Formula 1 gears up for a roaring season

2013-03-10 10:00

The Melbourne GP Circuit kicks off in earnest on Friday with plenty of action, writes Zwelethu Nondumo

The 2013 Formula One (F1) season kicks off on Friday in Melbourne and will conclude at Interlagos in Brazil on November 24.

This year’s season consists of 19 races instead of the normal 20, following the postponement to 2014 of the proposed New Jersey GP street circuit, which is not ready for racing yet.

The Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit is a street circuit around Albert Park Lake, only a few kilometres south of central Melbourne.

It’s used annually as a racetrack for the Australian Grand Prix and it’s the first race of the season.

Teams and drivers

Despite the cancellation of the Valencia Grand Prix, the F1 calendar will follow the same path as the 2012 campaign, although the Japan GP and Korea GP have swapped positions, while both the German and Belgian GPs have been brought forward by a week.

There was speculation that a French, Austrian or Turkish GP could return to the calendar and the German race was moved forward a week, to create a gap on July 21, but no deal could be put in place for a 20th race.

The Australian street circuit works best at the start of the year, kicking off a season with beautiful scenery and massive twists and turns.

The course is considered to be quite fast and relatively easy to drive, drivers having commented that the consistent placement of corners allows them to easily learn the circuit and achieve competitive lap times.

But the track design features few true straights, which means that the track is not good for overtaking.

The circuit itself is made up of public roads, used throughout the season until they are sealed off for the race.

That makes them super slippery at first, especially during the free-practice session, but grip gradually improves as the weekend wears on.

The unpredictable Pirelli tyres could play a major role in the race as teams and drivers are still not clued up on the behaviour of the new tyre range.

For the opening race in Melbourne, Italian tyre manufacturer Pirelli has provided the teams with the red supersoft compound tyre and the white side-walled medium-compound tyre.

Unlike last year, the 2013 Australian Grand Prix has been allotted medium-compound tyres, with soft-compound rubber replacing the red super-soft tyres.

There is a considerable difference in the performance of the two tyres, which gives teams ample room to be strategic.

Furthermore, the performance gap between compounds has also been increased along with the new tyres introduced by Pirelli, which degrade very quickly, so most teams are expecting to have to make three to four pit stops during the Australian Grand Prix, which will surely call for many interesting strategies.

The cars have been upgraded, the new tyre compounds have greater performance than last year, there are some new drivers on the grid and a change of team for some drivers.

No doubt 2013 has all the makings of an interesting season, probably even better than last year when we had seven different winners from seven different teams at the start of the season.

Melbourne ready for F1 start

Calender and circuits

Formula One (F1) is back for another season and, once again, the opening race is the Australian Grand Prix, which takes place at the Albert Park Raceway in Melbourne on Sunday.

The 2013 Australian Grand Prix will show off the world’s fastest track cars, coolest celebrities and latest technology, all converging on Melbourne for four days of breathtaking action.

Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel will be aiming to extend his hat-trick world championship with a good start down under.

McLaren’s Jenson Button won last year’s Albert Park race with Vettel coming second in a Red Bull Racing car while former McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton, now driving for Mercedes, finished third after sitting on pole.

The Australian Grand Prix comes after gruelling weeks of testing new cars in Jerez and Barcelona.

Teams tend to hide their true performance during testing, until they reach Melbourne for the free-practice sessions, when many of the top teams reveal their true configurations or new innovations during the last couple of days of testing, or sometimes only during the free-practice sessions.

Hamilton and his new team-mate Nico Rosberg came out on top with their new car in Barcelona, as the final testing session came to a close. Hamilton set his fastest lap in the morning session on Pirelli’s soft tyres, on his final day of testing.

Mercedes have achieved a lot of good mileage and can feel that the balance of their car is good. They will have the general feeling that they are in a better position than they were in the second half of last year.

The track in Melbourne will be hot and tyre degradation will be a concern for many of the drivers, but this can be corrected come the free practice

in Melbourne when teams will be anxious to get out on track to assess the true nature of Pirelli’s newly modified tyre range.

Friday’s free-practice session is a day of development and tyre checking, as well as for working on pit stops.

The teams will continue to try new things that are being developed by the engineers back in the UK and the rest of Europe, but, more importantly, they will be sorting out how fast they can drive on the two tyre compounds that are available from Pirelli.

Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren have carried on from where they left off last year and they are expected to lead the pack this year with a strong Lotus and a new-look Mercedes snapping at their tyres.

All the top drivers have shown great speed and consistency in practice races and it is hard to imagine a top five not populated by Vettel, Webber, Button, Alonso and Hamilton.

Thankfully, they appear to be very evenly matched in terms of outright speed.

But none of the teams have shown their hands yet and it won’t be until qualifying on Saturday afternoon in Melbourne that we will get our first true reading of who is likely to have the edge this year.

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