The 2014 Formula One season is set to start with a stiff challenge, a circuit that last year saw one of the highest fuel consumptions per 100km, exactly at a time where F1 sees a return of strictly limited fuel usage.
Indeed, it's not the first time that fuel consumption is limited in the rules, as basically the lack of refuelling limited fuel consumption in direct relation to the size of the fuel tank. Admittedly, that size was unlimited and saw much larger quantities of fuel being carried in the car at the start of races. The new 100kg fuel limit for the entire race is what will create some serious faces along the pitwall next Sunday, but that tension is exactly what makes Formula One what it is, a tense fight to be ahead of everyone else.
Basically, because of the major rule changes and the questionable reliability of some cars during the winter tests, the Australian Grand Prix will be a jump into the dark. This has effectively lead to teams claiming they'd be happy with a point, or even an outright finish. At a time where engineers are still learning about the characteristics of the cars, getting to the finish would deliver valuable information that may later be converted to increased performance.
Reduced downforce this year will also mean lower cornering speeds, making the last section around Albert Park more crucial than before. Drivers will have to rely more than ever on their balancing skill and lean on their car's mechanical grip. Lotus for instance claims that the last two turns are where the most lap time can be gained from the car. An increase of grip by 5% could well deliver around 0.2s per lap.
Other than this, the track itself is nothing new of course, with 2 DRS zones. However, no matter which track we're racing at, everything will revolve around the new power units, and it surely will make for one exciting weekend!
Front wing Proportionally more front wing is used as a counter to the low-grip nature of the track which can provoke understeer.
Rear wing Relatively high levels of downforce are required for Albert Park so the car runs with a lot of rear wing. Not to Monaco levels, but comparable amounts to Barcelona and Silverstone.
Suspension A reasonably soft car is required to maximise the grip potential from the slippery Albert Park surface. Set-up evolves over the weekend to match the improving track surface, as the park roads grow into a race track. As a counterpoint to the requirement for a soft car, there are sufficient change of direction requirements to need a stiffer set-up to aid responsiveness. It’s important to have a strong front end, as understeer is potentially the main factor. Although there are some sections where good traction is important, the priority is to have good turn in and change of direction through the chicanes.
Brakes It’s a circuit that is medium to high in terms of brake wear. Certainly nowhere near as fierce as Canada, but it won’t be a track where we have our smallest brake ducts on. Another aspect of the new regulations means that the rear braking system is 100% new for 2014 and is now what we call a “brake by wire” system. This allows for the more complex demands of the energy recovery system of the new hybrid powertrain.
Tyres The medium and soft Pirelli tyres have been nominated this year and with new tyre compounds and constructions, allied to the different demands of the latest cars it will be interesting to see how they fair. The track itself is not very hard on tyres. The 2014 range of tyres from Pirelli are all a step harder than the 2013 versions. In theory this should lead to less degradation and fewer pitstops. Good homework on Friday will be essential, especially in the early races.