It’s been 112 days, 16 weeks, almost four months since we last did this. It seems like an absolute age since the sound of Formula One cars filled our television screens on a Sunday. It seems that for every hardcore fan of this sport, time enters a Matrix-like period during the off-season.
Finally, that wait is over. The long, dark winter months have been and gone, and this weekend Formula One starts once again with its now traditional season opener in Melbourne.
Following one of the greatest seasons in Formula One history last year, when Sebastian Vettel pipped Fernando Alonso to the championship become only the third man in history to win three successive world titles, the anticipation ahead of this weekend’s race is at an all-time high.
Who has the fastest car? Who has got it wrong? Can Vettel make it four titles in a row? Will Alonso gain revenge after missing out last year? Or how will Lewis Hamilton do after his move from McLaren to Mercedes? All these questions and much more will be answered in Albert Park this weekend.
The one thing that we can predict ahead of this weekend is unpredictability. No-one has any idea who will be the quickest at the start of the season. Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus look quick, as do Mercedes, whilst McLaren appear to be off the pace slightly. There are small indications as to what may happen in Australia, but you’ll have better luck guessing the lottery numbers than working out exactly what we are set for on Sunday.
Undoubtedly the biggest factor this weekend will be how the new Pirelli tyres fare around the Albert Park circuit. The all-new 2013 rubber suffered from high degradation during winter testing, and with the super-soft tyre being used for the first time in Melbourne this weekend, it will add an extra ingredient to things.
With all that in mind, we are all set for a thrilling season opener. And once the five red lights go out in the early hours of Sunday morning, the 2013 Formula One season will be underway.
Home of the Australian Grand Prix since 1996, Albert Park is a semi-permanent circuit that runs through 3.295 miles of Melbourne parkland.
A popular track with fans and drivers alike, the circuit has established itself as the traditional opener to the Formula One season, hosting the first round of the season in all but two years since its inception.
Motorsport has been run at Albert Park since the 1950s, when a circuit similar to the one used today hosted the 1953 and 1956 non-championship Australian Grands Prix. With the space and layout available to re-produce the circuit in later years, it made it an obvious choice to host the race when it switched from Adelaide in 1995.
The lap starts on the start/finish straight (predictably) where the cars can reach speeds of up to 180 mph before braking for a right-left chicane at turns one and two. The pack then accelerate up to 190mph before the tight right-hander at turn three, famous for Martin Brundle’s spectacular crash in the 1996 race.
A left and a right follow for turns four and five before the cars pass under the trees for turn six, a right-left chicane which is followed by a straight and another right-left chicane. This brings the field out onto the back straight, where they can reach speeds of 185mph before the most difficult corner on the track, the fast chicane at turns 11 and 12.
Now in the final sector of the lap, another straight follows before the cars brake for a right-hander at turn 13 which is quickly followed by another right, before a slow left-hand corner and an acceleration through the right-hand turn 16 brings the field back onto the start-finish straight to begin another lap.
Location: Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia
First Race: 1996
Track length: 3.295 miles/5.303 km
2012 Winner: Jenson Button
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher – 1:24.125 (2004)
Past Winners (Albert Park only)
2012 – Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes)
2011 – Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull-Renault)
2010 – Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes)
2009 – Jenson Button (Brawn-Mercedes)
2008 – Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes)
2007 – Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
2006 – Fernando Alonso (Renault)
2005 – Giancarlo Fisichella (Renault)
2004 – Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
2003 – David Coulthard (McLaren-Mercedes)
2002 – Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
2001 – Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
2000 – Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
1999 – Eddie Irvine (Ferrari)
1998 – Mika Hakkinen (McLaren-Mercedes)
1997 – Jacques Villeneuve (Williams-Renault)
1996 – Damon Hill (Williams-Renault)