F1 | Melbourne: nothing is taken for granted – Carlo Platella

Three years after the last meeting, Melbourne is ready to embrace Formula 1 again. The third round of the World Championship will be staged at Albert Park, as well as the third act of the direct challenge between Ferrari and Red Bull in which Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen so far were the two main players. In Jeddah the two cut the checkered flag separated by less than a second from each other, with the Monegasque in the Dutchman’s wake. On the eve of the trip to Melbourne there are all the conditions for witnessing another direct confrontation between the two top stables, despite the profound differences between the Australian and Saudi tracks.

Compared to the original layout in use until 2019, the Albert Park track has several changes that will debut for the 2022 edition. The main novelty is the removal of what were the curves 9-10, thus leading to the junction of the two adjacent extensions, outlining a single straight that from turn 6 leads to the very fast chicane 9-10, previously numbered as 11-12. Added to this is the widening of the carriageway in curves 1 and 3, as well as the different design of curve 6 which will allow much more speed to enter. Also noteworthy were the interventions in the last sector, where curves 11 and 13 were re-profiled, with the introduction of a slight banking slope to encourage the exploration of more trajectories.

The changes help make Albert Park a much smoother circuit than in the past. The simulations predict lap times about five seconds lower than in the previous configuration. Considering that in 2019 Lewis Hamilton scored pole position in 1’20”486 ” ‘, the times expected in qualifying in 2022 correspond to an hourly average of just over 250 km / h. This is an increase of about 15 km / h compared to the previous layout, bringing Melbourne to the same level as Spa, Silverstone and Jeddah in terms of average mileage if the forecasts were to be respected. Despite similar averages, Melbourne and Jeddah stand out in several respects, which could outline a different outcome compared to the race in Saudi Arabia.

Ferrari will in fact be facilitated by the shorter length of the straights, which highlights the power unit delivery qualities in traction and extension, aspects in which the Maranello engine excels, even more than on top speed, where instead the F1-75 accuses a discreet delay from Red Bull. Curves also abound rear limited at low speed where the Red is particularly at ease, both for the effectiveness in slow motion thanks to the good mechanical grip deriving from the suspensions, and for the traction qualities that guarantee a good recovery at the exit. Red Bull, on the other hand, proved to be a terribly efficient car with the highest top speeds, which is why the increase in hourly lap averages works in favor of the Milton Keynes team. The RB18 will also be able to be incisive in dry folds where a precise and responsive front end is required, such as Turns 1-2, 9-10 and Turn 12.

Overall Melbourne looks like a complete track, especially after the recent changes. In fact, a good compromise is required between cornering and straight-line smoothness, as well as a mechanical-aerodynamic balance between the faster front-limited corners and the slower, more limiting sections at the rear. There are no real long-distance curves capable of bringing out the qualities of stability, but on the other hand the Australian track will be more demanding than the Saudi one in terms of suspensions. The recent resurfacing of the plant has partially leveled the previously present irregularities, but the teams will be able to quantify exactly the disconnections in the road surface only once they have arrived on site. The extent of the roughness of the asphalt will determine the level of compromise at the level of mechanical set-up, in particular how much the teams will have to increase the ground clearance and reduce the stiffness of the elastic elements to make the aerodynamics of the underbody less sensitive to height variations, thus sacrificing downforce. A softening of the suspension group adjustments is also necessary to be able to attack the curbs, which is why the effectiveness of the suspensions and the ability of the cars to work with a wide range of set-up adjustments will be two determining factors in Australia.

Load levels to refine
The information provided by Pirelli offers a glimpse of what will be the hot topics of the weekend. For the first time the Italian company will take part in the race three non-contiguous compounds, in detail the C2, C3 and C5, with two steps to separate the last two compounds. Furthermore, the C5, defined in the past by Mario Isola as a qualifying tire, will make its absolute debut in the championship. The minimum static inflation pressures imposed by Pirelli are 24.5 psi at the front and 21.5 psi at the rear, marking an increase of 1.0 and 0.5 psi respectively compared to the pressures of Jeddah, which in turn were higher than those used in Bahrain. The camber angles also change “End of Straight”Recommended, ie referring to the vertical inclination of the wheels at the end of the straight. Pirelli prescribes -3.50 ° for the front axle against -3.25 ° in Jeddah, while at the rear there is a reduction of 0.25 ° compared to Saudi Arabia, with the new value set at -1.75 °. Finally, after the recent resurfacing, the road surface is characterized by low levels of grip and abrasiveness, quantified by Pirelli with a rating of 2 out of 5. Once again, therefore, it will not be easy to warm up the front tires, suggesting a level of wear. relatively low in the race, but in which graining will be the aspect to be monitored with particular attention.

Such data open up to different possible interpretations of the set-up strategies by the teams. The new circuit layout suggests a starting configuration with medium downforce, but it will be interesting to evaluate how the stables will progressively refine the load level. In the past, Melbourne tended to favor qualifying performance on the flying lap, given the limited overtaking opportunities in the previous layout. In 2022, the choice of a lighter set-up is encouraged by the increase in average lap speeds, but also by the availability of the softest compound in the entire range, the C5, capable of providing extra grip on the single lap to compensate for the shortage. of loading. On the other hand, the major overtaking opportunities with the new cars and the new circuit design invite us to preserve the race pace as well. From this point of view, a higher load level would help prevent the risk of graining given by the low-grip asphalt and the 4 four DRS zones would reduce the speed deficit in qualifying compared to a more discharged car.

In conclusion, Albert Park presents itself as a slightly more congenial track to Ferrari than Red Bull is. However, the proximity in performance between the two teams seen so far is such that the final outcome will largely depend on the goodness of the set-up work, even more than on the affinity of the individual cars to the track. This was seen on several occasions as early as 2021, when for example Red Bull managed to prevail in Texas on a track theoretically more favorable for Mercedes. Own the Silver Arrows will be observed special in Australiato see if the team’s understanding of the car has improved in the past two weeks and if the much-rumored first updates to the corrective package under development at Brackley arrive.


FP | Carlo Platella


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