I love Albert Park; it’s a circuit that really puts drivers to the test. It’s a half-and-half mix between street circuit and race track, with a really bumpy surface that’s tough on tyres. There are two high-speed sections, but the majority of corners are rated as low or medium speed, so you need to try and put as much downforce on the car as possible. Overtaking is tricky here but not impossible. It’s usually pretty close between a move coming off and ending badly, which is why we see a lot of safety cars.
Another factor is the weather, which can be blistering hot one day and freezing cold the next. You really do get four seasons in one day here! There have been race weekends in the past with temperatures in the teens during qualifying, but rising well into the thirties during the race. It can change very quickly, so you have to keep one eye on the forecast and set the car up to be able to cope with every scenario.
In terms of layout, the end of the start / finish straight is the fastest section with quite heavy braking into Turn One. It’s so easy to out-brake yourself here and there’s always a few tense moments over the course of the weekend as drivers push the limits. You quite often see incidents on the first lap here too as it’s pretty tight which, added to the adrenaline of that first race start of a new season, has created plenty of drama over the years.
Turn Three offers the best overtaking opportunity, but it’s far from easy to make a pass stick. You have to get a good exit from the first two corners and be brave and decisive when you make your move. Aside from that, it’s through the final two turns, 15 and 16, that you really want the car to work best. These are very slow and are where the most lap time can be gained from the car. A good run through here determines your speed down the start / finish straight.
The circuit at Albert Park is not a permanent race track. Outside of the Formula 1 week, parts of the circuit are used by ordinary traffic. Consequently, the surface is generally very dirty and greasy on the first day of practice and it takes a while before it develops the right amount of grip. It’s also essential to take it steady over the kerbs.
In principle, overtaking around the Albert Park Circuit is difficult. This year, however, there should definitely be more opportunities thanks to the boost provided by the two electric motors. For a period of 33.3 seconds per lap, we have an additional 160 horsepower available. That gives you plenty to play with. The best place to try it is through the corner at the end of the home straight. It’s possible to pull off some great overtaking manoeuvres there. At Turn One, you put the driver ahead under pressure, then you finish the move at Turn Three. Apart from that, Turn 12 in Sector 3 can also be a key point. This is the fastest corner on the track, and it is especially exciting for spectators watching the race there.
Another factor is fuel consumption, which is relatively high in Melbourne. Managing the new 100 kg maximum fuel allowance this year will play an important role. My engineers have told me that this new fuel limit will be a real challenge at Albert Park. Fuel economy is not just a matter of engine settings; much will also depend on individual driving styles. We have to drive efficiently, which means, for example, coming off the gas at the end of the straights, even before you’ve reached the actual braking zone.
One special feature of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne is the late afternoon start time. Up until the middle of the race, the sun is so low in the sky that you’re staring right at it on some of the straights and you’re in danger of not seeing the braking points. This is something that complicates the race even further.