Australian Grand Prix 2014 Preview: Start Time, TV Info, Weather, Schedule, Odds
The 2014 Australian Grand Prix is one of the most eagerly anticipated season-openers in Formula One history.
Changes to aerodynamic and engine regulations look set to shake up the running order. Reigning champions Red Bull suffered from awful reliability in preseason, while Williams—coming off the back of one of their worst-ever seasons—look to be among the front-runners at this stage.
The race will take place on Sunday at Albert Park in Melbourne and will be the 18th Australian Grand Prix held at this venue.
Read on for a circuit guide, tyre and Drag Reduction System (DRS) information, weather forecast, odds and TV times.
Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit
What is officially called the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit is more commonly known as Albert Park, after its location. The circuit lies in the heart of Melbourne and has hosted the event since 1996.
It's a somewhat unique place. Officially a street circuit, it is indeed run on roads which are open to the public most of the year. Barriers closely surround the track around most of the 5.303 kilometre length.
But the corners are more like the sort we'd expect at a proper road course, and though one or two turns are less forgiving, run-off areas are plentiful.
Positioned anywhere else in the calendar, Albert Park would probably be a disappointing venue.
Happily for us, it's always the first round, and it seems to be the perfect place to kick off a new season.
Turns 1 and 2
After a quite lengthy run from the start-finish line, the drivers brake for Turn 1 (Brabham). This is considered one of the best overtaking spots on the circuit.
However, it's also often used to set up a move for a few corners later.
Turn 2 (Jones) is a left-hander which immediately follows. It's as much a curved acceleration zone as it is a corner, but it should see a lot of drivers getting out of shape here as they struggle with the increased torque and tricky power delivery of the new engines.
Turns 3 and 4
Next up is a shorter straight, which has always seemed as good a passing spot as the pit straight. It's very common for cars to exit the first two corners close together, and that sets up plenty of opportunities.
It might prove even better for overtaking this year with more wobbly rears out of Turn 2.
At the end of the straight, drivers brake for Turn 3 (Whiteford). This is one of the circuit's slowest corners—a tight right-hander where most of the moves made down the straight succeed or fail.
Defending into (and out of) this corner is quite easy and it's unusual for a door to be left open on the inside, though drivers can and do pass around the outside.
Following a tiny straight, Turn 4 is a straightforward medium-speed left-hander. If you look closely at the track here, you can see its function when F1 isn't in town—it's a car park.
Turns 5, 6, 7 and 8
Turn 5 is a quick right-hander taken at full-throttle, and it leads onto a wavy straight of sorts. Trees overhang the circuit here and the track surface is mottled with shadows, making braking for the tricky right-hander of Turn 6 that little bit harder.
Overtaking here isn't really possible, but getting a good exit is important.
Turns 7 and 8 (Lauda) follow immediately, giving this part of the track a nice flow. They're a left-right sequence which appears to be little more than an acceleration zone, but care should be taken nonetheless.
Turns 9 and 10
If a driver didn't get a good exit back at Turn 6, he'll be defending down the small straight which leads into the right-left chicane of Turns 9 and 10.
The first part (Turn 9) is a tight right-hander, and it's easy to carry too much speed into here and take a trip across the grass on the exit.
The second part (Turn 10) is an opening left-hander. The barriers close in around the circuit here as the drivers speed along a curved straight beside Albert Lake, which lies over the wall on the drivers' right.
Turns 11 and 12
Turns 11 and 12 are two of Albert Park's best corners. They form a high-speed left-right chicane, taken very quickly and with little room for error.
There's very much only one line in and one line out, so you're unlikely to see too many overtaking attempts here.
Assuming everything went well, the cars are sent on their way down another straight, which has a little right-hand kink halfway down.
Turns 13, 14, 15 and 16
Overtaking is a possibility into the next corner, the 90-degree right of Turn 13 (Ascari). Cars will typically pull out from behind a rival just after the kink on the straight and have a go down the inside.
