A trip into the unknown: How the F1 teams will approach the Australian Grand Prix
Posted By: James Allen  |  12 Mar 2014   |  5:39 am GMT  |  270 comments

After a winter in which they have coped with a huge rule change, introducing complex hybrid turbo engines, the F1 teams arrive in Melbourne less well prepared for the first race than at any time in recent memory. Only Mercedes and Williams can be said to have achieved the 5,000km target mileage in the three winter tests, while Ferrari were not far off with 500km less.

Others, like Red Bull (1,700km) and their fellow Renault powered teams including last year’s Melbourne winners Lotus, are underprepared and will find Melbourne a struggle this year.

Reliability of the new 1.6 litre engines with their powerful Energy Recovery Systems is the main concern, even for the Mercedes powered teams and we may well see half the field or more failing to reach the chequered flag.

The ERS will add a new dimension to the race strategy this season, with more options for drivers as they battle for position, in deploying the 160hp boost it gives. This will make the racing more “cat and mouse”, with lots of tactics at play in both overtaking and defending.

Releasing all of the stored energy in ERS in one lap will give a performance gain of around 1.5 seconds compared to not doing that. This is the best mode for a single qualifying lap, but in a race it might give short term gain but the system will need recharging on the next lap, so there is a trade-off.

Although the picture is sketchy, analysis of the lap times from the final test session in Bahrain early this month indicates that Mercedes have an advantage in performance and are therefore the favourites for the first Grand Prix. Williams and Ferrari are expected to compete for a podium finish. Behind them are the other Mercedes powered teams Force India and McLaren and after that it is hard to say who is where in the pecking order.

McLaren has won two of the last five Australian Grands Prix and Jenson Button is a three-time winner. Kimi Raikkonen has won the race twice, including last year. Of the current drivers Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, and Fernando Alonso have all won once. So all five F1 champions in the field have won this race.

Track characteristics

[Map: FIA. Click to enlarge map]

Albert Park Circuit; 5.303 kilometres. Race distance: 58 laps = 307.574 kilometres; 16 corners in total, none particularly fast.

Aerodynamic setup – Medium/high downforce. Top speed 318km/h (with Drag Reduction System on rear wing) – 308km/h without.

Full throttle – 64% of the lap. Total fuel permitted for race distance: 100 kilos.

Time spent braking: 13% of the lap. 8 braking zones. Brake wear: High.

Time needed for a Pit stop = 23 seconds – Pit lane = 280 metres

Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.34 seconds

Weather forecast

The forecast for Saturday is for a warm dry day with temperatures around 28 degrees, while Sunday will be cooler with a 60% chance of rain.

Likely tyre performance

Pirelli tyre choice for Melbourne: Soft and Medium.

Although the arrival of the new technology is exciting and adds a new dimension to the tactical side of the racing, the tyres are still the primary consideration when It comes to race strategy planning.

The tyres this season are quite different from last year’s in that they are more durable. This is to deal with the greatly increased torque from the hybrid turbo engines, which causes wheelspin.

Pirelli’s objective was to make all four tyres in the range one step harder than last year. So the choice of soft and medium means that the option tyre (the soft) is two steps harder than Pirelli’s option tyre last year, which was supersoft.
The performance difference between the two compounds this year will be around 1.2 to 1.5 seconds per lap, which will mean that teams will seek to spend as little time on the medium as possible.

The tyres often experience graining at Albert Park. Graining is where the rubber shears away from the top surface, caused by a high level of sliding at high loads, both lateral and longitudinal. Lateral comes from sliding in corners, longitudinal comes from acceleration and braking.

Temperature has a lot to do with it, probably more than any other factor. If the tyres are being used below their operating range the rubber will be less compliant and will shear off more easily.

The track surface at Albert Park is quite old and has low micro and macro roughness, which basically means that the stones in it are small. The result of its age and smoothness is that the surface is very low grip and this means that the tyres grain laterally here because the car slides in the corners.

