Round one of the 2008 FIA Formula One World Championship takes the Honda Racing F1 Team to Melbourne, south east Australia. The 58-lap race is held on the Albert Park street circuit, situated just two kilometres south of Melbourne's Central Business District.
Albert Park has hosted the Australian Grand Prix every year since 1996, when the race was moved from Adelaide. However, the track's association with Formula One goes back further than 13 years: it staged two non-championship F1 races in 1953 and '56.
The 5.3km (3.3-mile) circuit utilises public roads surrounding the man-made Albert Park Lake. Unlike other street circuits, however, it's a relatively high-speed track. On three occasions, the cars reach 300kph (185mph) and they average 225kph (140mph) around the lap.
Albert Park: the technical challenge
Being the first race of the year, Melbourne is a huge technical challenge as it's the first time that all of the teams have gone into battle with their new cars. Although the Honda Racing F1 Team has done several race distances during winter testing, there's no substitute for race mileage.
Albert Park is a technically demanding track because it's bumpy, particularly in a couple of the braking areas; it's hard on brakes and it's slippery. The grip from the asphalt improves throughout the race weekend as more rubber goes down, but it never reaches the levels that the teams have been used to in winter testing. As a result, car set-up is a constant battle against understeer and a lack of traction.
The need to achieve high top speeds forces the cars to run without maximum levels of downforce. This reduces grip through the many second-gear corners, making it harder for the drivers to get back on the power. In the days when traction control was permitted, the system worked hard around Albert Park; without it, the rear end will move around more.
But the challenge of Albert Park isn't only technical. There is a lot of time to be gained through the quick chicane at Turns 11 and 12, should the drivers get it right. It's a place where bravery is rewarded.
Full throttle: 69%
Brake wear: Medium-to-hard
Downforce level: High – 8/10
Tyre compounds: Soft and medium
Tyre usage: Easy
Average speed: 225kph (140mph)
Honda Team TalkRoss Brawn, Team Principal How does it feel to be commencing your first season with the Honda Racing F1 Team?
"I'm looking forward to it! We have a very talented group of people in the team, whose collective expertise is good enough to succeed in Formula One and I have every faith that we will. For now though we must continue to take it one step at a time and our first goal is to improve the RA108 at every race."How has pre-season testing gone?
"We've made steady progress with the RA108 since its launch at the end of January. Practically all of the aerodynamic and mechanical parts have been updated and when we ran our Melbourne-spec package for the first time last week, we saw some positive changes to the performance of the car. We now have to see what that improvement equates to on the race track and relative to the competition."Jenson Button What are your thoughts on the RA108 as you head into the first race?
"It's a very driveable car, which gives us a good basis to build on. It still lacks a bit of speed, but we've made improvements at every test in many areas and I'm confident that this level of development can continue throughout the year."What have you been doing to prepare for the start of the new season?
"Like all of the drivers, I've been busy with testing the new car and there's no substitute for that kind of training. But I've also been working on my fitness away from the track and I'm fitter now than ever before. I've got a new physio, Mike Collier, and we've done three training camps together in Lanzarote."Rubens Barrichello What are your realistic expectations for the opening rounds?
"The mid-field is going to be very close this year, so we could see an interesting battle. It's almost impossible to say where we'll end up in Melbourne because the lap times will be close. So it's a case of wait and see."Do you like driving without traction control?
"I feel like a boy with a new toy! Having driven without TC for many years in the '90s, it didn't take me long to adjust. It will throw up new challenges, particularly when it's wet, but they are challenges that I'm looking forward to."