ATLAS F1 - THE JOURNAL OF FORMULA ONE MOTORSPORT
The 2004 Australian GP Preview

By Tom Keeble, USA
Atlas F1 Magazine Writer



The Australian Grand Prix is hosted at Albert Park - using a temporary circuit put together specifically for the event. Like all temporary tracks, the surface will start out green, making for a slippery start, though it should rubber in as the weekend progresses. Traditionally, the circuit is tough on braking, and this year will require a near-maximum downforce set-up.

Analysis

This year, the Australian circuit will be impacted by two significant changes that will make a huge difference to strategy: a revised pit entry, and higher pitlane speed limit. Both fit the FIA's plan to continue improving the show, by increasing the number of pitstops. Whatever it does for the show, there is little doubt that all the teams have recognised that this year is going to be about absolute pace, and getting pit strategy right.

As always, tyres are incredibly important in Melbourne - getting dialled in quickly on the initially slippery surface, then staying in balance as the track rubbers in is important. Over the race distance, carrying lighter fuel loads also puts less stress on the car, which is a factor for reliability.

When calculating strategies, the teams consider the likelihood of being able to pass on track, against when to leverage pitstops to do the job instead. The calculations are based on projected speeds based on previous seasons and testing - which means Ferrari's secretive work with Schumacher away from the competition has hidden an important factor.

With the raised pitlane speeds and shorter pit entry, a one-stop race is looking decidedly unfavourable. The two-stop strategy that most teams opted for last year is not too shabby, but the extra fuel carried in qualifying over the three stoppers could prove expensive on the starting grid: Australia is not normally known for passing opportunities, so qualifying well is important. The gain from carrying a four-stop fuel load in qualifying, or running a short first leg with the three-stop approach, should save a further two or three tenths of a second, but whilst the projected total track time is only a little slower than two stops, the driver would be committed to overtaking slower cars to make it work.

Another of the FIA's changes help with overtaking: this season's ban on fully automated gearboxes means that anyone who is late to shift could lose momentum compared to a following driver; however, this is not a return to the old manual days where a gate could be missed, robbing the car of all drive, so this change cannot be expected to make too much difference - especially for the leading teams, who are all running experienced drivers.

The launch control ban, meanwhile, could lead to some excitement on the starting grid, as the drivers will have more to do. It makes Renault's job harder - their excellent launch control over the last two seasons had become a benchmark - but the engine management systems are sufficiently advanced that in practice most of the drivers are actually getting away at about the same rate as last season.

The weather is not expected to play a huge part in this race: although thunderstorms could be awkward on Friday, it is looking unlikely to rain over the remainder of the weekend. Furthermore, the temperate is expected to peak at a tyre neutral 22 degrees for qualifying and the race - which is not quite high enough to get in to Michelin's traditional strength.

Frustratingly, the absolute pace of the teams will not be revealed until the race itself. Because there is no requirement to qualify on low fuel, all the practice sessions will be oriented to identifying the best set-up and fuel load to run for the race.

A Lap of Melbourne with David Coulthard

The Melbourne circuit

Powering up through the gears along the start-finish line at the 3.295 mile/5.303 km Albert Park circuit, you reach some 190mph/305kph in seventh gear, before braking hard for the right-left weave of turns one and two. Your speed drops to 87mph/140kph in second gear and then increases through the left weave to some 127mph/200kph. You apply the throttle on the exit for the Aughtie Drive straight, reaching some 185mph/300kph in seventh on the approach to the tight right of turn three, which is taken at 50mph/80kph in second gear, which marks the hardest breaking point on the track as you pull some 3.5G.

This is again immediately followed by turn four, a sharp left hander which flicks you onto the short Whitford straight. Power on, you reach 150mph/240kph in fifth gear along the straight before dabbing the brakes for the long, flowing right hander of turn five, which sees your speed decrease only slightly to 142mph/230kph in fourth gear. It is one of those corners that you take flat in qualifying.

You need to maintain as much speed as possible through this sequence of bends to ensure you have a good exit as you power down the short straight that takes you to the tight right of turn six, reaching 177mph/285kph in fifth, before braking for the second gear right hander which is taken at 75mph/120kph. Exiting, you take it completely flat through the sweeping right of the Lauda curve, reaching some 177mph/285kph in sixth gear on the approach to Clark. This sharp right is negotiated at 60mph/100kph in second gear.