Number and likely timing of pit stops

As the pitlane in Melbourne is one of the longest of the season at 280 metres and because of the 60km\h limit, it is not desirable to make multiple stops.

Based on this, and all the above considerations, plus tyre performance data from testing, the expectation, before any practice running has been done, is that the teams will intend to make two stops in the race,

The first will be around lap 17 to 20 and the second around lap 40-45. Teams will want to spend as little time as possible on the slower medium compound tyre.

Chance of a safety car

The chance of a safety car at Albert Park is 60%, although there have been safety cars in four of the last six years. The average number of safety car interventions for the race is 1.7 (in 2006 there were four).

Recent start performance of drivers and teams

Starts are a critical part of the race and strategy can be badly compromised by a poor start, while good starts can make strategists change their plans in the hope of a good result.

As this is the first race of the 2014 season – no start data has been established yet.

The UBS Race Strategy Briefing is prepared by JA on F1, with input and data from several F1 teams and from Pirelli

For a cool at a glance graphic of the key strategy points for the Australian GP go to Australian GP Strategy Infographic

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I just don’t get it this year how massa has suddenly become f1 favourite driver. No offence but just to remind you that during the last 3 years he has been doomed by all in retirement(just check previous seasons posts), and today has become a championship winner candidate. I mean something must be wrong, or is it not? Some mercedes engines will not make it, but all 6 Ferrari engines will cross the checker flag. Renault engines are at the hands of god. That’s my prediction.


Nico Rosberg said, we know where we are compared to McLaren Williams and Force India. But the worrying thing is we don’t know where is Ferrari? We don’t have a clue.

Ted Kravitz echoed these statements saying Ferrari have never quite shown their hand in testing so far. Talk in the paddock also says so. Considering the drivers were pretty confident to set a podium finish as a target for them in Melbourne is there more to it that meets the eye.

At the very least, I think they are in front of others at the reliability stakes especially in the cooling area. They have 2 very intelligent drivers who have proven themselves in 2 other Engine Formulas and countless number of tyre regulations. Considering 2014, they are ready to race in a third engine Formula in their careers. That is a lot of experience!


I think Ferrari are at least 0.5s to 0.7s behind Merc at this stage, We will see on Saturday.


James, is Melbourne known for being fuel hungry? If so, that can be considered as a possible headache for the teams don’t you think?


Yes it’s one of the highest fuel consumption races of the year


Am somehow excited but at the same time fear dullness during the races as the main issue is fuel saving which means full throttle will not be applied for majority of the race or not at all, not forgetting the non-finishers too. I’m wondering by which race will we see the entire field or let’s say 80% completing the race. Melbourne will see maybe less than 50% completing the race?, we shall see.

As Alonso has mention this season the strain on the neck will be lesser so I guess one can figure out why so.

Vettel’s got a lot to proof which is good though. But if the RB keeps braking down then there will be no dialogue.


I flew over the track early this morning (12:20am) and noticed a lot of lights on in the pit lane, I guess a lot of midnight oil was being burnt! It would appear quite a few teams are going to be very tired come Sunday evening.


Merc to win only 4 races this year.



First thanks for this pre race report …

I would like to ask about the exhaust system that Mclaren has introduced at the pre race season tests and everyone said it will make difference.Do you take it into account by putting mclaren at 4 place below merc williams and ferrari.Is any protest for breaking rules or something…

Thanks in advance


My Melbourne weekend predictions before a wheel turns in practice.

1. Vettel puts the Red Bull on pole after sand-bagging for the entire winter test season

2. Vettel’s cars lasts till lap3 then coughs to a halt

3. Hamilton leads after lap3 but gets pulled by the cops for ‘sustained loss of traction’ and has a drive through penalty

4. Alonso sees Hamilton get stopped and is grinning so much his gleaming teeth reflect off the inside of his visor, temporarily blinding him as Raikonnen passes him.

