Australian Grand Prix Preview: Melbourne

The Australian Grand Prix circuit: a semi-permanent facility at Albert Park in Melbourne, where the soft and medium P Zero tyres have been chosen. There’s a slippery surface, low grip, high downforce and heavy braking: all of which increase the workload on the tyres.

Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director: “Our fifth season of Formula One gets underway in Australia: one of the most exciting races of the year as it’s the start of a new season held at a venue that is always extremely challenging, popular and unpredictable. Just like last year, we’ve nominated the medium and soft compounds, which cover the very wide range of usage conditions that are possible in Melbourne. The new rear structure increases traction and helps drivers get onto the power earlier: one of the factors that has led to faster lap times this year. As always at the start of the season, there are big question marks about the pecking order and relative performance of the cars. All we know for sure is that performance will inevitably increase still further during the course of the year, which will naturally have an effect on the interaction between the cars and the tyres. The behaviour of the tyres was in line with our expectations during pre-season testing, but of course you cannot really compare testing to real racing, with drivers pushing to the limit. That’s why this weekend in Melbourne is so eagerly anticipated by everyone.”

The biggest challenges for the tyres:

Albert Park took over the Australian Grand Prix from Adelaide in 1996. Being a semi-permanent track, the racing line is often ‘green’: dirty and slippery, especially at the start of the weekend. This increases wheelspin, which leads to a greater degree of tyre degradation. The torque of the new generation of turbo-hybrid engines accentuates this phenomenon.

Acceleration and braking are the keys to a good performance in Melbourne, with the longitudinal forces at work on the tyres being greater than the lateral forces. The improved combined traction of the P Zero tyres this year marks a significant step forward in this area.

The left-rear tyre works hardest in Melbourne, with 10 right-hand corners and six left-hand corners. The asphalt is very smooth, which helps to extend tyre life, and the teams run high downforce. There are plenty of slow corners, putting the emphasis on mechanical grip from the tyres.

A good, potentially flexible, strategy and the ability to look after tyres well pay dividends in Australia, which is often affected by safety cars and unpredictable weather. Of the current competitors, Jenson Button is the most successful driver in Australia (with three wins), while McLaren is the most successful team with 11 wins (six equally with Ferrari at Melbourne).

Last year’s strategy and how the race was won: Nico Rosberg won the race for Mercedes from third on the grid (most of qualifying had been held in wet weather). Rosberg followed a soft-soft-medium strategy that was also used by the top nine finishers. Following an early safety car period, Rosberg made his first stop on lap 12 and his second stop on lap 38. The race lasts 58 laps.

Expected performance gap between the two compounds: 1.2-1.5 seconds per lap.

The Pirelli team choose their race numbers: #21, Paul Hembery (Pirelli motorsport director) “I’d say 21 because that’s the age when everything interesting starts to happen, my birthday is March 21 (which was Ayrton Senna’s birthday too) and June 21 is the first day of summer, the longest day of the year …”

Who we’re following on Twitter this week: @takiinoue. The Japanese former F1 driver has one of the funniest (and most self-deprecating) accounts on Twitter. For those unfamiliar with his work, this is an essential follow, particularly when he accuses other drivers of “driving like Taki Inoue”.

The tyre choices so far this year:

P Zero Red P Zero Yellow P Zero White P Zero Orange
Australia Soft Medium
Malaysia Medium Hard
China Soft Medium
Bahrain Soft Medium