Australian Grand Prix organisers will hope the days of single-lane racing at Albert Park are over as they unveil long-awaited changes to Melbourne’s lakeside circuit this week.
Albert Park has hosted Formula One’s Australian stop since the state government snatched it from Adelaide some 25 years ago, turning public roads and car parks into a race track for a few weeks every year.
Until this year, the circuit had stuck resolutely to the layout of the first race in 1996 despite the vast evolution of the cars.
Though one of the more visually pleasing tracks on the calendar, it drew criticism for lacking passing opportunities, gripes that only grew in volume as the cars sped up.
Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas won in 2019 for Mercedes — the last edition of the race before it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic — having led from the first turn, a fairly typical outcome in Melbourne. The upgrade may reduce the chances of similar processions.
It has seen the bumpy street circuit resurfaced and shortened by 28 metres, with seven corners modified and two turns taken out altogether, bringing the total down to 14.
One of the more significant changes is the widening of turn one — the scene of some memorable crashes as cars jostled for position in a narrow funnel after taking off from the grid. The corner is now 2.5m wider, giving drivers more racing lines in the crucial opening moments.
Turn six, once a tight right hander, has been widened by more than 7.5m, which is expected to hike speeds by 70km per hour; and the old chicane between turns nine and 10 has been removed, effectively transforming the section into a 1.3km straight where drivers will put the foot down.
After breakneck speeds from turn six through to turn 10, turn 11, widened by three metres, will be a key attacking zone, with the camber also altered to force harder braking to negotiate the corner.
The changes have paved the way for four DRS zones, where drivers can adjust flaps on their rear wings to reduce drag and improve their chances of overtaking. The pitlane has also been widened by two metres with the intention that its speed limit will be raised from 60kph to 80kph. This could lead to more strategic options for teams due to the reduced time spent pitting.
Organisers hope the circuit’s upgrade will prove a hit with the drivers and a thrill for returning motorsport fans.
McLaren’s Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo said fans should expect a different kind of race.
“Not taking credit, but I was a little bit involved in the talks about revamping the circuit a few years ago when they had the first idea of what to do to try to make the racing a bit better,” he told reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday.
“I think it is going to be a different spectacle this time around. We obviously have to go there now and let our actions to do the talking, but on paper I think there is promise with that.”