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Single stops, Lewis’s record & grip problems in the ultimate Australian GP guide

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The Race
Venue: Albert Park, Melbourne
Length: 3.295 miles
Laps: 58
Lap record: 1m 24.125s – Michael Schumacher, Ferrari (2004)

Previous Races

Pole Position Fastest Lap Winner Second Third
2008 Lewis Hamilton, McLaren – 1m 26.714s Heikki Kovalainen – 1m 27.418s on lap 43 Lewis Hamilton, McLaren Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber Nico Rosberg, Williams
2009 Jenson Button, Brawn – 1m 26.202s Nico Rosberg, Williams – 1m 27.706s on lap 48 Jenson Button, Brawn Rubens Barrichello, Brawn Jarno Trulli, Toyota
2010 Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull – 1m 23.919s Mark Webber, Red Bull – 1m 28.358 on lap 47 Jenson Button, McLaren Robert Kubica, Renault Felipe Massa, Ferrari
2011 Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull – 1m 23.529s Felipe Massa, Ferrari – 1m 28.947s on lap 55 Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Lewis Hamilton, McLaren Vitaly Petrov, Renault
2012 Lewis Hamilton, McLaren – 1m 24.922s Jenson Button, McLaren – 1m 29.187s on lap 56 Jenson Button, McLaren Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Lewis Hamilton, McLaren

Track Tech
Melbourne can be a bit of a baptism of fire for rookies. A street circuit which is converted into a racetrack from the perimeter roads around the Albert Park lake, the track continuously evolves throughout the weekend with a lot of dirt and rubbish being pulled out of the tarmac throughout free practice. The track surface itself is quite smooth which can pose problems getting grip levels to where they need to be, with the tyres needing a bit more abrasion in order to generate the right working temperatures. The average speed is quite high and brakes take a beating throughout the weekend. The drivers like it for its fast, flowing nature – it tends to encourage close racing and although overtaking is not as easy as at some other tracks, there are a couple of opportunities throughout the lap to get by. DRS zones on the start/finish straight and again between Turns 2 and 3 mean that the braking zone into Piquet corner is where most passing takes place, although Turn 9 (Clark), the third-gear right-hander leading onto the fast left-hand kink on the back of the circuit, is also a spot for the brave to try their luck.

Race Strategy
McLaren were able to dictate the 2012 race with the MP4-27 locking out the front row and Button, who jumped Hamilton off the start, pulling away from the sister car. Both drivers started on soft tyres, ran to laps 16 (Button) and 17 (Hamilton) before putting on the medium compound tyres. Hamilton lost out to Button badly at this point as his tyres were fading significantly, losing a total of 4.8 seconds to his teammate through laps 16-18 and then got caught up behind Sergio Perez, who had started on the medium tyre and intended to one-stop, mirroring his strategy from this race in 2011.

Vettel, who had worked his way up to third from sixth on the grid, was the beneficiary of the McLaren being bottled up behind Perez, gaining seven seconds before Hamilton cleared the Sauber and finding himself just two seconds behind on the road. Vettel opted for soft tyres at his first stop while Hamilton’s mediums meant he was not able to pull away from the Red Bull driver. McLaren pitted both their men for the second and last time on lap 36, using the 11-second gap between them to do so, but Hamilton was delayed by three seconds at his stop, making him vulnerable to Vettel. Red Bull left Sebastian out on track as he was faster than both McLarens at that point, but a stroke of good luck came the champion’s way as Vitaly Petrov’s Caterham pulled over on the start-finish straight, triggering a safety car period. Vettel was perfectly placed to pit and jumped Hamilton, staying in second behind Button to the flag.

What to look out for in 2013
Melbourne’s pit lane is one of the longest of the year and this forces teams to try and run as few pitstops as possible. A single stop takes 25 seconds from pit entry to rejoining the racetrack, with the pit lane speed limit just 60km/h compared to the usual 100km/h for safety. With one stop difficult but not impossible, evidenced by successive points finishes for Sergio Perez in 2011 and 2012, two stops is the most common way to secure victory in Melbourne. The first seven drivers in last years race all stopped twice, with first stops ranging from laps 13-19 and second stops across laps 34-37. Sergio Perez repeated his 2011 trick by only stopping once, switching from medium to the softer option tyres on lap 24. This enabled him to make use of the faster tyres at a time when more rubber had been laid down, reducing the likelihood of serious degradation and this allowed him to convert his 17th place on the grid into a handy four points with an 8th place.

