Between 1985 and ’95, the Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide became the venue for F1’s seasonal finale. However, since moving to Melbourne in 1996, Australia has become F1’s usual curtain-raiser, and its laidback and welcoming vibe make it the perfect location once again to kick off the FIA Formula 1 World Championship.Situated in the seaside suburb of St Kilda, Albert Park is a temporary street track that invariably produces unpredictable and exciting racing. The reasons for this are manifold: the grand prix circus arrives after a winter of hibernation with form still uneven and difficult to read; factor in the dusty and constantly evolving track surface, the proximity of the barriers, a series of challenging high-speed corners and the constant threat of autumnal rainshowers and you have all the ingredients for a classic!Race distance 58 laps (307.574km/191.110 miles)Start time 17:00 (local)/06:00 (GMT)Circuit length 5.303km/3.295 miles2011 winner Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing) 58 laps in 1hr 29m 30.259s (206.184km/h)2011 pole Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing) 1m 23.529s (228.552km/h)Lap record Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2004) 1m24.125s (226.933km/h)Car 3: Jenson Button
Age 32 (January 19 1980)GPs 208Wins 12Poles 7FLs 6Melbourne has been a great track for you – what are the highlights?“There are lots. My first grand prix was here way back in 2000 – it was just a buzz to be in Formula 1: it was pretty intense, the whole weekend just flew past pretty quickly. I had pole here in 2006 – another good memory. But I think the two most significant memories for me were, in 2009, winning from pole for Brawn GP. It was a momentous race for the entire team and it felt so sweet to give them such a reward.
“And winning here in 2010… just an incredible day. Going early for the dry tyre, then almost losing the car at Turn Three, putting the others off following my example, and then finding a rhythm and having a fantastic car underneath me. That was my first win for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes – it was completely unexpected, but a really significant result for me personally.”What is it about Melbourne that makes it so special?“It’s hard to put your finger on it. It is a special race – you step off the plane after a long, cold European winter and it’s usually very sunny and the people are incredibly welcoming. I think the circuit is a nice challenge too – it’s not a particularly technical track, but the surface is always rubbering in across the whole race weekend, and it’s a place that encourages nip-and-tuck racing. For a street track, it’s got a really good flow, you can really find a good rhythm – and it’s got some fast corners too, which is unusual for a road course.“I think the new rules have definitely made it a more competitive place – it’s easier to pass here now than it ever was. And I think the potential of a second DRS zone will be a real benefit – last year, along the startline wasn’t quite enough for overtaking – I think we’ll get more benefit from a second zone. Finally, the walls around here are close enough to keep your mind focused. I can’t remember a race here that wasn’t eventful or surprising in some way – so it’s the perfect place to kick off the season.”How confident do you feel after the winter that you’re set for a strong start to your campaign?“I’m happy with our preparations. You always want more laps and more time in the car, but, unlike last year, we’ve had a very solid start to our pre-season. It’s been very difficult to read pace over the winter because a lot of teams have been playing their cards close to their chests: I think it’s going to be extremely close, and I can’t wait to find out where we sit in the pecking order.”Car 4: Lewis HamiltonAge 27 (January 7 1985)GPs 90Wins 17Poles 19FLs 11What does Melbourne mean to you?“Melbourne is a city that has sport running through its veins – and the crowd lives and breathes it. It’s a great place to start the season. For me, Melbourne means sunshine, smiling faces, a great paddock – a bit compact but very friendly, a great city with a really positive vibe – and a racetrack that’s really made for racing. A place where you can really get the back-end of the car moving around quite nicely yet still feel like you’re fully in control of the car. The track has got a nice flow to it – I love the fast sweepers behind the pits, it’s awesome when you get them right – and it’s a place where, the more you can attack, the faster you go. My kind of place!”After just three tests – six days each in the car – do you feel prepared?“I actually feel more relaxed and ready for the new season than I think I’ve ever done. Everything has gone smoothly with the car – which is more than we can say for last year! – and it just seems to be a responsive and reliable package. My final day in the car – with the aero package we plan to run next weekend – also felt good: the car was a useful step forward.“Of course, we haven’t tested it in competition yet, but there’s plenty to feel optimistic about. It’s a bit weird to have driven the car for a whole month and still not done a really fast lap – I guess we’ll really find the limit next Saturday. Obviously, this is always the time of year when you’re feeling positive, but we’ve got plenty to look forward to. I’m going to get off the plane in Australia with a big smile on my face.”What are your hopes and aims for the Australian Grand Prix?