Since 1996, Formula One has made its annual visit to Melbourne towards the beginning of the season, and the Australian Grand Prix has acted as the curtain-raiser for fifteen of the last seventeen F1 seasons. The warm and humid climate acts as a complete opposite to winter testing, with the race the first real chance for drivers and teams to get to grips with their 2013 machinery under race conditions. Although many believe it’s not how you start a season but how you finish, just twice since the turn of the century has the eventual world champion not finished on the podium at the opening round.
Albert Park is a challenge for the drivers, as the street circuit gives their cars a true shakedown for the season to come. Jenson Button holds the best record at the Australian Grand Prix of the current drivers, with three wins in the past four years. Besides Button, Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have also all claimed wins at the race – all five drivers are world champions.
A large number of retirements is not uncommon in Australia. Drivers can sometimes be caught out by the tight and twisty nature of the circuit, which means that a safety car is likely (four in 2006), and this will be taken into account by the teams when formulating their strategies. Due to the tight turn one, a good grid position is crucial in Melbourne to avoid getting caught up in any accidents off the start.
Predicting a winner at the start of any season is largely guess-work, but Jenson Button’s success in Australia makes him an early favorite. Tire wear is particularly high at the track, and with the new tires even more aggressive for 2013, conservative drivers such as Button, Sergio Perez and Romain Grosjean will be in with a good chance of scoring highly. This race may also present the best chance of the season for Marussia and Caterham to score some points due to the high rate of attrition, but the front runners must also pay heed to the first rule in Formula One: to finish first, first you have to finish.
Track: Albert Park, Melbourne (5.3km)
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher 1:24.125 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Super-Soft (Option); Medium (Prime)
2012 Winner: Jenson Button (McLaren)
2012 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
2012 Fastest Lap: Jenson Button – 1:29.187
DRS Zones: Main straight (T16 to T1); T2 to T3
Friday – Free Practice 1: 12:30pm local/21:30pm ET
Friday – Free Practice 2: 16:30pm local/1:30am ET
Saturday – Free Practice 3: 14:00pm local/11:00pm ET
Saturday – Qualifying: 17:00pm local/2:00am ET
Sunday – Race: 17:00pm local time, 2am ET