As we head to the season-opening race in Australia, it’s a slippery surface with low grip, high downforce and heavy braking. Pirelli have opted for the Medium and Soft compound tires this weekend and they reckon there will be over a second in lap times between compounds.
The biggest challenges for the tires:
Albert Park took over the Australian Grand Prix from Adelaide in 1996. Being a semi-permanent track, the racing line is often ‘green’: dirty and slippery, especially at the start of the weekend. This increases wheelspin, which leads to a greater degree of tyre degradation. The torque of the new generation of turbo-hybrid engines accentuates this phenomenon.
Acceleration and braking are the keys to a good performance in Melbourne, with the longitudinal forces at work on the tires being greater than the lateral forces. The improved combined traction of the P Zero tires this year marks a significant step forward in this area.
The left-rear tire works hardest in Melbourne, with 10 right-hand corners and six left-hand corners. The asphalt is very smooth, which helps to extend tire life, and the teams run high downforce. There are plenty of slow corners, putting the emphasis on mechanical grip from the tires.
A good, potentially flexible, strategy and the ability to look after tires will pay dividends in Australia, which is often affected by safety cars and unpredictable weather. Of the current competitors, Jenson Button is the most successful driver in Australia (with three wins), while McLaren is the most successful team with 11 wins (six equally with Ferrari at Melbourne).
Last year’s strategy and how the race was won: Nico Rosberg won the race for Mercedes from third on the grid (most of qualifying had been held in wet weather). Rosberg followed a soft-soft-medium strategy that was also used by the top nine finishers. Following an early safety car period, Rosberg made his first stop on lap 12 and his second stop on lap 38. The race lasts 58 laps.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director:
“Our fifth season of Formula One gets underway in Australia: one of the most exciting races of the year as it’s the start of a new season held at a venue that is always extremely challenging, popular and unpredictable. Just like last year, we’ve nominated the medium and soft compounds, which cover the very wide range of usage conditions that are possible in Melbourne. The new rear structure increases traction and helps drivers get onto the power earlier: one of the factors that has led to faster lap times this year. As always at the start of the season, there are big question marks about the pecking order and relative performance of the cars. All we know for sure is that performance will inevitably increase still further during the course of the year, which will naturally have an effect on the interaction between the cars and the tyres. The behaviour of the tyres was in line with our expectations during pre-season testing, but of course you cannot really compare testing to real racing, with drivers pushing to the limit. That’s why this weekend in Melbourne is so eagerly anticipated by everyone.”