Albert Park, Melbourne is the perfect venue to begin the 2018 Formula 1 season. Situated in the seaside suburb of St Kilda, Albert Park is a temporary street track that invariably produces unpredictable and exciting racing.
The Australian Grand Prix offers, in no particular order, a large and informed crowd, a stern test of driver and machinery and, after a dark northern hemisphere winter, the chance for Formula 1 teams and personnel to reacquaint themselves with sunshine. After a tough winter testing programme, everyone is very happy to arrive in the Victorian capital and see racing resume.
The most obvious challenge of Albert Park is that it is very far from home. Later in the season this would be less of an issue but in March the challenges of a new car – usually heavily revised after the final pre-season test – require the team to rise to the occasion, both with their understanding of the machine and the supply of parts required to run it.
Were the season to start elsewhere, this challenge would be diminished – but Albert Park includes all the usual exciting street circuit pitfalls – namely low grip, an uneven surface and the close proximity of hard, unforgiving walls. Neither team nor driver gets a gentle introduction to the 2018 Formula 1 World Championship.
A further complication is the high level of track evolution: as the racing line is swept clean of debris and more rubber goes down on the racing line, so lap times improve significantly. The key is to not chase setup: race engineers need to estimate where the grip level will be on Sunday afternoon, rather than setting up for where it is during the practice sessions.
Fernando Alonso is a former winner at Albert Park, and in total, the team has six victories in Melbourne from 11 Australian Grand Prix wins in total – a total that makes us comfortably the most successful F1 team Down Under.
How McLaren defined 10 days in the history of the Australian GP
October 26 1986
Alain Prost takes the first of McLaren’s 10 Australian GP wins – it’s a tense and dramatic day, with the Frenchman edging out Nigel Mansell (explosive tyre blow-out) and Nelson Piquet (precautionary pitstop) in the dying laps to clinch his second drivers’ title.
November 5 1989
The first of two infamous Adelaide deluges left Alain Prost in no mood to contest the race – he withdrew on the parade lap. The torrential conditions also caused mayhem: Ayrton Senna crashed blindly into Martin Brundle’s Brabham after just 13 laps.
November 3 1991
Ayrton Senna wins the shortest race in grand prix history. A mighty rainstorm turned the track into a skating rink and conditions were deemed too dangerous to continue. Ayrton’s winning time was a scant 24m 34.899s, an average speed of 129.169km/h.
November 6 1993
Despite fears from the team that he would run out of fuel on his final, flying lap, Ayrton Senna kept it nailed to secure pole position – his 46th for McLaren. The following day, he drove the active-ride MP4-8 to his 41st and last-ever F1 win.
November 11 1995
Tyre failure sent Mika Hakkinen into a tyre-wall with huge force, leaving the Finn unconscious and requiring an emergency trackside tracheotomy. Fully recovered, Mika later cited the accident as a defining point on his road to becoming champion.
March 9 1997
David Coulthard ends McLaren’s 50-race winless drought with the first victory for engine partner Mercedes-Benz. It’s a symbolic victory, kickstarting the revival of the famous Mercedes Silver Arrows.
March 8 1998
A pre-race gentlemen’s agreement sees David Coulthard hand the lead to team-mate Mika Hakkinen. It’s both noble and controversial, but allows the team to score a dominant one-two and cement its path towards double-championship glory.
March 9 2003
Few would have considered David Coulthard a contender in the ‘year-old’ MP4-17D chassis, particularly starting down in 11th. But the canny Scot kept his head, weathered the storm and kept it clean to score a memorable final grand prix victory.
March 18 2007
The day Lewis Hamilton ‘arrived’ in F1. Starting fourth, the rookie audaciously swept into third at the first corner and ran as high as second with all the assurance of a veteran. In his first grand prix, he finished on the podium – and a new hero was born.
March 27 2010
A strategic call for dry tyres on a still-damp track was the decisive move for Jenson Button, who moved from last to first in just 20 laps. The win emphatically underlined his world champion’s credentials and set him up as one of F1’s all-time regenmeisters.