Tracing a Lap of Albert Park on Foot
The start of the 2015 Formula 1 season cannot come soon enough for fans like Yours Truly. Thankfully, it’s just 4 weeks away! It will begin with the Australian Grand Prix, which has been held at Melbourne’s Albert Park since 1996.
Melbourne is arguably Australia’s sports capital: besides Formula 1, it also hosts the AFL Grand Final, the Australian Open and this year’s Cricket World Cup. The sporting spirit was infectious; it’s most likely why I went for a run around the circuit in St Kilda 3 weeks after the 2014 race.
Work was still taking place on the pit straight but the track was still accessible. After all, like the Monte Carlo and Marina Bay circuits, Albert Park is a street circuit. There is a lot more natural turf in the verges and run-off areas though.
Don’t forget to check out a lap of the Marina Bay circuit in Singapore too.
Aside from the trucks and a few cyclists, this part of the track was rather quiet. The road markings had been painted back quickly and they indicated the area usually serves as some kind of car park. I wasn’t used to looking at it without the barriers, the colourful sponsor signs and the team and country flags.
The straight is short and so is the run to the first turn when the starting lights go out. That can end in chaos sometimes, like in the 2002 Grand Prix.
When the roads are returned to public use after the race, the debris fences are replaced by wooden stakes, probably by someone who didn’t care to make them straight. They look way scarier and if I were driving I wouldn’t want to be impaled by one of them.
The track circumnavigates the edge of a man-made lake. There’s a good view of the city from the edge of the water near Turn 2. It doesn’t look quite as impressive from here though – Eureka Tower can be seen but the other skyscrapers are anonymous. The things closer to the ground like Flinders Street station and the trams are the things that make Melbourne distinctive.
Back to the racing. The exit of Turn 2 is important as it leads to the best overtaking spot on the track. Turn 3 is a tight right-hander. On an autumn afternoon, the shadows of the trees make it difficult to spot the braking point. Several drivers have overcooked it by running wide, spinning off or colliding with one another (see Vettel and Kubica’s crash from 2009).
Turn 6 marks the start of the second sector of the lap, a long sweeping back straight needlessly punctuated by two chicanes. Being closer to the water and lined with palms, it’s more scenic too. Traffic was also a lot heavier and I had to be careful when I crossed the road for photographs.
The chicanes were built as extensions from the road and they were the only places I could stand safely. The first of these, Turn 8, is a right-left which opens up. It was where one Flying Finn forced another into making an error last year.
The weather during the Australian Grand Prix can vary wildly from one season to the next, and so does the grip that the track provides. One year it can be a scorcher in which the tyres only last 10 laps (2009 and 2014), and the next year it can be cold and wet (2010). It’s not the best race to deduce the pecking order from, and it can throw up a few surprises. In the last 5 editions, the race winner went on to clinch the championship only once.
The second chicane is the opposite of the previous one – a fast left followed by a tighter right-hand turn. It is easy to run wide but the exit speed is important as it leads to another overtaking opportunity at the end of the short straight.
The track splits from the main road at Turn 13 and heads back into the park. A sharp right is followed by a sweeping right, a hairpin left and a final medium speed right in quick succession. The car moves across the track several times to follow the ideal racing line and having a lot of aerodynamic grip helps.
That takes us back onto the pit straight to complete a lap of the Albert Park circuit. Somebody had a close shave with the wall as he tried a little too much speed through the last corner. With any luck he would have clocked a lap time of around 1 min 25 s. I was 20 times slower than that, photo stops notwithstanding.
If you’re heading to this year’s race, enjoy yourself. Let’s hope this season’s a good one.