Hard on the throttle, another long, sweeping bend follows. You need to accelerate through the left of turn ten you as your speed increases to some 183mph/294kph in seventh gear, before the fast left-right chicane of eleven and twelve. Maintaining fifth gear through this section of the track, with your speed not dropping below 130mph/210kph, you keep on the throttle as you exit along the short straight that leads to Ascari. Another hard braking point, your speed drops from 185mph/300kph in sixth gear to 77mph/125kph in second for the tight right hander.

A short straight leads to Stewart, another right hander, which is taken at 110mph/180kph in third gear. Again a short burst of acceleration on the approach to the 90-degree right of Prost, you reach 145mph/235kph in fourth before braking hard for the final two corners. The first of which is a tight left hander and is negotiated in first gear at 45mph/70kph. On the exit, you apply throttle momentarily and shortshift into third gear for the last bumpy right hander that flicks you back onto the start finish straight to begin another lap.

Team by Team

Ferrari

Despite questions being asked over Ferrari's testing strategy ahead of the opening race, there is little doubt that they have put together an impressive car for this season. Moreover, with Bridgestone not only continuing to stand right behind Ferrari, but getting Sauber lined up to improve the data input, the Japanese manufacturer is looking to take the fight to Michelin this year: and Melbourne has been targeted.

Despite the Michelin 1-2-3 last year, Bridgestone believe that the French manufacturer should be beatable at this circuit. The rule changes have, if anything, played to the Bridgestone strength - reducing rear downforce increases rear tyre wear; in the past, providing consistent grip as the tyres wear has been their forte.

The new Ferrari itself has behaved exceptionally well in testing, and looks noticeable quicker than its predecessor. Some of this is due to better tyres, but the whole package has moved forward. Particularly in the hands of Michael Schumacher, there is little doubt that this team is still the one to beat in Melbourne.

That said, Ferrari believe Williams will again be their strongest opponents, at least for the start of the season, as the top Michelin runner; until this year's tyre characteristics are fully established, they are aiming to take a fairly aggressive approach, focussing on attempting to identify and then counter Williams racing strategy.

Williams

Williams's GP Preview Quotes

Although Williams are looking at the pace of BAR and Renault with some interest, they really see this year's title coming down to a fight between themselves and Ferrari, unless McLaren can up their game: and given the progress made with the car, they see Melbourne as one that they ought to be able to win on that path.

The new Williams demonstrated impressive reliability in testing - if not quite up to the standards to which Ferrari have become accustomed. Combined with solid speed, they are going to Melbourne as the spearhead of the Michelin challenge: through the off-season, the tyre manufacturer has worked hard, and they are looking to start the season with a marked step forward, despite Ferrari testing most of Bridgestone's tyres away from the prying eyes of Michelin runners, and generating considerable doubt about whether enough has been done to contain them.

The rivalry between Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya is proving a spur to each; their determination to outperform each other has helped to driver Williams through the off-season development; even if events prove they can't race Ferrari, they are expected to give each other no quarter.

McLaren

McLaren's GP Preview Quotes

Despite attending many of the same testing sessions as their opponents, McLaren have managed to keep a veil of secrecy over much of their results - so much so, that half the paddock think they were sandbagging, whilst the other half think they may have put their new car out too soon, and are being shown up by those launched later.

One thing that is quite well known, however, is that they have struggled with reliability issues: between a weaker than expected engine and longevity concerns, the team are going to have to take a good look at strategy if they want to attain last years result - a race win.

Traditionally, McLaren are fairly quick at Melbourne, though they often look as though they are struggling through practice. Kimi Raikkonen should go well, and if David Coulthard has, as he thinks, finally got over his issues with the single-lap qualifying format, then they can both be expected to put their cars firmly in the points.

Realistically, the team have already conceded that beating Williams and Ferrari is unlikely: whilst the chassis and aerodynamics are arguably at the same level, and they can be about as quick on a single lap, they are looking for another 30bhp from Mercedes over the whole race distance to give them a realistic chance at the chequered flag.

Also, as the car is still far from recording anything like the reliability record of their rivals, there are tough decisions to be made on whether to compromise race pace, in order to raise the odds of crossing the finishing line, or to push the limits in order to be sure of staying ahead of the up and coming Renaults and BARs. Whilst, in the past, the team have opted for the drivers' preference - to be as fast as possible - the revised points system favours consistency, as Raikkonen's challenge to the 2003 World Championship demonstrated. It will be interesting to see if either car makes it to the finish intact...

Renault

Renault's GP Preview Quotes

Renault's new car has been winning plenty of respect in testing, for being a consistent and quick performer. However, they are heading to Australia with one significant concern: can they cool their engine without compromising that pace? In practice, the new 72-degree engine has proven a solid workhorse, but it is constrained by cooling. If the team run with too little, then the engine will overheat in the race and have to be detuned. If they run too much, then they are needlessly compromising their aerodynamics - something that could offer an advantage to BAR, who are expected to be right on the pace.

