FIA preview, Australian Grand Prix, Melbourne

Fans and flags. Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday 15 March 2012.

Flags fly over the Melbourne pit lane

Mar.15 (FIA-Reuters) Melbourne once again takes its place as the traditional opening round of the F1 season and, as ever, it presents teams with a unique set of challenges. Firstly, it’s a temporary circuit that is rarely raced upon, so it takes time to ‘rubber in’ over the race weekend, with grip improving gradually with each session. This means that early weekend offs are common, so expect to see a few red-faced drivers limping damaged cars back to the pits on Friday.

Track workers. Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday 14 March 2012.

Final touches to Albert Park

It’s also a tight track which means that first corner chaos is never far away. Indeed, in 2008, five drivers were eliminated at the start, while in 2002, 22 cars went into turn one but only 14 emerged. Because of the close confines, the Safety Car is also a race-day regular and it has put in an appearance at six of the last ten Australian Grands Prix. Finally, with the teams all bringing largely unproven machinery to Melbourne, the attrition rate is generally high, although things have improved since 2000 when a whopping 11 cars had mechanical failures. Last year just three of the seven non-finishers retired because of mechanical problems.

For 2012, defending champion Sebastian Vettel returns, to begin his bid for a hat-trick of consecutive World Drivers’ titles, a feat only achieved previously by Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher. Last year Vettel enjoyed an outstanding campaign, claiming the title with four races in hand and in the process bypassing Nigel Mansell’s 1992 record for most pole positions in a season, with 15. Since then F1e has seen some significant changes, the most crucial being the disallowing of the exhaust blown diffusers that provided teams with so much downforce. The new strictures should mean even closer competition, and with a number of teams impressing in testing, the destination of the title, and indeed this race trophy, is far from guaranteed.

Albert Park Circuit

  • Length of lap: 5.303km
  • Fastest lap: 1:25.125 (Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, 2004)
  • Start line/finish line offset: 0.000km
  • Total number of race laps: 58
  • Total race distance: 307.574km
  • Pitlane speed limits: 60km/h during practice, 100km/h during race

Changes to circuit since 2011

  • “Speed bumps” will be installed behind the kerb of turn 4 to prevent drivers running wide on the exit of turn 3 and rejoining between turns 4 and 5.
  • A new section of kerb will be added after the existing kerb on the exit of turn 4.
  • The kerb on the apex of turn 5 will be extended by approximately ten metres.
  • The kerb on the apex of turn 13 will be extended by approximately six metres.
  • The angle of the wall relative to the track on the left on the exit of turns 4 and 12 will be reduced.
  • The tyre barrier on the drivers’ left after turn 12 will be shortened where the wall is parallel to the track.
  • The tyre barrier on the drivers’ right after turn 12 will be extended.

Australian Grand Prix Fast Facts:

  • Second placed Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) Williams FW18, who took pole position on his GP debut and led most of the race, leads his team mate and race winner Damon Hill (GBR) Williams FW18.  Australian Grand Prix, Rd 1, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, 10 March 1996.

    Jacques Villeneuve during the first Australian GP held in Melbourne back in 1996

    This will be the 28th running of the Australian Grand Prix and the 15th time the race at Albert Park has opened an F1 season, Melbourne having staged the race since 1996.

  • It is the first time in F1 history that six champions will line up on the grid. They are: Michael Schumacher (’94-’95, 2000-’04), Fernando Alonso (2005-’06), Kimi Raikkonen (2007), Lewis Hamilton (’08), Jenson Button (’09) and Sebastian Vettel (2010-’11).
  • Raikkonen’s comeback with Lotus has been the big news of the off-season. ‘The Iceman’ left F1 at the end of 2009, having scored 18 wins, 62 podium finishes and having won the 2007 Drivers’ title. It wasn’t enough, however, and he quit Ferrari to take on a new challenge in the World Rally Championship. There he drove for the Citroën Junior Team and then last year his own Ice 1 team. He posted a best finish of fifth at the 2010 Turkish round.
  • There are three ‘new’ teams on the grid this year. The F1 Commission having last year approved name changes for Lotus Renault, Team Lotus and Virgin Racing, and this season the trio will line up as Lotus F1 Team, Caterham F1 Team and Marussia F1 Team.
  • While some have cast Daniel Ricciardo and Romain Grosjean as rookies, both have a number of grands prix under their belts. Ricciardo raced 11 times for HRT last season and Grosjean raced seven times for Renault in 2009. There are just two true rookies on the grid this year, in the shape of Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne and Marussia’s Charles Pic. Vergne comes to F1 having won the British F3 Championship in 2010 and finishing second in Formula Renault 3.5 last season. Pic, meanwhile, joins Marussia after finishing fourth in last year’s GP2 Championship.
  • The arrival of Grosjean, Pic and Vergne has, however, given F1 a French flavour for the first time since Grosjean raced in ‘09. Indeed, it’s the biggest contingent of French drivers since the Brazilian GP of 1999, when Stéphane Sarrazin made his single race appearance, lining up alongside Jean Alesi and Olivier Panis.
  • The last Frenchman to score a points at the Australian GP was Sébastien Bourdais, with seventh place and two points in 2008. The last Frenchman on the podium here was Panis, who was second for Ligier in 1995.
  • Ricciardo’s presence on the grid alongside countryman Mark Webber means that for the first time In F1 history two Australians will start their home race.
  • HRT have a new team principal making his race debut this weekend – Luis Pérez Sala. His last Australian GP appearance was in 1989, when he was driving for Minardi in the last of the 32 grands prix he contested. Unfortunately, he failed to qualify. Hopefully this weekend will go better!

