The 2011 Formula One season officially kicks off on Friday in Melbourne – and everyone at Albert Park, from drivers to fans, couldn’t be happier
by Matthew Clayton
Mark Webber was referring to the 24 Formula One drivers here in Melbourne this weekend, but he may as well have been speaking for the rest of us. “We now just want to get into it,” said Webber on Thursday, and finally, 130 days after the finale to last season in Abu Dhabi, the 2011 Formula One season will kick off on Friday at Albert Park.
After the best season of his career, it’s little wonder Webber wants to get 2011 underway. The new Red Bull RB7, designed by Adrian Newey, has been quick and reliable in pre-season testing, and the Australian will start his quest to become our first World Champion since 1980 when the first practice session of the new season starts at 12.30pm local time.
Joining Webber on track on Friday will be another local, Perth’s Daniel Ricciardo. The 21-year-old will take part in Friday practice at all 19 Grands Prix this season for the Toro Rosso team, and admitted earlier in the week to being a bundle of nervous excitement ahead of his debut at a Grand Prix weekend.
Ricciardo will be joined by fellow-reserve drivers Karun Chandhok (Lotus) and Nico Hulkenberg (Force India) on track on Friday as the teams complete two 90-minute sessions. Rookies Paul di Resta (Force India), Sergio Perez (Sauber), Pastor Maldonado (Williams) and Jerome D’Ambrosio (Virgin) will lap the 5.303km Albert Park circuit for the first time, while at the other end of the experience scale, 38-year-old Williams veteran Rubens Barrichello will commence his record 19th Grand Prix season with his 16th appearance in Melbourne.
Friday’s weather forecast is tipped for a repeat of the wind and rain that dampened proceedings at Albert Park for the support race categories on Thursday, but that won’t stop the 12 F1 teams in their attempts to get to grips with the new-for-2011 Pirelli tyres and other technical additions including the implementation of adjustable rear wings.
While all eyes will understandably be on the first outing for F1 cars at a race weekend in 2011, Friday will also see plenty of activity in the support race categories in a packed program that starts at 11am.
Racing starts with the first of three Porsche Carrera Cup sprints for the weekend at 11.25am, while there will be a double-dose of on-track action for Australia’s premier motorsport category in the V8 Supercars Albert Park 400.
A top 10 shoot-out to determine the grid for the first of three races this weekend will take place at 3pm, with Kiwi young gun Shane Van Gisbergen (Ford) the fastest man in qualifying on Thursday afternoon. A 50-minute race for the field of 28 Holdens and Fords will commence at 6.20pm.