ROUND 1 - Australia 14-17 March 2013Venue:
1:24.125 = 226.933 km/h - M. Schumacher (Ferrari) 2004
… The last year of V8 racing?
If you meet a Formula One insider who has a 1000-metre stare this year, it’s probably because s/he has one eye on 2014, when the engine regulations will undergo a drastic change. This is the eighth and last season with the current 2.4-litre 8-cylinder format which was introduced in 2006. So enjoy the music of those 18,000 rpm, 750 horsepower units as next year’s 1.6-litre V6 turbos could sound a whole lot different. “We are looking forward to this season, the final year of the V8,” says Renault engineer Rémi Taffin. “Albert Park is a tough place to start the season as it represents a hard challenge for engines. The average speed is towards the top of the table, while the percentage of the lap spent at full throttle is also one of the highest of the season. The short bursts of power between corners put the internals under intense pressure, while greatly increasing fuel consumption; in fact the fuel consumption per 100km is the second highest of the year.”
… Five Melbourne rookies?
Only four teams – Red Bull, Ferrari, Lotus and Toro Rosso – have driver line-ups unchanged from last season. The major change, of course, is Lewis Hamilton’s move from McLaren to Mercedes, with Sergio Pérez coming in from Sauber to replace him. The five newcomers include Esteban Gutiérrez, in for his compatriot Pérez at Sauber; Valterri Bottas, the young Finn moving up from reserve driver to full-time racer at Williams; Giedo van der Garde, the Dutchman also graduating from reserve role to race seat at Caterham; and the all-new pairing of England’s Max Chilton and Frenchman Jules Bianchi at Marussia. Van der Garde probably speaks for them all when he says: “For me the most exciting moment of 2013 will be when the lights go out in Melbourne and everything I’ve dreamed of for so long comes true. I’ve worked hard all winter and in the tests to prepare myself and I’m ready, physically and mentally.”
… A new tyre combo?
For the first time Pirelli will deploy its Supersoft (red) compound in Melbourne, alongside the Medium (white)to give the teams a wide gap in performance and therefore in their strategic options. “All the compounds and constructions have changed for 2013, and the drivers should notice a wider working range and a bigger window of peak performance,” says Pirelli’s Paul Hembery. Expect a minimum of two stops per driver – unless, of course, the Melbourne weather finally decides it’s autumn and we get some precipitation… Pirelli, by the way, have a new ambassador in the shape of former Ferrari favourite Jean Alesi. “Albert Park was a circuit that I enjoyed as a driver – I competed there from its debut year after the grand prix moved from Adelaide – but it’s really not typical of anywhere else,” says Alesi, hitting the Australian nail on the head right away.
… A new Melbourne winner?
Winter testing has suggested – surprise, surprise – that Red Bull will again be the form horses. But the man who has won here three times in the last four years says we should be ready for anything. “One of the most fascinating things about Formula 1,” says Jenson Button, “is the way it resets itself each and every winter. I’ve seen every side of that: you can have a terrible winter of testing, then turn up at the first race and be competitive; equally, you can look impressive in winter testing and be nowhere in Melbourne. If you’re lucky, it all comes together in the tests and you hit the ground running at the first race. That's always the goal.”
We have five previous Melbourne winners in the field: can you name them? (see answer at end)
…Lewis in a Silver Arrow?
Yes, the 2008 World Champion, who had ‘McLaren Driver’ stamped on his forehead at birth, is one no longer. He jumped ship at the end of last year to Mercedes – and they’ve been pretty eye-catching in the pre-season tests as well. But Lewis is making all the sensible noises too. “I can't wait to get to Melbourne, get out on track and find out where we stand,” he says. “The Australian Grand Prix is always an exciting race: the teams don't know how they compare in terms of performance, the fans are fantastic and, with big changes to the tyres again this year, we just don't know what will happen in the race. I love the circuit. It's a street track with a really bumpy surface so you try and put as much downforce on the car as possible and it really puts the drivers to the test.”
…the return of the prodigal son?
They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, but Force India have been kind – or calculating – enough to offer Adrian Sutil a chance at redemption. The 30-year-old German has been out of the frame since earning a suspended sentence and fine for an off-track incident that clouded an otherwise highly promising 2011, but Barcelona testing confirmed that he would get the nod ahead of Jules Bianchi. He’s had five races in Melbourne before: his best qualifying is 10th, his best race result ninth. “Having been away from the sport, I’m even more determined to achieve my goals in Formula One,” he says. “Things went really well at the Barcelona test and it almost feels as though I’ve never been away. Driving the car felt so natural and I was able to get back in the groove quickly and find the limit.”
…the Mark and Daniel show?
It’s a mixed blessing for our two Aussies, coping with the increased demands from all and sundry while rising to the occasion in their home Grand Prix. Last year Mark Webber scored his best-ever Melbourne result – in his 11th appearance here – when he finished fourth. He’s not getting carried away, but he likes what he’s seen and felt in the tests and has his eye on bigger things this year. “The champagne will taste a little bit better in Melbourne if I get on the podium,” he says, and everyone hopes he will. Dan’s eyeing up podium finishes in the not too distant future too, but realistically it’s World Championship points like last year’s he is chasing. “As long as it stays dry it’s going to set the playing-field pretty evenly and hopefully we can get up there in the points. That’s the real aim,” he insists.
Did you get the winning quintet? Alonso (2006), Raïkkönen (2007), Hamilton (2008), Button (2009-10-12), Vettel (2011)
2012 ResultsPole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Vodafone McLaren Mercedes); 1:24.922 = 224.803 km/h
1st: Jenson Button (Vodafone McLaren Mercedes; 1:34.09.565
2nd: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault)
3rd: Lewis Hamilton (Vodafone McLaren Mercedes)
Fastest Lap: Jenson Button (Vodafone McLaren Mercedes); 1:29.187 = 214.053 km/h on lap 56
Webber / Ricciardo Watch
This will be Mark’s 12th appearance in the Australian Grand Prix. Best result so far: P4, 2012 (Red Bull); best qualifying: front row 2010. Five points-scoring finishes. Dan’s appearance last year was his first; he qualified 10th and finished ninth.