After counting the days – all 1112 of ’em – Andrew Westacott settles on a cliche as Formula 1 returns to Melbourne for the 2022 Australian Grand Prix
“The old saying absence makes the heart grow fonder is well and truly relevant here,” Westacott told AAP, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation CEO, is buzzing about Albert Park after a two-year absence because of COVID.
On March 13, 2020, as fans queued, Westacott and F1 chiefs called off the Melbourne race.
Australia then missed two editions of the F1 season because of COVID-related complications, and the days added up for Westacott: “It’s 1112 days since they were last on track to this year when they will be on track for the first time.
“Because of Australia’s status and situation it has been a long, long time between races. People use the term resilience. It really has tested the resilience of our staff. It has just been false start after false start. To get to the here and now, I’m so happy.”
Australian organisers used the COVID-enforced absence to sculpt the Albert Park circuit
Five corners have been widened; two corners removed; the entire track resurfaced for the first time since laid in 1995.
“It wasn’t dangerous, but it was cracking up a bit,” Westacott explained. “It needed to be resurfaced so … let’s use it as an opportunity to evolve the track, improve the racing.
“The objective of the geometric changes we have made was to combine with the spec changes of the cars to produce better, more exciting racing. And some more opportunities for overtaking and therefore more uncertainty, unpredictability, in the race result.
“All of that is going to be making it, at the very least, a completely different drive for every driver – it’s brand new. And that is going to be great … no-one has driven this circuit,” added Westacott.
After consecutive double-podiums, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc (45 points) and teammate Carlos Sainz (33) lead from Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen (25), a winner last-start in Saudi Arabia.
Daniel Ricciardo failed to finish in Saudi Arabia after placing 14th in the season-opener in Bahrain.
Ricciardo is the sole Australian driver on a F1 podium in Melbourne, albeit briefly. After finishing second in 2014 for Red Bull Racing, he was disqualified for his car breaking fuel flow rules.
Local hero Ricciardo is struggling as his McLaren team grapples with the new F1 rules
This season’s technical tinkering – front and rear wing alterations, change to 18-inch from 13-inch rims, chassis changes, removing side barge-boards.
But Westacott is loving the new rules: “It is definitely going to be more of a level playing field. The two races that have started the season this year have shown that the spec changes for the cars are absolutely producing better racing.
“The different interpretations of all the teams is showing that some teams have done a literally better job than others. And Ferrari are one of those teams that has really got the jump on the other teams, made the biggest leap forward, and hence have two double-podiums.”
Westacott expected around 140,000 people among many new grandstands at Albert Park on Saturday and Sunday, while corporate support of the race remained strong: “We are ecstatic. It has been a real grind for everyone for a couple of years.
“This is vindication and it’s fantastic and this shows that people want to come to Melbourne for quality international sport,” added the AusGP boss.
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