Australian Grand Prix 2014: 10 Facts About the Track at Albert Park, Melbourne

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2014

Australian Grand Prix 2014: 10 Facts About the Track at Albert Park, Melbourne

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    Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit
    Melbourne Grand Prix CircuitMark Thompson/Getty Images

    The Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit, located in Albert Park in Australia's second city, has hosted the Formula One Australian Grand Prix since 1996.

    The Australian Grand Prix is usually the first race of the F1 season, and this year is no different.

    In preparation for the March 16 race, here are 10 interesting facts about the Melbourne circuit, so maybe you can impress your friends while you watch the grand prix.

Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit by the Numbers

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    Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit map
    Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit mapWill Pittenger/Wikimedia Commons

    The Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit, according to the official F1 site, is 5.303 kilometres long and the race will consist of 58 laps, each of which features 16 turns.

    The total length of the race is 307.574 kilometres.

    The lap record at the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit is held by Michael Schumacher. His time of one minute, 24.125 seconds was set during the 2004 Australian Grand Prix.

    In fact, due to regulation changes implemented for the 2005 season (e.g. no tyre changes, increased engine durability), 11 lap records at current F1 circuits were set during the 2004 season, per F1 wiki.

Winning Drivers

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    Schumacher celebrates his victory at the 2004 Australian Grand Prix.
    Schumacher celebrates his victory at the 2004 Australian Grand Prix.TONY FEDER/Associated Press

    The Australian Grand Prix has existed as an F1 event since 1985. However, from that year until 1995, the race was held in Adelaide, some 700 kilometres northwest of Melbourne.

    Since 1996, when the grand prix moved to Albert Park, it has been won by 11 different drivers. Michael Schumacher leads the way with four victories, followed by Jenson Button with three.

    Kimi Raikkonen—winner of last year's race—and David Coulthard are the only other drivers with multiple victories in Melbourne, having won twice each.

    Sebastian Vettel has only won once at Albert Park, along with Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Giancarlo Fisichella, Eddie Irvine, Mika Hakkinen and Damon Hill (who won the first race in Melbourne and the last in Adelaide).

    Eleven of the 18 race winners since the race moved to Melbourne have gone on to win the Drivers' Championship. However, it has only happened once in the last four seasons, when Vettel won the 2011 race.

Winning Constructors

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    The McLaren team celebrates its victory at the 2012 Australian Grand Prix.
    The McLaren team celebrates its victory at the 2012 Australian Grand Prix.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    McLaren and Ferrari have won two-thirds of the 18 grands prix at the Albert Park circuit—six each. McLaren's last win came in 2012, while Ferrari has not won Down Under since Kimi Raikkonen took the chequered flag for the Scuderia in 2007.

    Other than McLaren and Ferrari, Renault is the only constructor with multiple victories at Albert Park, winning in 2005 and 2006.

    The last five seasons have seen four different winning constructors: Lotus, Red Bull, McLaren (twice) and Brawn GP. Williams, in 1996, is the only other constructor to win in Melbourne.

Albert Park

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    Albert Park
    Albert ParkMark Thompson/Getty Images

    Albert Park, the setting for the Australian Grand Prix, was originally called South Park, according to the Parks Victoria website. When Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, died in 1861, the park was renamed in his honour.

    In addition to the grand prix circuit, the park is home to a number of sporting facilities, including the Albert Park Yacht and Sailing Clubs, Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre, Albert Park Golf Course and Lakeside Stadium, home of South Melbourne FC. The race track circles a man-made lake, with opportunities for fishing and sailing.

    According to Parks Victoria, the park receives over 6 million visits annually.

Circuit Style

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    Like Monaco and Montreal, for example, the Melbourne track is a street circuit. For most of the year, the roads used for the race are open to regular traffic.

    Unlike Monaco, though, the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit does have substantial run-off areas at most turns, akin to the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal.

    Both the Melbourne and Montreal tracks are located in urban parks and both are considered high-speed circuits (whereas Monaco is the slowest circuit on the calendar). Of course, Melbourne also has a number of slow chicanes, testing the brakes of the F1 cars.

    Although cars may not end up in the barriers as often as at Monaco, the potential for high temperatures, the abrasive track surface and early-season reliability issues often lead to more retirements than usual. Out of the last five seasons, only 2013 saw more than 14 cars take the chequered flag.

Memorable Races

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    Brundle's accident at the 1996 Australian Grand Prix.
    Brundle's accident at the 1996 Australian Grand Prix.Phil Williams/Associated Press

    Hosting the first race of the season, Albert Park has not seen the kind of championship drama that races at the end of the calendar experience regularly.

    The most famous event in Melbourne's grand prix history may have occurred on the first lap of the first race at the venue, in 1996, when Martin Brundle suffered a spectacular accident. His car rolled several times, but he walked away unhurt and restarted the race in a spare car.

    The 1998 race was won controversially by Mika Hakkinen when his team-mate, David Coulthard, moved over to hand victory to the Finn. According to the BBC, the organisers filed a protest with the FIA, although no penalties were given.

    Brawn GP's first race was the 2009 Australian Grand Prix, won by Jenson Button on his way to the Drivers' Championship. In 2008, under the Honda banner, the team had achieved one podium and only four point-scoring finishes all season.

Australian Drivers at Albert Park

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    As we recently demonstrated, home-field (or home-circuit) advantage does not exist in F1. Over the past 11 seasons, Australian drivers (mostly Mark Webber) performed considerably worse at the Australian Grand Prix than at other races.

    In fact, the best finish by an Australian driver since the race moved to Melbourne is Mark Webber's fourth-place in 2012.

    However, Webber's most spectacular performance on home soil was in his first-ever grand prix. At the 2002 race, he brought his Minardi home in fifth place, by far the team's best finish of the season.

    This year, Daniel Ricciardo is the only Australian driver on the grid, replacing Webber at Red Bull. Ricciardo finished ninth in 2012 and a year later he retired with a broken exhaust. 

Circuit Construction

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    Like other temporary street circuits—Montreal and Monaco, for example—much of the infrastructure for the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit must be assembled and disassembled each year.

    The above video gives some sense of the scale of this annual construction project, which begins months before the race.


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    Sebastian Vettel signs autographs before the 2013 Australian Grand Prix.
    Sebastian Vettel signs autographs before the 2013 Australian Grand Prix.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Attendance over the 2013 Australian Grand Prix weekend was 323,000, per the race's official Twitter account: 

    Thanks to the 323,000 fans who attended this year's #AusGP. That's the biggest crowd since 2005. See you next year race fans!

    — Aus Grand Prix (@ausgrandprix) March 17, 2013

    This compares favourably with other races on the calendar. For example, the British Grand Prix reported attendance figures of 294,000 over three days for the 2013 event.

Local Issues

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    Melbourne skyline
    Melbourne skylineDave/Associated Press

    The Melbourne metropolitan area has a population of over four million. Of course, not all of those people are motor racing fans, happy to give over their public park to the grand prix for a couple months each year and to endure the noise pollution and congestion that comes with hosting a large-scale sporting event.

    A group called Save Albert Park wants to relocate the race to a permanent facility outside the city and has organised protests around the race weekend in the past.

    However, Autosport's Jonathan Noble wrote in 2011 that the local politicians have decided to keep the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park for as long as the race continued.

    Whether the Australian Grand Prix will remain on the calendar long-term is another issue. The current contract runs until 2015, but The Age, a Melbourne daily, reports that organisers are close to signing a new deal, possibly for a further two years.

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