After two opening rounds in the Middle East, the 2023 Formula 1 World Championship is in Melbourne this weekend for the Rolex Australian Grand Prix. This event used to be the opening round for a long time but that ended in 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although some teams had expressed reservations about participating as the pandemic began to look very serious, the organizers wanted to go ahead. It seemed like it was on until government authorities ordered the race to be cancelled – just 2 hours before the first practice was to be run.
In 2021, the Australian GP was again chosen as the opening round but due to the restrictions on travellers, it was moved to November, but cancelled in July. 2022 was the first year that the F1 round returned to Australia and a new contract extends the venue till 2035. The event will also be one of the first 3 rounds of each season, and will be the opening round for at least 5 seasons.
This is the 37th F1 Grand Prix in Australia and it has been held at the Albert Park Street Circuit since 1996. Between 1985, when the first GP was held, until 1995, the race was run in Adelaide, also on a street circuit.
The Albert Park circuit was resurfaced in 2022 with some metallic elements included in the aggregate, improving the grip from the tyres. The asphalt is smoother than other tracks on the championship, with peak grip only achieved after several sessions of on-track running. Some of the turns were widened and a chicane has also been removed, with the track length being reduced to 5.278 kms.
According to Pirelli, the energy demands on the tyres at the Australian GP are about average for the season, with contained levels of abrasion. The new layout inaugurated last year favours overtaking, especially in the second sector. A car set-up biased towards traction can be particularly helpful on the exit of corners to increase the chance of a successful overtaking move on the circuit’s short straights.
On every lap around the circuit, the drivers use the brakes 6 times, for less than 9 seconds per lap. This is one of the lowest times in the entire championship together with the Miami and Monza tracks, which amounts to 9% of the duration of the entire 58-lap race.
The one exception is the slight braking on Turn 9 where the speed of the racing cars drops by just 33 km/h whereas the other 5 braking events are all on right-hand corners. The brakes, on the other hand, are not needed on Turn 5 which is named after Niki Lauda – even though he only raced once in Australia.
Heading into Round 3, reigning World Champion Max Verstappen is just 1 point ahead of his team mate, Sergio Perez, who failed to qualify today and starts the race from the very back. Verstappen’s single-point lead comes from having put in a last-minute effort to clock the fastest lap which carries one bonus point.
Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso is in third after taking his second podium in Saudi Arabia, while Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Mercedes-AMG’s Lewis Hamilton are tied for fourth place in the Driver’s Championship.
Among the Constructors, Red Bull Racing has already pulled ahead with 87 points after two rounds, 49 points ahead of both Aston Martin and Mercedes-AMG. Ferrari comes after with a gap of 12 points. Yet to pick up any points are McLaren and Scuderia Alphatauri.