After a short straight comes the fast right-hand of Turn 14 (Stewart) and seconds later, braking for Turn 15 (Prost), a very tight left.
In practice you'll see a lot of cars overshooting or just getting it plain wrong here. By the time the race comes around, everyone usually has it worked out—but errors may still occur.
The final corner, Turn 16, is a medium-speed right. This is one of the most important corners on the circuit, and the pressure to get the power down early often results in some sliding back ends.
With some drivers and teams still struggling with power delivery, this may be more common this year.
The finish line is roughly halfway down the straight.
The pit entry is on the inside of Turn 16, and the exit is before Turn 1.
Tyres and DRS
Albert Park is a semi-permanent racing facility made up of public roads. A year's worth of road cars and pedestrians using the tarmac leaves it dirty and slippery, so ideally the tyres need to be soft to provide plenty of grip.
But with low grip comes greater wheelspin and sliding, both of which increase tyre degradation. So durability is needed too.
Pirelli are bringing the yellow-marked soft and white-marked medium tyres. This choice represents the best compromise between grip and durability.
The soft will be the qualifying tyre of choice, and more race running will probably be done on the medium.
According to their race preview, Pirelli expect a two- or three-stop race.
Note On Tyre Changes For 2014
The new breed of hybrid turbo cars need tougher tyres, so the 2014 compounds have been designed to be a little bit harder and more durable than their 2013 counterparts.
Pirelli say the new tyres have "the same level of performance" as the 2013 tyres, so in theory they won't be contributing towards the expected slower lap times.
Hopefully they won't be exploding either.
There will be two DRS zones at the Australian Grand Prix. The two zones will run off a single detection point situated just before Turn 14. Any driver less than one second behind a rival at this point will get DRS in both zones, even if he makes a pass in the first.
The first zone will run the length of the pit straight, and end with braking for Turn 1.
The second zone will start just after the exit of Turn 2 and run the length of the shorter straight, ending at Turn 3.
Melbourne has a maritime temperate climate. March is right at the start of autumn, and the weather for the race tends to be somewhere between pleasantly warm and a little bit hot.
Rain is common all year round, with one March day in three seeing precipitation—though not necessarily the heavy sort.
At the time of writing, Friday and Saturday look set to be very warm, dry days. Sunday is expected to be significantly cooler, with a good chance of rain.
BBC Weather will have the latest as we get closer to the weekend.
For the teams, a Mercedes car is 11-10 to win, Ferrari 6-1, Williams 13-2 and McLaren 8-1.
Alonso (1-4) is favourite to finish, just ahead of Massa, Button and the two Mercedes drivers (all 2-7). Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean (evens) are least favourite.
A safety car appearance is considered likely (3-10). It's 10-3 to not make an appearance.
If you're betting on the number of classified drivers, 13 or fewer is considered slightly more likely (4-7) than 14 or more (5-4).
Session and TV Times
As always, the Australian Grand Prix weekend will consist of three free practice sessions, qualifying and the race.
The times are as follows:
|Practice One||Friday||12:30 p.m. - 2 p.m.|
|Practice Two||Friday||4:30 p.m. - 6 p.m.|
|Practice Three||Saturday||2 p.m. - 3 p.m.|
All times are given in Melbourne local time (AEDT). Formula1.com has a handy one-click tool on its homepage to convert them to your local time.
In the UK, Sky Sports F1 will have full live coverage of all the sessions. Qualifying coverage starts at 5 a.m. on Saturday (session starts an hour later), with race coverage on air at 4:30 a.m. (race start 6 a.m.) on Sunday.
BBC One will show highlights of qualifying—on air at 2:55 p.m. on Saturday—and the race, starting from 2 p.m. on Sunday.
In the US, NBCSN will have live coverage of qualifying starting at 2 a.m. ET on Saturday, with live race coverage from 1:30 a.m. ET on Sunday (information from Racer.com).
Enjoy the weekend!