For the first round of the 2009 F1 season, the teams head Down Under for the traditional season-opener in Australia. The season opening race has been held in Australia every year since 1996 (except 2006 due to the Commonwealth Games), and has been held at the picturesque Albert Park circuit in Melbourne each time.
The circuit, despite its look, is a temporary street circuit which is only used for racing once a year.
For most of the year it is simply a network of ordinary public roads which transport the residents of Australia around. At the end of January it begins to be transformed into a Grand Prix circuit with grandstands and advertising boards erected, barriers and walls placed, and run-off areas prepared.
In a matter of six weeks the park is transformed into a top-class motor racing facility, and one which the drivers all seem to enjoy.
The circuit itself is a mix of slow, medium, and high-speed corners. The circuit length is 3.2 miles with 16 corners (10 right, six left) and a high average speed for a temporary circuit.
The highest speed on the circuit is at the end of the start/finish straight with speeds expected near 185mph, and the slowest speed is the tight turn 15, with a minimum speed of 50mph.
Let's take a look at the circuit in more detail and find out where the time can be gained or lost.
Turn One and Two
The first couple of corners flow into each other, making them as one. The approach to turn one is very fast, causing some heavy braking, yet the cars don't slow much as the average speed through the corner is very high. The drivers flick down four gears to third and turn right into the corner, before immediately turning left for turn two and heading back up through the gears.
This area isn't a traditional overtaking zone due to the high average speed through the corners, but has seen its fair share of incidents at the start of a race, such as the incident between Johnny Herbert, Jacques Villeneueve, and Eddie Irvine, and the multi-car pile-up of 2002.
Turn Three and Four
Turn three is the hardest braking point on the circuit as the drivers brake from around 180mph down to 65mph for the turn. There is a slight right kink approaching the corner, but this is no trouble for the drivers who are able to brake in a straight line into the corner.
Turn three is also the most likely overtaking spot on the circuit and over the years we have seen many successful passes here, as well as some unsuccessful ones (Mika Salo on Mark Webber in 2002, Giancarlo Fisichella on Rubens Barrichello in 1997, Villeneuve on Ralf Yildiz in 2001).
Turn four seems to be a nothing corner at first glance, but is important in order to get a good lap as the traction you get from here carries speed all the way to turn six. It is also a tricky corner to get right as the curb on the left (inside curb) is high and slippy, and the exit is a lot tighter than it appears. The key to getting this corner right is riding the curb, which is unusual for this type of circuit
An extremely fast corner, turn five could prove to be a lot trickier this year with less downforce on the cars. Back in 1996, when F1 first came to Albert Park, a lot of drivers were going off on this fast right-hander, but since then only a handful of drivers (Pedro Diniz in 1997, Alessandro Zinardi in 1999, Barrichello and Ralph Firman in 2003) have crashed at this corner.
It can be tricky as the track appears to be falling away from you as you turn in, and due to the trees hanging over the exit of the corner it appears tighter than it actually is. It is usually full throttle through here in qualifying, but expect some drivers to lift off slightly while on race fuel.
Turns Six, Seven, and Eight
Turn six is a very tricky right-hander, followed by a small left flick and long right-hander. This small sequence of corners is key to a very good lap here.
Turn six is made difficult not by the track itself, but by the trees hanging over the circuit which makes finding your braking point very difficult. In the dry the shadows from the trees make it diffcult to see, and in the rain the water holds in the trees, meaning that the conditions at the corner can change from one lap to the next.
Once the drivers exit turn six they are immediately into the heart of turn seven, which can unsettle the back end of the car and means the drivers have the feed the power in gently now with the absence of traction control.
This then leads into the long, right-handed turn eight which is easily flat when dry, but due to the highly glossed road markings can be very tricky in the wet.
Turns Nine and 10
This small sequence of corners in more tricky than it looks. You approach turn nine at a high speed causing some heavy braking into the corner, but as we have seen in the past it is easy for the drivers to put a wheel on the grass under braking and spin.
The key to getting these corners right is hitting the apex of the corner, getting right up on the inside curb, and getting the power on as early as possible through turn 10.
As the drivers exit turn 10 there is no room for error as the outside of the track is lined with a concrete barrier—get it wrong here and you have a big accident!
Turns 11 and 12
These are the fastest corners on the circuit and the two that the drivers enjoy the most. The cars approach turn 11 at roughly 175mph before touching the brakes, flicking down one gear and turning left, and straight away flick down another gear and turn right into turn 12.
The drivers can experience g-forces of up to 4.5g which gives you an indication of just how fast this fast chicane is. It isn't a surprise to see drivers running wide on the exit of turn 12 during qualifying and in the race, and expect one or two drivers to kick up the dust this year.
Turn 13 is the second best overtaking spot on the circuit, yet isn't as straightforward to overtake as first thought.
The approach speed is 180mph, giving a good chance for a slipstream, but the average speed of the corner means that the drivers don't spend that much time on the brakes, making it difficult to make an overtaking attempt successful.
Hitting the apex of the corner is vitally important here—miss it and you could be a sitting duck for the car behind.
A tricky corner this one, but not one where a lot of time can be gained. The drivers dab on the brakes to scrub very little speed off, while balancing the throttle through the corner.
Although clipping the apex of this corner isn't vital, a well set-up car will be able to ride the curb on the inside without having to clip the curb on the outside of the corner, so keep an eye out for this through qualifying to see who has set up their car well
Turns 15 and 16
The slowest corner on the circuit is also the most vital, as this is where the most time can be gained or lost on a lap.
Although braking into this corner is straight forward, the drivers need to make sure they get the apex of this corner right in order to get good traction out of it.
Turn 16 follows straight away and, like turn four, it is vital that you keep a high minimum speed through the corner as this will be the speed that you carry down the pit straight towards turn one.
So there it is, your track guide to Albert Park, Melbourne. The key to a good qualifying lap here is turns one, six, 10, 11, and 15, and as the tires wear away throughout the race, the traction areas become more important.
Although the circuit isn't difficult to drive, it is difficult to set up for and it will be interesting to see who has done the best during the winter as the teams turn up in Melbourne.