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F1 makes its yearly trip to Australia, visiting the high-speed Albert Park Street Circuit. After a two-year absence, the series returned to Melbourne last year, meeting a slightly different Australian GP layout.
The Albert Part Circuit underwent a redesign in 2021 in anticipation for the F1 race. That year’s edition ended up being cancelled, delaying the new layout’s debut to 2022. Now, drivers already have one year of experience on the reprofiled Albert Park track.
Australian GP Layout: A Favorite Among Drivers and Fans
Originally home of a few non-championship F1 rounds in the 1950s, Albert Park had a very similar layout – but in the counter-clockwise direction. The track made its debut as an official championship round in 1996, shifting to the modern layout used until the 2019 edition.
For 2021, the event’s organizers decided to make a number of changes to the Australian GP layout, in a bid to improve overtaking.
Most notably, the new layout had a completely reprofiled section after turn 8. The redesigned section removed the old turns 9 and 10 chicane, making it into a high-speed right-left sweepers. It made it easier for cars to follow each other around, providing a massive slipstream.
Other changes included a tighter entry into turn 11, as well as widers turns 1, 3, 6 and 13.
Drivers praised the new layout, saying that the high-speed sections had little room for error.
Better Racing, Not Much Overtaking
Although the Albert Park F1 track layout has always been a favorite among fans and drivers alike, it must be said that the track doesn’t see a lot of overtaking action.
While drivers could follow each other around as a result of the new aero regulations and the changes to the track’s design, it didn’t exactly translate into overtaking action.
In all fairness, the Australian Grand Prix hasn’t been known for its overtaking prowess. Just as the drivers said last year, the Albert Park Circuit has always been respected for its ability to end someone’s weekend in the blink of an eye. With walls, gravel traps and grass runoffs all around the track, drivers have no room for mistakes. Even a small lock up or a minor wobble can lead to a costly crash.
The Albert Park track has a good combination of high and medium speed corners. Its current layout has 14 turns in total.
The braking zones into turns 1, 3, 11 and 13 usually provide drivers with good overtaking opportunities. Turn 3 is also a tricky section, as drivers coming out of the pits merge back just before the braking zone. Fast corners, such as 5 and 6, allow drivers to follow the car ahead, but don’t offer any overtaking opportunities.
Albert Park DRS Zones: Back to Four for 2023
One of the most notable features introduced in 2022 was the addition of a new DRS zone for the long, flat-out section exiting turn 8. It generated plenty of controversy, as drivers voiced their concerns about the closing speeds around the section. Cars coming in on hot laps often had to avoid others on cooldown or on out laps, leading to some scary near-misses.
Following the drivers’ feedback, the DRS zone was scrapped after the two free practice sessions on Friday. But that DRS zone is back for 2023, as organizers hope for a different result this time around.
Albert Park has two DRS detection points. The first one is located on the exit of turn 6, while the second detection point is on the entrance to turn 13. DRS zone 1 goes down the main straight, providing what is arguably the best overtaking opportunity heading into the heavy braking zone for turn 1.
The second DRS zone comes right after that, as drivers exit turn 2. It is a short one, on the run down to the heavy braking turn 3. Both zones use turn 13 as the detection point.
Drivers have a few more corners to set up their next overtaking opportunity, as the third DRS zone doesn’t come up until turn 8. The third DRS zone is the controversial one, scrapped from last year’s edition. Drivers have a fast sequence of sweepers from right to left, leading to a long, flat-out left-hander heading into turn 9.
Since the turn 9-10 complex only requires two small flicks, it isn’t exactly a prime overtaking opportunity – as Carlos Sainz learned the hard way last year. Ideally, drivers want to complete their move within the DRS zone.
The fourth and final DRS zone comes right after turn 10, down the short straight heading into turn 11. This is another good overtaking opportunity, with drivers going heavy on the brakes into 11.
The Albert Park Circuit is an FIA Grade 1 track, with 44,000 seats and an overall capacity for 125,000 visitors. It uses most of the park’s everyday structure to accomodate fans around the in-field.
The grandstands, fences and run-off zones are usually put in place a few months before the Grand Prix.
Albert Park Circuit Racing History
Albert Park had an epic first race. Former CART superstar and then-reigning Indy 500 champion Jacques Villeneuve made his highly-anticipated F1 debut in 1996, driving for Williams. Villeneuve scored the pole position in qualifying, and looked to be on the way to a comfortable win until an oil leak denied him. Hill managed to get by and won the race ahead of his rookie teammate, who narrowly missed out on the chance to win on his first start.
In 2002, the race was marked by a massive turn 1 pile-up, which wiped out pole-sitter Rubens Barrichello and Ralf Schumacher.
Fast forwarding six years, 2008 had one of the craziest races in recent memory. Between crashes and mechanical issues, only six drivers saw the checkered flag. Kazuki Nakajima, the last of the six, finished a lap down on race winner Lewis Hamilton. Kimi Raikkonen scored a point as the last classified driver, but did not make it to the checkered flag.
The following year’s edition saw Brawn GP score a popular 1-2 in its debut, with Jenson Button setting the tone for his title-winning campaign. The 2010 edition was a wet-dry-wet race with plenty of attrition again. Sebastian Vettel spun out from the lead with a loose tyre, opening the way for Button to go back-to-back in Melbourne.
What Lies Ahead for 2023
We can expect a significantly different race compared to 2022. Charles Leclerc dominated last year’s Grand Prix, comfortably winning from pole with a 20-second margin over Sergio Perez. In fact, the Monegasque scored a grand chelem – scoring a pole, win, fastest lap and leading every single lap.
Of course, Ferrari isn’t as strong anymore. Red Bull enters the weekend as the team to beat, having dominated in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Albert Park, however, hasn’t been exactly kind to the Austrain powerhouse, which only has one win at the Australian track. Albert Park’s high-speed nature should favor the RB19 though, and Red Bull Racing can finally end its 12-year winningless streak in Australia.
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