Once again Melbourne extends its welcome to Formula One as Albert Park prepares to host the Australian Grand Prix – the opening race of the 2019 FIA Formula One World Championship. Sixteen weeks after the end of the last season, the teams reassemble for what is widely expected to be an incredibly close year of racing.
Albert Park is not the easiest place to make a good impression. Running on public roads through the park, the temporary circuit has a reputation for being slippery with several large bumps known to destabilise cars under braking. Gravel traps wait for the unwary and the unlucky – but being a street circuit there are also plenty of walls. Added to the limited and hazardous nature of overtaking opportunities at Albert Park, it means the safety car is often busy at the Australian Grand Prix. Yet Albert Park’s idyllic setting, relaxed environment, popular racing circuit and unexpected results have made it the perfect place for the first round of the Formula 1 World Championship.
The permanent pit and paddock buildings plus the open nature of much of the track gives this temporary facility much more of a hybrid feel than most other street or parkland circuits. An unusual quirk is that, while the modern circuit’s layout is unchanged, its official length has – until 2000 it was measured at 3.294 miles but gained 0.001 miles more when the FIA revised its calculation methods!
The only other significant changes occurred in 2004, when the pit lane chicane was removed, and in 2011 when a second pit lane was added for temporary garages to accommodate the V8 Supercars paddock, which holds non-championship races as part of the Grand Prix support bill.
For F1 teams, another variable to factor in are the new tyres on offer from Pirelli. Reports from winter testing suggest teams are not yet fully on terms with the revised compounds. And given Albert Park’s lack of long corners making generating tyre temperature tricky, tyre management could play a key role on Sunday. As ever, winter testing did not provide any reliable evidence of a pecking order but did greatly add to the stock of speculation. Consensus points to a very tight battle ahead but without any hard evidence, this weekend will provide the first real indication of how the 2013 FIA Formula One World Championship will unfold.