5. Raikonnen gets a radio message along the lines of “Fernando is quicker than you”. Kimi suggests the pit wall should proceed elsewhere and engage in conjugal behaviour

6. Massa has time to pit and have a Martini and get back on track before the Marussia unlaps itself.

7. Rosberg finishes second, Leonardo Di Caprio takes his place on the podium…………….nobody notices!

8. Massa finishes third and insists he would have won had Hamilton not been recklessly going too fast

9. Hamilton wins, gets a ticket, breaks up with Nicole, gets back together with Nicole, kisses Ron Dennis then remembers he’s not with McLaren anymore.

10. Button says all this rule changing is just ‘Not British’.

I’m sure this is how it will play out!


Lol! You’re not convinced this can be a good season but I like your posting though as it’s comical.


Perhaps you should review the forecast for 5pm Sunday bud



Will we see you in extended pre-race chats on the tele with One HD crew, Alan Jones etc like last year ?

Gives us great insight.


Yes absolutely

kenneth chapman

good news james, always enjoy your chats. most informative and much appreciated.


My Predictions


1. L.Hamilton

2 F Massa

3 N.Rosberg

4 F.Alonso

5 V Bottas

6 K Raikkonen

7 J Button

8 S. Vettel

9 N Hulkenberg

10 K Magnussen

11 D Ricciardo

12 S. Perez

13 D Kyviat

14 J E Vergne

15 E. Guttierrez

16 R. Grosjean

17 A Sutil

18 J. Bianchi

19 P. Maldonado

20 K Kobayashi

21 M Ericsson

22 M . Chilton ( it had to be really


1 N. Rosberg

2 L. Hamilton

3. F . Alonso

4 F. Massa

5. V. Bottas

6 S Vettel

7 . N Hulkenberg

8 A Sutil

9 P Maldonado

9 J. Bianchi

10 K. Kobayashi

11 M. Ericsson

12 M. Chilton

and that’s it.


You have certainly stuck your neck out there so good luck with your selections!


I have a feeling going to be rosbergs year…

remember where you heard it 1st .. ha, 4/1 for the 1st race might be a gift..

I would also love massa to do well..and beat Alonso, that would be so funny..

roberto marquez

Any similarity with “The Hunger Games” where only one survivor is expected at the end ????


After all my cries about the lack of sound from the new engines, I have decided to ‘let it go’.

There are many GOOD points that I PERSONALLY look forward to the 2014 season.

1. more engine less aero rules.

2. new and complicated race strategy.

3. higher top speed (due to less available fuel).

4. more durable tyres.

5. game changing season (like 2009 all over again).

6. Quali tyres.

7. Kimi back in a top team!

8. Kimi vs Alonso.

9. Mclaren and Williams comeback.

Any other goodies else I’ve missed?


Murray’s magical phrase “F1 is IF spelt backwards” has never been more applicable!

kenneth chapman

errrr no, it’s ‘one F’! use your imagination.


James you “Full throttle – 64% of the lap.”

Forgive me is this is a stupid question but is that true with the current rules? Isn’t it likely that full throttle will be less this year as if you went full throttle as in previous years you’d run out of fuel?


There will be different stylets at times etc but that is and average from what teams have told me


Apologies that post was awfully constructed!

I of course meant “James you say” and “Forgive me if”


Not only is the reliability of these cars marginal (and that goes even for the “reliable” Mercedes engined ones) the drivability is marginal as well. We saw a number of experienced drivers get caught out in testing by the power characteristics of these new “power units” and spin their cars off track. We also saw drivers struggling with the braking characteristics of the “brake-by-wire” systems. And this was just in running test laps, the problems will be more severe when they are actually racing one another.

So, we can expect to see some cars unable to even start, many others going up in smoke during the race, and others crashing out. I’ll be surprised if ten cars complete the race.


Best opportunity for Caterham and Marussia to score points. Hope they do so. They deserve a lucky break or two after all the investments and effort in F1.


