The first GP of the year is looming, and Williams are keen to prove that their FW34 is a lot better than last year's troubled FW33. It has been a while ago since Williams won at Melbourne, in 1996, but Bruno Senna more recently won at the circuit in Formula 3.
The parkland setting provides a brilliant backdrop for the season-opener, and Albert Park itself is an interesting circuit. It has a few quick sections and some slow and technically demanding combinations that present the drivers and engineers with a few headaches. The late start time of 5pm makes visibility tricky when the sun begins to set, but it’s not an insurmountable problem for the drivers.
Mark Gillan, Chief Operations Engineer: We have had a productive pre-season test programme, with the Williams-Renault FW34-RS27 completing 5,330kms, which is the most mileage of any of the new 2012 cars. During the three tests Pastor, Bruno and Valtteri drove exceptionally well and the two new drivers have integrated seamlessly into the team ahead of the new season, with weekly visits to the factory and simulator. The whole team has worked very hard over the winter to eradicate areas where we were weaker in 2011, in addition to integrating the new Renault Sport F1 engine, and are now looking forward to starting the season. The performance of the RSF1 engine has been as hoped; strong, flexible and with negligible performance degradation throughout its life. The weather in Melbourne can be variable, and going by the long range forecasts, this year appears to be no exception. As this is a street circuit, one tends to see a large track improvement through the weekend so we need to carefully monitor the evolution of the medium and soft Pirelli tyres. The track layout has above average corner speeds, and the race start fuel load is higher than most circuits, which leads to a relatively hard time on the braking system.
Pastor Maldonado: Albert Park is a nice track. I really love that kind of street circuit, so I hope we will have a good weekend. I know the track this year and I’m more confident with the team and the car, so that will also help. The whole team have been pushing so hard all winter to improve, and I’ve also been pushing myself. It’s exciting to get back racing and to see what speed everyone has when the weekend gets underway.
Bruno Senna: I am really looking forward to going to Australia. About a month after the last race of the season you are itching to get back racing, so four months later I really can’t wait to get started. Getting into the car on Friday will be very exciting, and I hope we can be competitive from the very beginning. I know the Albert Park circuit, having driven there for HRT in 2010. I’ve also had success, winning three of the four Formula Three races supporting the Australian Grand Prix in 2006, so I have good memories of the place. Pre-season testing was promising, but you never know exactly what everyone is doing. It is certainly very close, so it is going to be very tight this year.
Rémi Taffin, Head of Renault Sport F1 Track Operations: For Renault Sport F1, seeing a Williams-Renault on track for the first time since 1997 was a good feeling, but it was even more satisfying to see that the FW34 is going in the right direction. As we started the process very early, the engine installation has been quite straightforward and the team and drivers have been able to use the full driveability and flexibility of the RS27 to conduct important performance testing so that when we arrive in Australia we already have a good platform. As always with a new engine-chassis partnership there have been a couple of small issues, but overall we achieved a very high mileage to validate both the engine and its installation into the chassis. Melbourne is a hard track to start with as it has a tricky combination of short straights, chicanes and a quick section at the back of the track which makes fuel consumption very high, but it’s also a good one to start with as it gives every engine facet a thorough workout. The partnership has started well and we want to watch it develop even further over the coming races.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli Motorsport Director: We’re delighted to be starting our second season of Formula One, with a completely new range of tyres. The P Zero Yellow soft and the P Zero White medium have been nominated for Australia which each have a completely new profile and compound. Last year, the P Zero Yellow tyre set the fastest-ever lap of Albert Park, but coming at the start of the year this is always one of the most unpredictable races of the season. Being a semi-permanent facility, we would expect the track to evolve considerably as the weekend goes on.