre, a golf course, a football stadium, some restaurants and rowing boathouses have restricted access during the grand prix weekend
  • Some local residents maintain a silent protest against the race every year. However, the event is popular with most Australians and attracts around 300,000 spectators over a weekend
  • In 1991 Adelaide hosted the shortest grand prix ever when the race was stopped after just 14 laps due to heavy rain. It was just 32.883 miles long and lasted less than 25 minutes. However, in terms of laps it was still longer than some of the old German Grands Prix at the 14-mile Nurburgring, which were often just 12 laps long

© ESPNF1
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Weather

There is potential for light rain over the weekend (most likely on Friday) and temperatures are expected to be over 20C but not at the heights experienced in Bahrain.

Betting

Sebastian Vettel is the bookies' favourite at 2-1, narrowly ahead of Fernando Alonso at 9-4. Red Bull just has the nod over Ferrari, with Mark Webber at 11-2 and Felipe Massa at 6-1. Button's poor performance in Bahrain has put him level with Michael Schumacher at 19-1 while Lewis Hamilton isn't far off the favourites at 7-1. Rather ominously the odds for a safety car appearing at some point in the race are 4/9. Click here for more details from Bet 365

ESPN Prediction

Sebastian Vettel In qualifying trim the Red Bull appears to be fastest and with its fuel-efficient Renault engine it can start the race lighter, allowing it to pull a gap in the early stages. Vettel has the edge over Webber and has previous form on the circuit after qualifying fastest behind the all-conquering Brawns last year. The Red Bull's reliability is still in question but the team is adamant it knows what caused Vettel's loss of power in Bahrain and has rectified the problem.

Laurence Edmondson is an assistant editor on ESPNF1

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Laurence Edmondson is deputy editor of ESPNF1 Laurence Edmondson grew up on a Sunday afternoon diet of Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell and first stepped in the paddock as a Bridgestone competition finalist in 2005. He worked for ITV-F1 after graduating from university and has been ESPNF1's deputy editor since 2010