What’s the penalty for using in excess of 5 engines? Is it a grid penalty for each replacement after 5? If that’s the case, I can see some teams taking penalties from about Spain 🙂


We had a weekend crash course in electric cars at volunteer firefighters 2 weeks ago. A main problem was to know explosion riscs, place and type of batteries, …

Seeing the battery explosion last year at F1 and now having the bigger batteries…

Is there a special training for the marshals/firefighters at a circuit?

Another question

Would this be the first race for decades where no team has less than the allowed amount of fuel in the tank?

Is there still any sense in fuel gambling anyhow?


Red Bull are the big surprise, hard to think they might qualify around 15th as has been predicted.

This first race might just have to be counted as a development race for them, a platform to build on rather than one where they can compete.

But I would expect RB to play catch up pretty fast.

Same for some other teams. The problems they experience Melbourne will give a certainty about what they lack that could not be discerned in testing alone.

Come the end of the race on Sunday, all of the teams will know just how far away or ahead they are.

In particular, the Renault engine will be fully exposed in all its weakness – or perhaps latent potential if they can get things right in the following weeks.

The race I’m sure us going to be massively eventful, whoever ends up on top.

Exciting stuff! Can’t wait 🙂


Did you guys see the latest Schumi official statement?

The strong emphasis on privacy only leads me to believe that my theory about Schumi being awakened a while ago and in rehab process for some time makes sense. This whole story of him being asleep is the perfect cover for privacy. If I was his family, I would do EXACTLY the same thing to avoid the media circus. I would then confirm that Schumi is awake once I’d have him at home safe and sound where he can continue to have doctors and rehab brought to him.

I remember all the doctors saying how bad anything longer than 2 week, 3 weeks, 4 weeks is. I can hardly believe there would be any real benefit of his team of doctors to keep him in a coma for 10 weeks+ after hearing all these expert neurologists chime in on serious risks the longer he’s under.


Vettel and Red Bull’s chances are being seriously under-estimated. The Red Bull may lack reliability but it’s not far off the pace. I’d not rule out Vettel starting high up the grid and if he finishes, being on the podium. Similarly I’d not discount Grosjean and Maldonado, at least in so far as qualifying is concerned. Both are swift drivers and their cars are not completely uncompetitive.

How many times have we seen teams written off on basis of their lack of laps in testing yet put up a good show first time out? Red Bull are the World Champions, Vettel is one of the top drivers, their technical staff is largely stable and while Mr. Newey occasionally struggles with regulation changes, he rarely designs a poor car. They may struggle with reliability, but while they’re running they will put up a good show.


Last night I dreamed that Rosberg won the race, but Vettel managed 2nd place with a very solid performance; the race was tense until the end. This made everyone wonder how Red Bull managed to sort their problems; they we’re once again title contenders. Jenson Button completed the podium. 🙂

I’m glad F1 starts this weekend.


that dream was more of a preminition the way things turned out, well wrong driver in p2 but right team 😀


ok, got them, you can delete these two now 😉



* were once again… 😛


you even got the button on podium (albiet by default!….pending appeal of RB)



James. What’s the goss on redbull and a second filming day



My crystal ball is acting up again; it’s cloudy, which suggests to me that variables are being changed, still now, 08h53 GMT+5.

I suspect drastic improvements on the Renault power side. Some REenault powered teams may decide to sacrifice an engine for a strong opening race performance, and achieve unexpected (by most) results.

Mercedes has been hyped so much as the favourite, I can’t help but bet against them, DNF for both Mercedes cars.

McLaren and Ferrari have been playing the long game; both will bring substantial revisions to Melbourne and both will advance well during the race, but I see one DNF per team.

I expect both Williams and ForceI to go well (though I am not dismissing the idea of their failure during the race).

Hey, here’s one for you James, what could happen, if all the teams are going through multiple power units by May; is there any possibility that the teams will get together and say, ‘we have to up the number of units allowed in the season!’ Can that be done with unanimous team approval?


Well… with unanimous team, providing the teams can trust each other, it doesn’t matter if it’s possible in the rules or not. If all the teams decide to add an extra engine on the same race, everybody gets a 5-place grid penalty, ergo the order is unaffected! 😀