Formula 1

F1 teams and drivers prepare for no walk at Albert Park

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As preparations continue in Melbourne ahead of this weekend's season-opening Australian Grand Prix, teams will face an unique challenge once the action gets underway on Friday.

Albert Park is essentially a street circuit as the layout winds around the roads that surround the lake in the centre of the park, however unlike any other non-permanent track it features many of the same safety features of a normal purpose-built facility.

That is because gravel is put down on the outside of all the corners especially for the Grand Prix weekend and there are only a handful of areas on the circuit where there is a risk of hitting the concrete walls.

The reason why large lengths were taken to make Albert Park as close to a normal circuit as possible was because this race was created in the months after Ayrton Senna's tragic death at Imola in 1994 and proceeding several big crashes at the former city circuit that hosted the Australian race in Adelaide.

Facts and stats about Albert Park

The first race took place at Albert Park in 1996 making this year the 20th running of the race in Melbourne and the main statistics show a circuit measuring 5.3 kilometres, 16 corners running in a clockwise direction and a race distance of 58 laps.

The circuit requires medium-to-high downforce wing levels with the majority of corners slow-to-medium speed. Being a street circuit grip levels are usually low but dramatically improve over the weekend with Pirelli taking a slightly more conservative route with soft and medium tyres being used for the second straight year.

Overtaking is possible with four potential passing places and the DRS zones will again be located along the main straight into turn one and down the proceeding straight to turn three with a solitary detection point before turn 15.

The signature part of this track is the high-speed chicane at turns 11 and 12 with precision essential thanks to a narrow exit and both apexes at this left, right combination hit at around 230kph.

There are a few traditional aspects of a street circuit with 90-degree turns, chicanes and a low maximum speed of only 305kph but interesting it is one of only four circuits without a hairpin and does feature four high-speed straights.

Given the confined nature of some parts of the circuit the chances of a safety car are reasonably high and the first corner has seen quite a few crashes over the years as Kamui Kobayashi and Felipe Massa can confirm from last year. Being the first race attrition can sometimes be an issue as was proven as recently as 2008 when only five cars completed the full race distance and eight classified in the post-race results.

Guide to a good lap

Before I go into greater detail about the circuit layout enjoy an on-board lap with Lewis Hamilton from last year by clicking on the link here.

Now to identify the key areas around Albert Park beginning with the tricky turn one. In effect it is a 90-degree right but with a small apex and narrow exit through the sweeping left of turn two many cars run wide onto the Astroturf  and as mentioned first lap collisions are quite common.

A good exit is needed too as it leads onto another high-speed straight into the best overtaking spot on the circuit into turn three.

A tight right-hander the slightly curved approached makes braking a little harder as some run too wide on the approach, for a driver who defends a passing attempt on the inside, the wider line on the exit is less grippy so a driver who cuts back from outside often gets more traction to complete the move on the short run to turn four.

Turn five used to be one of the great challenges to take flat-out but has gotten easier in recent years, any error through there is still heavily punished but incidents are much more rare nowadays.

The chicane at nine and ten follow the same principles as turns one and two and overtaking is also possible into the tighter right though a bumpy braking zone makes any attempted pass risky.

The final sector is relatively straight forward following the high-speed chicane at 11 and 12 but the run from turn 15 through 16 is still a challenge as drivers attempt to get maximum traction and carry as much speed as possible through the final corner without running wide on the exit, that lead back onto the pit straight to complete a lap.

Nowhere better to start the season

Overall Albert Park is one of those circuits that no-one puts in the same category as Spa or Monaco but it is also rarely on people's list of least favourite tracks neither. The Australian fans always provide a great atmosphere and for those watching in Europe the early morning Sunday start is always the perfect way to kick-off a new F1 season.

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