“It’s a realistic aim: to score some useful points and use the race to kickstart our challenge for the world championship. That might sound like we’re aiming low – we’re not – but, at this time of year, it’s good to remember that it’s going to be a very long season. There’s no point putting all your eggs in one basket – I’d love to win in Melbourne, sure, but there are 19 races afterwards, so it’ll be important to get some points on the board. As long as I can leave Australia feeling confident that we have a car that’s able to fight for the title, then I’ll feel happy. It’s as simple as that.”Martin WhitmarshTeam principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes“I’ve never lost my enthusiasm, optimism or motivation for the start of each new Formula 1 season – and this year is no exception. As is often the case, you can complete thousands of kilometres of testing, analyse hundreds of thousands of lines of performance data and read pages of web and magazine editorial and still not have a clear idea of overall form going into the first race.“I think that’s an intrinsic and fascinating aspect of Formula 1: the resetting of the bar at the end of each season and the relentless, and often invisible, quest to emerge on top at the start of a new year. I think Australia will be fascinating: the winter’s testing has been so finely balanced that it’s particularly difficult accurately to judge who’ll be the quickest. And that’s fantastic for Formula 1 fans across the globe.“At Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, we’ve had an extremely productive winter – I’ve never seen Jenson and Lewis looking so healthy, committed and prepared for a new season. There’s a real hunger within the whole organisation – I’ve witnessed it in conversation with our heads of department, our engineers and our mechanics: we want to win more than ever and we’ve left no stone unturned in our quest for performance.“Make no mistake, this will be a long, arduous and difficult campaign, and I’m naturally reluctant to stick my neck out and make any predictions, but my greatest hope is that we go to Australia and put on a world-beating show to demonstrate to the world that Formula 1 is back, and back with a bang!”McLaren at the Australian Grand PrixWins 10 (1986,’88, ’91, ’92, ’93 – Adelaide; ’97, ’98, 2003, ’08, ’10 – Melbourne)Poles 9 (1988, ’89, ’90, ’91, ’93 – Adelaide; ’98, ’99, 2000, ’08 – Melbourne)Fastest laps 7 (1988, ’91 – Adelaide; ’98, 2002, ’03, ’06, ’08 – Melbourne)How McLaren defined 10 days in the history of the Australian GP1. October 26 1986Alain Prost takes the first of McLaren’s 10 Australian GP wins – it’s a tense and dramatic day, with the Frenchman edging out Nigel Mansell (explosive tyre blow-out) and Nelson Piquet (precautionary pitstop) in the dying laps to clinch his second drivers’ title.2. November 5 1989The first of two infamous Adelaide deluges left Alain Prost in no mood to contest the race – he withdrew on the parade lap. The torrential conditions also caused mayhem: Ayrton Senna crashed blindly into Martin Brundle’s Brabham after just 13 laps.3. November 3 1991Ayrton Senna wins the shortest race in grand prix history. A mighty rainstorm turned the track into a skating rink and conditions were deemed too dangerous to continue. Ayrton’s winning time was a scant 24m 34.899s, an average speed of 129.169km/h.4. November 6 1993Despite fears from the team that he would run out of fuel on his final, flying lap, Ayrton Senna kept it nailed to secure pole position – his 46th for McLaren. The following day, he drove the active-ride MP4-8 to his 41st and last-ever F1 win.5. November 11 1995Tyre failure sent Mika Hakkinen into a tyre-wall with huge force, leaving the Finn unconscious and requiring an emergency trackside tracheotomy. Fully recovered, Mika later cited the accident as a defining point on his road to becoming champion.6. March 9 1997David Coulthard ends McLaren’s 50-race winless drought with the first victory for engine partner Mercedes-Benz. It’s a symbolic victory, kickstarting the revival of the famous Mercedes Silver Arrows.7. March 8 1998A pre-race gentlemen’s agreement sees David Coulthard hand the lead to team-mate Mika Hakkinen. It’s both noble and controversial, but allows the team to score a dominant one-two and cement its path towards double-championship glory.8. March 9 2003
Few would have considered David Coulthard a contender in the ‘year-old’ MP4-17D chassis, particularly starting down in 11th. But the canny Scot kept his head, weathered the storm and kept it clean to score a memorable final grand prix victory.9. March 18 2007The day Lewis Hamilton ‘arrived’ in F1. Starting fourth, the rookie audaciously swept into third at the first corner and ran as high as second with all the assurance of a veteran. In his first grand prix, he finished on the podium – and a new hero was born.10. March 27 2010 A strategic call for dry tyres on a still-damp track was the decisive move for Jenson Button, who moved from last to first in just 20 laps. The win emphatically underlined his world champion’s credentials and set him up as one of F1’s all-time regenmeisters.