For four long months, Formula One fans have been sitting idle on Sunday afternoons, not quite knowing how to fill the two hour gap left by Grand Prix racing in the off-season. But now, at long last, the wait for a return to F1 action is over. The season gets underway this weekend in Melbourne, Australia.
The first race of the season is always an exciting prospect. It’s impossible to know for sure who will be competitive based on pre-season testing, as the teams never give away exactly what their testing programme entails. Until qualifying on Saturday, any predictions of form are largely guess-work. By the end of Sunday, however, there will be a clearer picture of the pecking order.
Pirelli are bringing their P Zero White medium and P Zero Red supersoft tyres to Melbourne. It is the first time this particular combination of tyres is being used in Australia and it should make for interesting pit strategies. In particular, the supersoft tyre is likely to wear quickly on the abrasive surface of the temporary Albert Park circuit. There is a strong emphasis on traction out of the slower corners, which puts great strain on the rear tyres and can lead to severe degradation.
For qualifying, the supersoft tyre will be the tyre of choice if the session is dry. But while the supersoft tyre will be quicker than the medium tyre, it will also wear much faster on heavy fuel at the start of the race, which will necessitate early pitstops for drivers who elect to run on the supersoft in Q3. There is therefore the distinct possibility that drivers who progress to Q3 in qualifying but do not expect to challenge for pole position might use the medium tyre to set their grid time or perhaps not run in Q3 at all.
Pirelli are expecting two to three pitstops per car in the race. The number of stops will largely be determined by the behaviour of the two compounds in the race. If the supersoft tyre wears too quickly, the teams are likely to use the medium tyre for most of the race, which would suit a two-stop strategy. If the supersoft tyre lasts longer than expected, a three-stop strategy could be worthwhile, particularly as there is expected to be a significant performance advantage on the supersoft tyre over the medium compound.
Circuit Length: 5.303 km
Race laps: 58
Race length: 307.574 km
Lap Record: 1:24.125 – Michael Schumacher / Ferrari (2004)
Race winner: Jenson Button / McLaren
Pole position: Lewis Hamilton / McLaren – 1:24.922
Fastest lap: Jenson Button / McLaren – 1:29.187
- For six of the last ten seasons, the winner in Australia has gone on to win the World Championship.
- 2012 Australian Grand Prix winner Jenson Button has won the race three times and will equal Michael Schumacher’s record of four wins if he triumphs on Sunday.
- McLaren is the most successful constructor in Australian Grand Prix history, with twelve wins including the 1970 non-championship race. Their nearest competitor is Ferrari with 10 wins including three non-championship races in the 1950s.
Friday practice is expected to be dry, with the sun shining down on Albert Park and temperatures in the mid-twenties centigrade forecast. Saturday brings the possibility of rain for third practice and qualifying, with a 20% chance of precipitation in the afternoon and early evening. The race on Sunday is expected to be dry.
The impact of a potentially wet qualifying session is significant. A dry race requires a dry setup for qualifying, which will compromise wet weather performance. The chance of a wet session is not high, but if it does rain there could be 22 cars slipping and sliding around in conditions that do not suit the dry weather setups.
McLaren and Jenson Button have a very strong record in Melbourne. Button has won two out of the three races he has contested at Albert Park for McLaren and also won the race in 2009 for the Brawn team in his championship-winning season.
McLaren have had a strong pre-season and look like they should be competitive in 2013. Their car is generally suited to circuits like Albert Park, made up mostly of slow to medium-speed corners with an emphasis on traction off the corners. The Mercedes engine in the McLaren is ideal for blasting from corner to corner and, if McLaren’s form from last year is anything to go by, the MP4-28 should be strong aerodynamically, which is important in the middle sector of the Melbourne circuit.
With the departure of Lewis Hamilton to Mercedes, Button is now the team leader at McLaren. He will be well aware that a win in the first race of the season would further emphasise that position and establish him as the team’s primary title contender.