Coming away from the race, on the public front, Renault are hoping to have established that have lost no ground to the leaders since 2003, which is to say, that they will compete with any of the top three teams who is not right on the pace: privately, they will be disappointed not to beat McLaren and BAR. Behind the scenes, the data from this race is the particularly vital component for establishing a baseline cooling solution in Malaysia; losing both cars before race distance would leave the team with a problematic knowledge gap.

On the positive side, Fernando Alonso's speed alongside Jarno Trulli's experience is a useful combination: both drivers are capable of having outstanding days, and they are working smoothly together in getting the car working really well. If rain interferes with practice on Friday - which it could - the limited dry weather running is expected to play to this strength: if nothing else, it would effectively eliminate BAR's advantage from being able to run a third car in the Friday sessions.

BAR

BAR's GP Preview Quotes

The impressive form shown by BAR in testing could be misleading, as they have put in more effort on low fuel running than most of their competition. However, that doesn't change the fact that the car is quick, and when dialled in, has the pace to push the front runners: the team themselves think that they have put together a very useful car, and should be in a position to fight for points at every race.

Jenson Button is taking to the role of team leader with some enthusiasm, whilst Takuma Sato has demonstrated that his time pounding out testing miles has not damaged his bravery when it comes to committing to corners: the Japanese is looking for consistency over a race distance to match that commitment. Having Anthony Davidson run the third car for Friday testing could give them the decisive data to make life difficult for Renault and McLaren, at least.

Whilst the team are hoping for a podium, the paddock opinion is that they are only going to see one this early in the season if the front runners have serious reliability issues - or rain interferes with the race. But the team will be disappointed if they leave Melbourne without scoring points.

Sauber

Sauber's GP Preview Quotes

Having Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa working together could play strongly to Sauber's advantage. Massa's last season with Sauber was highlighted by both his natural speed, and his inability to stay on the track. However, a year of testing with Ferrari is expected to have helped him learn to sit on the edge of performance, rather than over it: and where his consistency is shown up, working alongside the experienced Fisichella will be an important learning experience. Fisichella himself is no slouch, and has a lot to prove against the young charger. Although he has dominated his recent teammates, Massa's raw pace is going to push the Italian hard.

However, despite running the same engine as Ferrari and basing the new car on the one that won last season's World Championship, Sauber have not yet unlocked sufficient speed to challenge the front runners. If Bridgestone and Michelin are evenly matched then they expect to lead the midfield, looking to capitalise on any mistakes, but if Michelin are in the ascendancy, then it bodes ill for the team.

Jaguar

Jaguar's GP Preview Quotes

Jaguar are heading to Melbourne with another inexperienced driver alongside Mark Webber, which is not going to help them get their car set-up. Christian Klein is expected to be able to get the car to the finish, and as the weekend progresses, could prove fairly fast, but his inexperience could be telling... especially to the race leaders at they lap him.

Whilst the 2003 Jaguar was impressive in qualifying trim, but dropped off the pace during the race, this year's car has not shown the same pace. On the positive side, it doesn't eat through tyres so badly this year, so there should be better consistency over a full race. Unfortunately, that means that qualifying well requires low fuel, resulting in a shorter first session, and negating their long run consistency.

Until the team can unlock the potential they believe the car holds, they are looking set to sit in the midfield, fighting Sauber and Toyota to pick up points when the front four five teams falter.

Toyota

Toyota's GP Preview Quotes

Toyota had their moments in 2003, but there has been little indication they closed the gap to the front runners over winter - Melbourne is not expected to produce any surprises: despite having one of the best engines on the grid, the team have a chassis that takes longer to dial in than their competition, so the changing nature of the Albert Park circuit is not going to do them any favours.

That said, whilst the team are not expected to beat the front runners, they have been very reliable in testing, and are getting faster all the time: they can be fully expected to take advantage of anyone who drops the ball, so there is a reasonable chance of bringing away a point.

Jordan

Jordan's GP Preview Quotes

Despite the tightest of budgets, Jordan have some faith in their new car, believing their revisions have cured a number of the ills from the 2003 model, though it is not proven for reliability. In Australia, they have the straightforward goal of being on terms with Jaguar, who share the same engine. But without reliability issues stepping in, it's a big ask: they are mostly expected to push Jaguar home. The new car has growth potential, but keeping up with the manufacturer backed players, let alone moving up the grid, is going to be painful.

