F1 2011 Round 01 – Australian GP Preview


Welcome to the start of the 2011 Formula 1 World Championship. A season that promises to be even better than last year’s epic thriller. Owing to civil unrest in Bahrain, the actual season opener has been cancelled and Australia will host Round 1 of the 2011 season. There is much to look forward to as the weekend gets under way in Melbourne. After furious debates and discussions on the pace of each team throughout winter testing, we will finally get to see the true pecking order this weekend.

The picturesque Albert Park Circuit has been the venue for the first race of the season for several years before 2010. Formed by the public roads that encircle Albert Park Lake, it is essentially a high speed street circuit south of downtown Melbourne. The first Australian GP at the Albert Park Circuit took place in 1996  and was won by Damon Hill in his Williams. Since then, Ferrari and McLaren have emerged as strong contenders for the win in Australia almost every time.

On paper it looks like a straight fight between Red Bull and Ferrari – the two cars have shown impressive pace during the test sessions and both have demonstrated strong reliability, especially the Italian car. Sebastian Vettel will be no doubt be quick, and Aussie home hero Mark Webber will want to win in front of his fans. Fernando Alonso is a formidable rival in a quick car whilst Felipe Massa will be looking to redeem himself after a poor season last year. So it’s the Prancing Horse Vs the Red Bull? Not quite.

There are several reasons why it may not be a Ferrari or Red Bull at the top this weekend. First up, there is the Pirelli tyre wear – no one knows how the rubber will react to the low-grip Albert Park Circuit. That means all the strategy calls during the race will be learning experiences, and not masterstrokes.  Expect to see mistakes in pitstop timing, drivers getting surprised by the wear on each type of tyre, etc. Second, the KERS and DRS. The Kinetic Energy Recovery System is more or less straightforward – the system can be used any time on a lap and pretty much everyone will have it so it may not make a huge impact. But the Drag Reduction System (DRS) is where it gets tricky. Since the FIA don’t want overtaking to be totally artificial, the DRS can be used only on pre-selected parts of the track. And that gives the driver an awful lot to think about – he has to operate the radio, brake bias, fuel mix, differential, KERS and DRS apart from driving the car on the limit. Phew!

So while it looks like a straightforward battle in theory, it is in fact a step into the unknown. For the flyaway races, I will not be surprised to see some unlikely drivers winning some of them. Red Bull and Ferrari also have to contend with a new threat – a rejuvenated Mercedes GP. Until the final testing session, it appeared as if the Schumacher come-back program was falling to pieces with the car well off the pace and having some reliability problems. But now, you can sense a spring in the step of Schumacher, Rosberg and even Ross Brawn – the smiles are back and the men are oozing with confidence. While they admit that the W02 isn’t the quickest car in the field, they’re fully confident that it has what it takes to become a contender.

Meanwhile, at McLaren there are some serious issues – during the test periods the MP4-26 put in just half the mileage of Ferrari, it wasn’t very quick, and it wasn’t reliable. With both drivers admitting that the car wasn’t what they were expecting it to be, the Woking-based squad needed to dig deep to recover. And as we go into the practice sessions, it is still unclear whether they have overcome all their troubles. Martin Whitmarsh revealed that the Australia-spec car will have ‘dramatic changes’ compared to the one used in testing – the main changes being a more conventional exhaust system, and a new floor design. Basically, the rear design of the car has been overhauled. With no testing on those new parts, McLaren are taking a gamble. If they pull it off, it will be brilliant. If not, they have some serious catching up to do.

Also expected to make an impact are the front-blowing Renault exhaust, the ultra-compact Williams rear end and the Toro Rosso twin-floor.  Not to mention the wet weather that Melbourne has been experiencing recently. With so many variables and unknowns in the mix, no competitor can rest easy this weekend. It looks like we’re set for a cracking season opener – so fasten your seatbelts and hang on to your seats – this is going to be a great weekend.

Let’s have a look at the track and race details.

