Melbourne tech file
Melbourne’s Albert Park is a stop-start mixture of temporary street course and a purpose-built track. This means the circuit includes an interesting variety of corners with unusual geometry and constantly evolving track surface. A relatively featureless circuit, it is often described as having a ‘point and squirt’ layout that provides a difficult technical challenge with a number of heavy braking zones and range of tricky low-speed corners.
Melbourne is on a par with the aerodynamic demands of Silverstone or Sepang and therefore requires a medium to high downforce set-up. There are a few critical high-speed corners but nothing especially demanding. The high downforce set-up helps the drivers get good traction out of the slower corners, which is important for carrying good exit speed onto the straights.
Melbourne has a number of chicanes where a responsive car with a good change of direction is critical, nowhere more so than in the high-speed challenge of turns 11 and 12. The suspension therefore has to be relatively stiff to achieve this, but at the same time the car needs to be soft enough to use the curbs and have good stability under braking. An optimum set-up therefore demands a compromise, dovetailing hard and soft settings accordingly.
Albert Park is one of the most demanding circuits on brakes with six major braking zones demanding stops from over 300 kph. It is not the severity of the braking, but the frequency that makes an efficient brake cooling solution a constant concern during the race. The track surface can be bumpy in the braking zones, but nothing too significant and a soft enough car should be able to ride the bumps without locking up under braking. Braking is complicated further this year by the absence of driver aids, namely the sophisticated engine braking systems that have been outlawed with the adoption of standardised electronics.
The temporary nature of the circuit means the track is ‘green’ and dusty for the first day of running and gradually evolves during the weekend as rubber is laid down on the racing line. Tyre demands therefore vary significantly across the weekend with the drivers trying to avoid too much graining during the early sessions when the grip levels are lowest. The team will use the medium and soft option tyres this weekend, as was the case for last year’s race, so there are unlikely to be any surprises.
Melbourne offers a good test for engines with the latest generation V8s operating at full throttle for 66% of the lap. However, the secret of a good lap time depends not on peak power, but on good torque to help launch the car out of the slow corners that connect the succession of straights. This is particularly true of turns 14, 15 and 16, which are all low-speed corners where the car tends to understeer making it difficult to get on the power early. A well balanced car with good torque will therefore find time in this last sequence of corners. Engines must still last for two consecutive races, but engine use remains unrestricted during the Friday practice sessions.
Melbourne has traditionally been a two-stop race and is likely to remain so this year. The main strategic change for 2008 prevents the top ten cars refuelling after the third part of qualifying (Q3). This is designed to remove the unnecessary fuel-burn phase of qualifying and is likely to see the front running teams running shorter first stints in the race. But those teams in the lower reaches of the top ten will need to be wary of the threat from eleventh place onwards, where no fuel restrictions apply, allowing the second half of the grid to choose their optimum fuel load.