On the positive side, wearing the same Bridgestone tyres as Minardi, and running the new Cosworth engine, at least the team are not worried they will be propping up the field. They also have nothing to lose from trying something different with pit strategy.

Minardi

Despite being one of the most committed and enthusiastic teams in the sport, and completely disregarding Paul Stoddart's rhetoric, the bottom line is that this team can only score points when the others give them away. If they do anything other than trundle around in the last four places, hoping for the other teams to blow their engines, then they will exceed the expectations of the whole paddock...

Flashback 2003

Last season, the opening race came shortly after the FIA announced a significantly revised format. If nothing else, it kept the sport in the press for the month leading up to the opening race, developing significant interest for qualifying and the race. In the final reckoning, the event was a big success, though whether it was due to the rain or the rule changes remained open to conjecture.

Qualifying

The new one-lap qualifying format saw little change at the top, but at least the spectators had more continuous action to follow. Michael Schumacher, who had been off the pace all weekend took on Rubens Barrichello's set-up, and promptly beat the Brazilian to pole by two tenths of a second. Barrichello had been distracted by the expired McLaren of Kimi Raikkonen, whose rear left had disintegrated on the cool down lap. Juan Pablo Montoya demonstrated a remarkable turn around of fortune, after spending most of the weekend spinning off the circuit, finishing a second off the pace in third.

Then things became more interesting, as Heinz-Harald Frentzen put his Sauber in fourth, Olivier Panis' Toyota was fifth, and Jacques Villeneuve gave BAR something to cheer about with sixth. Victims of the new format included Ralf Schumacher (ninth), David Coulthard (11th) and Raikkonen, who only managed 15th place after making a mistake that damaged the car whilst qualifying in the spare.

Race Highlights

On a track still drying from pre-race showers, most of the front of the grid was on dry weather tyres, except the Ferraris, Frentzen and Coulthard, who were on intermediates. Raikkonen surprised spectators by diving into the pits from the parade lap, where he put on dry tyres and refuelled.

Initially, the Ferraris disappeared into the lead, leveraging the strength of Bridgestone's intermediate tyres. Coulthard pitted from tenth at the end of the lap for dry-weather rubber, but otherwise, the opening was uneventful. Barrichello slid off the circuit and broke his car on lap six, as Montoya started eating up the Ferrari lead. Then Firman lost his car on Barrichello's debris and made a mess of the tyre wall, invoking a safety car period. Schumacher pitted for new tyres, and Montoya assumed the lead over Trulli and Ralf Schumacher, as Webber went out with suspension failure.

A lap later, the leading trio pitted, as the safety car was deployed to remove Webber's Jaguar: Raikkonen now led Schumacher, Coulthard, Villeneuve, Button.

After the restart, Raikkonen struggled to contain Schumacher, as the BARs pitted: Button being forced to wait as Villeneuve took his spot. Montoya moved to second as Schumacher then Coulthard pitted, before Raikkonen finally stopped on lap 33 - again emerging in front of Schumacher. However, the Finn had overcooked it in the pitlane, with the resulting drive-through penalty denying him any chance of winning.

Montoya took the lead after Schumacher ran wide on turn twelve, damaging is car and ultimately earning a black and orange flag, forcing a pitstop to remove the damage. From here on in, the race was uneventful, barring a spin by Montoya eleven laps from the end that allowed Coulthard through in to the lead.

Points paying positions:
1.	Coulthard       (Michelin)     2 stops
2.	Montoya         (Michelin)     2 stops
3.	Raikkonen       (Michelin)     1 stop + drive-through
4.	M.Schumacher    (Bridgestone)  3 stops
5.	Trulli          (Michelin)     2 stops
6.	Frentzen        (Bridgestone)  2 stops
7.	Alonso          (Michelin)     2 stops
8.	R.Schumacher    (Michelin)     2 stops

Classified: 13 from 20 starters

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Volume 10, Issue 9
March 3rd 2004

Atlas F1 Exclusive

The Mega Man
by Biranit Goren

2004 Australian GP Preview

2004 Australian GP Preview
by Tom Keeble

Australian GP Facts & Stats
by Marcel Schot

The F1 Trivia Quiz
by Marcel Borsboom

Articles

2004 SuperStats: Winter Testing
by David Wright

The Paint Job - Part II
by Bruce Thomson

Columns

Rear View Mirror
by Don Capps

Bookworm Critique
by Mark Glendenning

On the Road
by Garry Martin

Elsewhere in Racing
by David Wright & Mark Alan Jones

The Weekly Grapevine
by Dieter Rencken



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