Australian Grand Prix: McLaren preview Melbourne

Formula One Testing, Jerez, Spain, Day Two, Wednesday 29 January 2014.

The vibrant, coastal city of Melbourne has been Formula 1’s regular starting point for almost two decades. Its narrow run-offs, low grip surface and unpredictable weather, allied to the fact that it offers the drivers their first chance to blow away the cobwebs after the long winter break, means the Australian Grand Prix is invariably frantic, thrilling and unpredictable.

Albert Park facts & stats

The circuit: Albert Park is a tricky venue at which to kick off the season. Built through parkland outside Melbourne’s CBD, it’s a temporary racetrack, which means the asphalt is very slippery during the early laps of practice, and the stop-start nature of its 5.3km layout makes it tough on brakes and rear tyres. This year, there’s the added complication of the new-for-2014 power units, which are very torquey and could prove especially difficult for the drivers if there is any rain over the weekend.

The majority of Albert Park’s 16 corners are second and third-gear, but a couple of fast chicanes make it important to have a well-balanced and responsive car. There are several places around the lap where the cars need to ride the kerbs effectively in order to be quick, so a lot of work is done during the practice sessions to perfect the suspension settings. The drivers’ most common set-up complaint is understeer – a result of the smooth, low-grip asphalt.

The race: Pirelli are taking their Medium and Soft rubber compounds to the race. The Soft tyre will give better one-lap performance, but the Medium compound will have better durability, and will most likely be the better race-tyre. On paper, this looks like being a two-stop race, but the likelihood of drivers needing to back off to save fuel due to this year’s 100kg fuel limit could result in a multitude of different strategies.

The team: McLaren has a good record at Albert Park, with six of the team’s 11 Australian Grand Prix wins coming at this venue. Jenson Button has won the race three times, and twice with McLaren Mercedes, while his new team-mate Kevin Magnussen makes his much anticipated F1 debut this weekend.

Weather Australia starts slipping into autumn as F1 arrives – race weekend is usually warm and sunny, but unexpected rain sometimes sweeps in across Port Phillip Bay.

DRS zones: One along the start/finish straight, the other on the approach to Turn Three. This year, DRS effect is expected to be less significant than in previous years

Turbo effect: Turbo F1 cars have never previously raced at Albert Park, so it’s new territory. The torque produced by the 2014 power units is such that drivers can, if necessary, take each corner one gear higher than previously.

Safety Car likelihood:There was no Safety Car period during last year’s race – but that was the exception rather than the norm. In the 18 races staged at Albert Park to date, more than 50 percent have featured the Safety Car at least once.

Grid advantage: The smooth, low grip surface at Albert Park results in there being no meaningful grip advantage on either side of the grid

Pitlane time: Albert Park has a relatively long pitlane – a typical pitstop takes 23s to complete (20s moving + 3s stationary)

McLaren at the Australian Grand Prix

  • Wins: 11 (1986, 1988, 1991, 1992, 1993 – Adelaide; 1997,  1998, 2003, 2008, 2010, 2012 – Melbourne)
  • Poles: 10 (1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1993 – Adelaide; 1998, 1999, 2000, 2008, 2012 – Melbourne)
  • Fastest laps: 8 (1988, 1991 – Adelaide; 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2012 – Melbourne)