Session Timings

Race Local Time :

Friday, 25th March

Practice 1 – 12:30 to 14:00

Practice 2 – 16:30 to 18:00

Saturday, 26th March

Practice 3 – 14:00 to 15:00

Qualifying – 17:00

Sunday, 27th March

Race – 17:00

Indian Standard Time :

Friday, 25th March

Practice 1 – 07:00 to 08:30

Practice 2 – 11:00 to 12:30

Saturday, 26th March

Practice 3 – 08:30 to 09:30

Qualifying – 11:30

Sunday, 27th March

Race – 11:30

Weather Forecast

Source : BBC Weather

Circuit Details

Race Date : 27 Mar 2011

Circuit Name : Albert Park Circuit

Orientation : Clockwise

Number of Turns : 16 (10 Right, 6 Left)

Number of Laps : 58

Circuit Length : 3.294 miles (5.303 km)

Race Distance : 305.909 km

Lap Record : 1:24.125 – M Schumacher (2004)

Circuit Map

Source : Wikipedia

A flying lap of Albert Park Circuit with Alexander Wurz

“The racetrack is in a park, so it’s a mix of public roads and permanent racetrack. It’s only used once a year, which creates an extra challenge for the teams because the grip level is always changing. The track is usually four or five seconds quicker in the race than it is in free practice, which means you’re always reacting to it with the set-up. It’s quite difficult to stay on top of it.

As for the circuit, you approach the first corner in seventh gear, at about 300kph. It’s a very bumpy braking area, so you have to make sure you’re not over doing it. Turns 3, 4 and 5 make up a flowing part of the circuit: Turn 3 is taken in second gear and the next left and right are challenging and quite fast.

Turn 6 should be almost flat – if you have a good car – before you’re hard on the brakes for a chicane. A long right-hander follows before you come to another second gear chicane. It’s quite a difficult braking area because we arrive at 300kph, but you’re quickly on the throttle again and powering past the lake, through a long, bumpy left-hander.

Then there’s the high-speed chicane at Turns 11 and 12. It’s a really nice part of the circuit, particularly as the level of grip increases. We drive through it at a minimum speed of 220kph and the rear gets a bit light, so it’s a good challenge for the car and it certainly keeps you awake in the cockpit! Then you come to the last sector.

The last two corners look a bit Mickey Mouse, but there’s a lot of lap time to be gained there. As you arrive at the penultimate corner, you have to stay really calm and get your braking point just right. Then it’s a matter of carrying as much speed as you can out of the last corner and over the start-finish line.”

Source : Honda F1

On-board lap of Albert Park Circuit

Technical Requirements

Melbourne’s Albert Park is a stop-start mixture of temporary street course and a purpose-built track. This means the circuit includes an interesting variety of corners with unusual geometry and a constantly evolving track surface. Setting up the car is therefore a challenge, which is further complicated by the fact that most of the 16 corners are really quite different and by the addition of moveable aerodynamics and KERS for 2011.

Aerodynamics

Melbourne is on a par with the aerodynamic demands of Silverstone or Sepang and therefore requires a medium to high downforce set-up. With the introduction of moveable rear wings, or Drag Reduction System as it is known, the drivers will be able to overtake the car in front using a straightline speed boost of about 10-15 kmph. This system can be activated only on pre-selected sections of the track.  The circuit features a few critical high-speed corners, such as the fast fourth gear open chicane that forms Turns 11 and 12, which is perhaps the most challenging part of the lap.

Fernando Alonso explains: “You have to be so precise through this section. We take these corners at over 200 km/h and the approach to turn 11 is tough as your view is channelled by the concrete walls and you don’t see the apex until late. If you make a mistake in turn 11, you lose position for turn 12 and that can ruin your lap time.”

By using a higher downforce set-up, the drivers will hope to get good traction on the exit of the slower corners, which is important for carrying good speed onto the straights.

Suspension

Melbourne has a number of chicanes where a responsive car with a good change of direction is critical. The suspension therefore has to be relatively stiff to achieve this, but at the same time the car needs to be soft enough to use the curbs and have good stability under braking. An optimum set-up therefore demands a compromise, dovetailing hard and soft settings accordingly.

Brakes

Albert Park is a demanding circuit on brakes with six major braking zones demanding stops from over 300 km/h. It is not the severity of the braking, but the frequency that makes an efficient brake cooling solution a priority during the race. The track surface can be bumpy in the braking zones, but nothing too significant and a soft enough car should be able to ride the bumps without locking up under braking.