Race Stewards Biographies:

  • Paul Gutjahr started racing in the late 1960s with Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Lotus and Porsche, then March in Formula 3. In the early ’70s he became President of the Automobile Club Berne and organised numerous events.He acted as President of the organising committee of the Swiss GP at Dijon from 1980-82. From 1980-2005 he acted as President of the Commission Sportive Nationale de l’Automobile Club de Suisse and in 2005 he became President and board member of the Auto Sport Suisse motor sports club. Gutjahr is President of the Alliance of European Hill Climb Organisers and has been steward at various high-level international competitions. He was the Formula 3000 Sporting Commissioner and has been an F1 steward since 1995.
  • Johnny Herbert’s motor sport career began in 1974, aged 10, in karts. Five years later he was British junior karting champion and by 1985 he’d won the Formula Ford Festival. A year later he took the Formula Ford 2000 title, while also competing in Formula 3. In 1987 Herbert won the British F3 title and the F3 Super Grand Prix, successes which led to F1 tests with Benetton that year and in 1988 with Team Lotus. But that same season brought a near-career-ending Formula 3000 accident. He recovered to race for the Benetton F1 team in 1989 and had a 160-race career, winning three grands prix before his retirement at the end of 2000. Herbert also won Le Mans, with Mazda, in 1991 and continued to race sportscars post F1. He still races and last year competed in the VW Scirocco R Cup and the 24 Hours of Spa.
  • Vincenzo Spano was born in Italy and grew up in Venezuela, where he went on to study at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, becoming an attorney-at-law. Spano has wide-ranging experience in motor sport, from national to international level. He has worked for the Touring y Automóvil Club de Venezuela since 1991, and served as President of the Sporting Commission since 2001. He was president for two terms and now sits as member of the Board of the Nacam-FIA zone. Since 1995 Spano has been a licenced steward and obtained his FIA steward superlicence in 2003.Spano has been involved with the FIA and FIA Institute in various roles since 2001: a member of the World Motor Sport Council, the FIA Committee, and the executive committee of the FIA Institute.

Champions:

  • Both Vettel and Alonso can become the youngest ever triple champion.
  • Schumacher, 43, would be the oldest champion since Fangio, then 46, in 1957 were he to win an eighth title.
  • Vettel’s second crown meant Germany (with nine) are now second behind Britain (14), and ahead of Brazil (eight), in the national list of most drivers’ championships won.

Wins:

  • Ferrari have won 216 grands prix, McLaren 175, Williams 113 and Red Bull 27.
  • Schumacher holds the record for driver victories with 91. Alonso has the second highest tally among current drivers with 27 and is fifth equal in the all-time list.
  • Vettel has 21, Raikkonen 18, Hamilton 17, Button 12.
  • Raikkonen’s last win was in Belgium with Ferrari in 2009. Schumacher’s last win was in China with Ferrari in 2006.

Pole positions:

  • Vettel took 15 pole positions in 2011, the most anyone has achieved in a single season.
  • Red Bull took 18 poles last year, a record for a team.
  • Ferrari’s last pole was with Alonso in Singapore in September 2010.

Points:

  • Caterham (formerly Team Lotus and Lotus Racing), Marussia (Previously Virgin Racing) and HRT have yet to score a point in two seasons of competing.

Australia:

  • The home country has two drivers on the grid in cars capable of scoring points. No Australian has won his home race and no two Australians have so far scored points in the same grand prix.
  • Only four Australians have scored points in Formula One: Jack Brabham, Alan Jones, Tim Schenken and Mark Webber.
  • Button has won two of the last three Australian Grands Prix.
  • Melbourne has been the season-opener on 14 previous occasions. The only other city to host the Australian round is Adelaide, from 1985-95.
  • Since 2002, the winner in Australia has ended the season as champion on seven occasions. The exceptions were David Coulthard in 2003, Giancarlo Fisichella in 2005 and Button in 2010.

Drivers:

  • Since 1950, 59 drivers have scored points on their F1 debuts. The last was Britain’s Paul Di Resta, who finished 10th in Melbourne last year after the Sauber drivers were excluded.
  • This year’s rookies (those starting their first full season) are Australian Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso) and French trio Romain Grosjean (Lotus), Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso) and Charles Pic (Marussia).
  • Only Vergne and Pic will be starting their first grand prix.
  • Italy has no driver in a season-opener for the first time since 1970.

Milestone:

  • Sauber are starting their 20th season in Formula One (including five seasons as BMW-Sauber).
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