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All new Down Under as Aussie Grand Prix returns

All new Down Under as Aussie Grand Prix returns

FORMULA ONE: Australia hasn’t seen Formula 1 action since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, but it’s promising to blast those bad memories away with a brand-new track for F1’s all-new cars.

By Michael Lamonato

Thursday 7 April 2022, 09:45AM

The Australian Grand Prix returns to Albert Park in Melbourne this weekend for the first time in two years after COVID-19 forced dual cancellations. Photo: AFP

The Australian Grand Prix returns to Albert Park in Melbourne this weekend for the first time in two years after COVID-19 forced dual cancellations. Photo: AFP

It’s fair to say the world’s changed quite a bit in the 756 days since F1 last visited Melbourne.

Few will forget Friday, Mar 13, 2020. It was the day the 2020 Australian Grand Prix was called off by unceremonious megaphone announcement at the locked-out gates, the day the sport had admit it couldn’t unrun the pandemic despite its ambitious intentions.

It’s taken two years for Australia to welcome the globe-trotting sport back to Melbourne, and the reunion promises to be a fascinating one. Not only has the world been reconfigured in the interim, but so too has F1 and Albert Park.

The changes on F1’s part we know well by now: the cars have been deeply reimagined to enable closer racing and facilitate more overtaking. It’s early days yet, but the evidence from the first two grands prix has been promising, with two tense battles between Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen being decided with one victory apiece.

But the alterations on Australia’s side are equally interesting. After a string of particularly dry grands prix last decade, the Albert Park circuit has been redesigned to create more passing opportunities and generate a more dramatic spectacle.

The F1 cars Albert Park was designed for way back in the mid-1990s bear little resemblance to the cars of today. Longer, wider, heavier and more aerodynamically sensitive, they’re just not compatible with the narrow, medium-speed, medium-braking track built a quarter-century ago.

In the two-year pandemic hiatus several corners have been widened and given more positive camber to create multiple lines to the apex, but the largest changes come in the second sector and completely overhaul the character of the track.

Turn 6 has been sped up by 70 km/h and turns 9 and 10 have been removed. There’s now a long, sweeping right-hand bend all the way to the former turn 11-12 chicane, which cars will reach at around 330 km/h.

On a semi-permanent street circuit, with the walls close and the risk high, it will be a breathtaking new challenge for man and machine.

Sinea Phuket

Paired with the more raceable cars, the hope is that the Australian Grand Prix will return to being a spectacle worthy of its usual season-opening slot.

But who’s going to come out on top is anyone’s guess.

The season so far has delivered us a deliciously close battle between Ferrari and Red Bull Racing, and with only two races of data to digest, there’s nothing clear to separate them. The Bulls like to run with a little less downforce for top speed, but Ferrari runs with extra wing for performance through the corners. In Bahrain and Saudi Arabia they ended up pretty much even at the end of a lap.

Attention now turns to development, however, and with a weekend off since the last race, what’s expected to be a ferociously fast upgrade battle will begin in earnest this weekend.

Mercedes fans will be hoping the German marque takes a step towards solving its chronic bouncing problem that prevents it from running at the optimum ride height. The team is adamant race-winning performance is there to be unlocked, but it’s yet to find the key, leaving its car languishing far behind the frontrunners.

McLaren will also be under the microscope after two dire races to open the season. The new Albert Park track should suit its car, but the team appears to be coming to terms with the fact the new papaya machine simply isn’t cut of the same cloth as the frontrunners it hoped to be racing, which will make a difficult home return for Daniel Ricciardo.

But the most important thing this weekend will be that the race finally goes ahead 756 days after it was first cancelled, finally closing the chapter started on Friday, Mar 13 2020, and bringing a sense of closure to sport and city.

The pandemic may not be over, but it’s a sign things are returning to normal.

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