Tyres

The temporary nature of Albert Park means the track is ‘green’ and dusty at first and gradually improves over the weekend. With the introduction of Pirellis this year, the team will pay careful attention during free practice to the behaviour of the super-soft and medium compounds that they will bring to this race – both of which must be used during the race. The high track temperatures that we usually experience in Melbourne will play a role in determining which compound is preferred by the drivers.

Engine Performance

Melbourne offers a good test for engines with the V8s operating at full throttle for 66 percent of the lap. However, the secret of a good lap time depends not on peak power, but on good torque to help launch the car out of the slow corners that connect the succession of straights. This is particularly true of turns 14, 15 and 16, which are all tight, tricky corners, as driver Nelson Piquet explains:
“The car wants to understeer in the final part of the lap and so that can make it difficult to get on the power early. Having KERS this year might make a difference as we may be able to use it to help our acceleration out of these low-speed corners or if we are trying to gain or defend a position. Either way it should help improve our lap times.”

2010 Flashback : Hamilton Vs Rosberg, Alonso fights back, Button wins against the odds


The Australian GP was a bit of a lottery. In changing conditions, the teams need to time the tyre change to perfection. In the case of qualifying, the timing is crucial – no second chances – a driver on the right tyres at the right time will have a massive advantage over the ones who are not. The raw, dry weather pace of the cars counts for next to nothing here. And so it was that Lewis Hamilton started from P11 on the grid, while rest of the big guns got through to Q3 with relative ease.

However, the race was a completely different issue. With Button tagging Alonso at the start, and Schumacher getting into it as well, there was plenty of scope for Hamilton to move up the order. And move up he did, pushing his car to the limit and beyond,  on the ragged edge in tricky conditions.  The move on Rosberg occurred on lap 26, with the German running third and Hamilton following closely behind. Albert Park does have some overtaking opportunities – notably Turn 1, Turn 3 and Turn 13. But apparently no one told Lewis that he wasn’t supposed to overtake at the high speed Turn 11. What followed was a ballsy move.  Using the phenomenal F-duct system, the Mclaren effortless reeled in the Mercedes. Since Melbourne doesn’t really have a very long straight anywhere, it still required an on-the-limit, on-the-outside move by Hamilton to pass Rosberg. The German is no pushover and was instantly in the Brit’s slipstream and pulled alongside. Hamilton had to use every bit of the track and his Mclaren’s speed to make it stick at Turn 13. Easily one of the most memorable battles of the season.


After the success in Bahrain, at Vettel’s expense, Alonso put in a strong qualifying performance and ended up third behind the Red Bulls, and ahead of Button’s Mclaren. Unfortunately, Albert Park never has had smooth starts to its races, and this one was no exception. Jenson tagged Fernando going into Turn 1, resulting in a spin for the Ferrari which also caused damage to Herr Schumacher. Race winning chances thoroughly ruined, Alonso headed to the pits for repairs and rejoined at the back. Head down, Alonso put in a splendid drive at a circuit where it is difficult to overtake, and soon caught up to the podium battle just halfway into the race.

It wasn’t over though. Hamilton, starting from 11th, had made good progress and was now right on the Ferrari’s tail with more than 10 laps yet to run, with fresh rubber on his Mclaren, lapping over 2 seconds faster than the Spaniard. It was here that Alonso put in a stunning drive, and managed to fend off the (arguably) best overtaker in the business. Two laps from the end, Webber took care of Hamilton and the Ferrari was released. It was a fantastic drive from the double world champion to hold on to fourth place against a rampaging Hamilton. Brilliant stuff.


When Jenson announced that he was leaving Brawn GP for Mclaren at the end of 2009, there wasn’t a scribe on the planet agreeing with his decision. People predicted an annihilation of the World Champion by Mclaren’s wonderkid Lewis Hamilton. Madness, everyone said. Madness to leave a championship winning team to a possible No.2 position at Mclaren.

In Australia, Jenson dished out a truckload of humble pie to all those critics and ‘experts’. After demolishing Lewis in qualifying, Jenson made an inspired tyre choice, endured the first few laps without any grip, and moved ahead of all those who stopped later. We saw several drivers on the ragged edge the whole afternoon – and several banzai overtaking moves. Yet all they could do was fight for the podium places, as Jenson serenely went about his business of winning the race. You proved ’em all wrong Jense. Hats off to you.

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