(Image credit: Will Pittenger)
The first race of the F1 season takes places on the streets around Albert Park in Melbourne, a track that provides an early challenge for the drivers and engineers.
As a street circuit, the track improves through the weekend as more rubber is laid down. Those who head out early during the practice sections, may find the surface cold and slippery but by race day, the track should come alive.
The race for Turn One
Things are difficult from the off as Turn One provides an early braking challenge. The camber in the track here can cause drivers to lock up, providing hair-raising moments. Where possible, drivers will try to keep far left on entry, avoiding the worst of the bumps, and brush the inside kerb as they turn in, before drifting wide on exit.
The first lap can be definitive here as drivers jostle for position. Back in 2002, 11 drivers had retired by the end of Lap One after Ralf Schumacher’s car took to the air following contact with Rubens Barrichello. Aussie debutant Mark Webber kept out of trouble and brought his Minardi home in fifth.
Grips issues continue throughout the circuit as bumpy sections can destabilise cars set up for maximum downforce. This can be avoided with higher ground clearance but only at the cost of speed and grip elsewhere on the track. A conundrum for the engineers to ponder.
With few long corners, the track offers little opportunity for drivers to generate the tyre temperature needed to take the car to its limits. As a result, the kerbs often come into play as drivers uses every inch available to gain an advantage.
Brakes can take a battering here with nine braking zones, seven of which require rapid deceleration from high speed at an average of 4 Gs. A minimumweight increase to 734kg (thanks to the halo) will only add to the challenge. Those who can optimise their braking performance thrive, the rest end up facing the wrong way (I’m looking at you Juan Pablo Montoya).
Unlike purpose-built tracks, Melbourne features negative cambers which can catch a driver out when exiting corners. Entry position and speed are vital as there is little room for change when powering out of the bends. With no trick suspensions this year, getting the right set up will be vital from the off.
More varied strategy
Tyre providers Pirelli have suggested that softer tyre compounds will prompt more pit strategy in this year’s race. The soft, supersoft and ultrasoft compounds selected for Melbourne will give teams the option of choosing a one or two-stop strategy.
This is where results from Barcelona testing will prove important as teams use tyre performance data to decide ultimate race strategy. Much could also depend on the weather, with Melbourne notoriously unpredictable in terms of track temperature and humidity.
The extra dimension that tyre strategy might bring could help to provide a more intriguing battle this term. And this has already surfaced with Ferrari opting for a higher quota of soft tyres and Mercedes stocking up on the ultrasofts.
What difference will this make on race day? Hopefully, this question and more will be answered by the time the chequered flag falls on Sunday.
Will strategy be more important in 2018? What difference will the new tyre compounds make? Let us know in the comments below.