MELBOURNE, Australia — Albert Park is preparing to host the Australian Grand Prix — the opening race of the 2013 FIA Formula One World Championship.
Sixteen weeks after storm-lashed Interlagos and the drama-laden climax of the 2012 season, the teams reassemble for what is widely expected to be an incredibly close year of racing.
Stability in the technical regulations leads to a great deal of carryover from 2012 and, several notable exceptions aside, optimizing existing designs has been the primary focus in the development of 2013 cars.
While the machinery has a familiar look, the same cannot be said for the driver line-up. Four of 2012’s field have switched teams in the off-season and five rookies will be making their F-1 race debut in this weekend.
Albert Park is not the easiest place to make a good impression. Running on public roads through the park, the temporary circuit has a reputation for being slippery with several large bumps known to destabilise cars under braking. Gravel traps wait for the unwary and the unlucky — but being a street circuit there are also plenty of walls. Added to the limited and hazardous nature of overtaking opportunities at Albert Park, it means the safety car is often busy at the Australian Grand Prix.
Another variable to factor in are the new tires on offer from Pirelli. Reports from winter testing suggest teams are not yet fully on terms with the revised compounds, raising the possibility of early races this year seeing shorter stints (and thus more frequent pit stops) than was usual in 2012.
As ever, winter testing did not provide any reliable evidence of a pecking order but did greatly add to the stock of speculation. Consensus points to a very tight battle ahead but without any hard evidence, this weekend will provide the first real indication of how the 2013 FIA Formula One World Championship will unfold.
► This will be the 29th F-1 World Championship running of the Australian Grand Prix. It is the 18th consecutive year of the race being run at Albert Park, 16 of which have opened the Formula One season.
► In 1996, when the race moved to Albert Park, it produced the oddity of Australia hosting back-to-back grands prix, the closing race of 1995 having taken place at Adelaide.
► Albert Park is a temporary circuit with parts of the track used by general road traffic for the majority of the year. As such, it features unusually high grip-evolution (and thus falling lap times) over the course of the weekend, as the track ‘rubbers-in’.
► In common with Abu Dhabi, the Australian Grand Prix has a local start time of 5pm. Unlike the event at Yas Island, this race finishes in daylight — but the low angle of the sun and the lengthening shadows have been known to make the latter stages of the race difficult for drivers.
► Another perennial problem in tree-lined Albert Park is leaves and twigs being sucked into car radiators.
► Of the current grid, Jenson Button is the standout performer, having won three times in the last four years. It leaves him one victory short of equaling Michael Schumacher’s F-1-era record. Schumacher won the race in 2000, ’01, ’02, ’04.
► On 11 occasions from 17 starts, the winning driver at Albert Park has gone on to lift the Drivers’ Championship trophy at the end of the season.
► The race winner has started on pole eight times at Albert Park. The lowest starter to win was Eddie Irvine, who started 11th for Ferrari in 1999.
► Four drivers start this race for new teams, having moved during the off-season. Lewis Hamilton has moved from McLaren to Mercedes; Sergio Pérez from Sauber to McLaren; Nico Hülkenberg from Force India to Sauber and Charles Pic from Marussia to Caterham. Also, Adrian Sutil is beginning his second stint with Force India.
► Five rookies will contest the Australian Grand Prix: Esteban Gutiérrez (Sauber); Valtteri Bottas (Williams); Giedo van der Garde (Caterham); Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi (Marussia).
► Reigning GP2 Champion Davide Valsecchi is not among the rookie intake. He instead has signed as a test driver for Lotus in 2013. The only other GP2 champion to not move directly into an F1 race seat was 2008 winner Giorgio Pantano — who raced in F-1 before going to GP2.
► Giedo van der Garde ends a barren spell for Dutch representation in Formula One. The Netherlands hasn’t had a driver in the Championship since Christijan Albers raced for Spyker for the first half of the 2007 season.