The city of Melbourne will welcome Formula One back after a two-year hiatus, for the first Australian Grand Prix since March 2019.
Just as the teams and drivers have started to get a handle on the all-new 2022 cars, they must now familiarise themselves with a revamped Albert Park that has undergone plenty of modifications since F1's last visit.
Traditionally the season-opener, Melbourne has proudly been part of the FIA Formula One World Championship since its first Grand Prix back in 1996.
At first glance, the circuit may appear like a dedicated facility with grass verges and run-off areas, but when F1 isn't in town, Albert Park's roads are publically accessible for city residents. As a result, the 5.275km track can be bumpy in areas – adding to the spectacle, as the cars hurtle through the leafy park surroundings.
The new layout sees several corners widened – at Turns 1, 3, 6, 13, and 15 – but the most dramatic change is the removal of the Turn 9/10 chicane and a far more acute entry into Turn 13 to encourage overtaking.
There are four DRS zones and 14 corners for the drivers to tackle in Melbourne as they vie for supremacy in the 58 Lap race.
What are the drivers saying?
Nicholas Latifi is in his third Formula One year but has yet to race down under; a challenge he is relishing:
“I'm really excited to get my first taste of racing at Albert Park”, he said.
“I've not yet driven there with Formula One, although I did get to explore the venue in 2020 and I thought Melbourne was an incredible place.
“The circuit itself looks really fun, so to experience the whole event will be great. The new track changes look promising; I really hope it'll improve the racing so we’re able to put on an exciting Grand Prix for the fans after they’ve waited for so long.”
Australia is a visit to where it all started for Alex Albon, as Melbourne Park was the site of his debut F1 race back in 2019.
Alex can't wait to get back and see how the track has evolved since then:
“Melbourne is a very cool city so I'm really excited to go back after a long time away,” he revealed.
“The fans know how to have a good time in Australia which means the atmosphere at Albert Park is always great; I’m sure it’ll be even better after a couple of years without us racing there.
“There are a lot of changes to the circuit this year, so I'm excited to see how we get on and how the FW44 handles the track.
“I know the whole team will be hoping to bounce back after a tricky event in Jeddah, so we'll be pushing hard to maximise performance and do the best we can.”
From the Pit Wall
Dave Robson, Head of Vehicle Performance, is fully aware of the opportunities awaiting Williams as they return to Australia:
“Racing again in Melbourne is a fantastic indication of a progressive return to pre-pandemic normality,” he explained.
“Not being at Albert Park for two years has been a real shame and we are so pleased to be back and sampling the new circuit layout.
“Traditionally, the street circuit nature of Melbourne has made for a fantastic technical and physical challenge for the drivers, but also led to difficulty in overtaking. The revisions to the layout and DRS zones should improve this, potentially making it one of the very best circuits on the Formula One calendar.
“With the removal of the old Turn 9/Turn 10, there is one fewer chicane in the layout, but nonetheless, changes of direction at low and high speed still dominate the circuit.
“Braking stability, kerb riding and car agility therefore remain critical to the car setup. The much faster section between Turn 8 and Turn 11 will alter the trade of downforce and drag, but with driver confidence also at a premium, taking off too much downforce could be detrimental, and we can expect to see all teams experimenting on Friday.
“Adding to the complexity of the weekend is a courageous compound choice from Pirelli, with the C2 and C3 compounds being the Prime and Option as they were in Jeddah, but C5 being the Qualifying compound here in Melbourne.
“This may place significantly different demands on the car setup for qualifying and the race, but with no opportunity to change the setup on Saturday night, this compromise could be crucial.
“Following our difficult weekend in Jeddah, we are looking forward to a clean event here as we look to extract a little more potential from the FW44.
“The challenges here are different to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and so we will be open-minded and pragmatic with our approach.”
Did you know?
Alex started his F1 career strongly during the 2019 Australian Grand Prix weekend. He ended his first competitive session by out-qualifying his teammate and only missed out on Q3 by 0.104s – not bad for a rookie!
When Australia left Adelaide in favour of Melbourne's Albert Park in 1996, Damon Hill led a dominant Williams 1-2 victory, with Jacques Villeneuve taking second place in his F1 debut.
Williams Racing also won the first World Championship Australian Grand Prix event in 1985, when Keke Rosberg took his final F1 win in his farewell appearance for the team at the Adelaide Street Circuit.
Only McLaren and Ferrari have more than the five Australian Grand Prix victories that Williams boasts, with all three constructors claiming wins in both Melbourne and Adelaide.
Estimates for the new layout suggest that lap times could tumble by up to five seconds, thanks to removing the slow speed chicane at Turn 9 onwards. The redesign also has allowed the construction of five new grandstands for spectators.