Kimi Raikkonen opted against an all-out-attack three-stop race, which he could have theoretically done having failed to make it out of Q1, meaning he had three untouched sets of soft tyres plus new mediums with which to push all race long. The reason he didn’t do it? Because he would have had to have made up 25 seconds on those drivers stopping only twice, in order to negate the effect of the extra stop. As it was, the pace of the Lotus, allied to good tyre management, was enough to propel the Iceman up through the field to take seventh.

Who rules the roost in Melbourne?
With three victories in Melbourne, all won in the last four years, Jenson Button is the most successful of the current field to have raced in the Australian Grand Prix. Jenson won in 2009 for Brawn and enjoyed twin successes for McLaren in 2010 and 2012. Button’s average finishing position at the Australian Grand Prix throughout his career is a modest 7.5, with his former McLaren teammate enjoying the best average finish of the current field at 3.0. Lewis has won the race once – in 2008 – and finished on the podium three times in his six career races in Australia. Fernando Alonso boasts the same record of one win and three podiums, but his debut season with Minardi in 2001 saw him finish a lowly 19th which drags his average finish down to 5.2 across 11 Australian Grands Prix contested by the Spaniard. 2001 aside, Alonso has finished in the points in every race since 2003 and only once has been lower than fifth.

Other drivers to win in Australia include Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen, who was victorious in his first race for Ferrari in 2007, and Sebastian Vettel at the start of his second championship campaign in 2011. Home favourite Mark Webber has endured a torrid time at this race – he’s notched up four DNFs and a best finish of fourth, which came in last year’s race. Countryman Daniel Ricciardo scored two points on his debut down under, coming ninth in the 2012 race.

Tyre wear: 5/10
Pirelli are pushing for two to three stops in every race this year. One-stoppers may be a touch too far this year with a softer overall tyre range so expect to see two and three-stop strategies in Melbourne.

Downforce: 7/10
With several fast sections book-ended by second or third gear corners, the teams tend to run a higher overall downforce setting to stay quick in the slower sections.

Average speed: 7/10
Melbourne is a fast, flowing track with the cars exceeding 180mph on several occasions.

Track difficulty: 5/10
A proliferation of second and third gear corners won’t pose the field too many problems, but it’s vital to get the fast left-right flick at Turns 11 and 12 right in order to post the quickest laptime.

Overtaking: 4/10
Double DRS zones should enable overtakes to happen into Turn 3, with Turn 9 also a good passing spot. There were 45 overtakes in total last year, six of which were DRS-assisted.

Spectacle: 7/10
Australia is a great venue for the opening race of the season. Albert Park is loud, vibrant and full of atmosphere with the Aussie fans coming out in droves to welcome the sport to their shores every season.

Driver’s view – Charles Pic, Caterham F1 Team
“I’m looking forward to returning to Melbourne, this time for my first race with Caterham F1 Team and I think it’s going to be a good weekend. Melbourne itself is a very nice city. It’s good to go from the end of the cold European winter to the hotter weather of Australia and even though the hours you spend flying mean you arrive feeling a bit destroyed, it’s the same for everyone and I’m feeling good physically and mentally so it won’t be an issue. The circuit itself is very cool. It’s quick but as it’s a temporary street circuit the cars run with high downforce and it’s a good challenge to get a really clean lap in. FP1 is always quiet as the track is very green for the early part of the session, but it evolves a lot over the weekend and you need to time your qualifying lap right to make the most of the rubber that’s being laid down.”

Paul Hembery, Pirelli Motorsport Director
“We’re bringing the P Zero White medium tyres and P Zero Red Supersoft to Australia: the first time that we have nominated this particular combination for Melbourne. We’ve deliberately gone for a more extreme tyre choice than last year that delivers extra performance, but this should still result in between two and three pit stops per car: our target for the year. There was quite a lot of degradation in testing, but this will be reduced once we get to the warmer conditions of Melbourne, where the tyres should be operating within their intended working range. Albert Park is a temporary venue, so we would expect to find a very slippery and ‘green’ surface when we arrive, but the grip level will improve considerably once the track begins to rubber in over the course of the weekend.”

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