Formula 1 has been racing in Melbourne since 1996 and is set to make a welcome return this year, two years after the race had to be cancelled just hours before Friday practice as the effects of the growing Covid pandemic took hold
When the Australian Grand Prix moved to Melbourne from Adelaide, it also moved from being the final race of the season to become the first. Laid out around a lake in a city suburb, the Albert Park circuit has traditionally been the venue for the season opener ever since (although this time it serves as round three). As a result, it has been the scene of many significant moments over the years.
It’s also often been an unpredictable race, with the competitive order not always clearly defined beforehand. And the specific characteristics of the temporary circuit mean it’s not necessarily a good barometer for how the season will play out. Statistically, 13 of the 24 races held around Albert Park have been won by the eventual drivers’ champion.
If there’s one fault with the circuit, it’s that the layout hasn’t always lent itself to exciting racing, with few long straights and limited overtaking opportunities. But work has been taking place to try and put that right...
The Albert Park circuit is one that the drivers generally enjoy. For a temporary venue that makes use of public roads, it’s unusually fast and flowing. But like any street circuit, the walls are not far away in places – especially where they are pretty much the only thing in between the track and the lake.
The track is also lined by grass for the most part, and it’s surprisingly easy for the drivers to dip a wheel or two off the circuit and go for a spin – or something bigger. All of this makes the track particularly tricky, and even more so when drivers are getting to grips with their new cars at the start of a season.
The layout has remained consistent since its debut in 1996 – until now. Drivers have been involved in the modifications, hoping to maintain the challenging character they love while improving the opportunities for close racing.
Seven corners have been modified – two of which have been removed entirely, with the chicane formed by Turns 9 and 10 now being straight-lined. Before that, Turn 6 has also been made significantly faster to kick-off a long high-speed drag past the lake. Several other corners have been widened, with camber introduced to some to encourage multiple racing lines. Lap times are expected to be in the region of five seconds faster.
Melbourne has always been one of the favourite destinations on the Formula 1 calendar and it’s easy to see why, thanks to the combination of great weather, spectacular beaches, and a chilled urban vibe with sophisticated bars and restaurants. Oh, and there’s a race on too: in the leafy setting of Albert Park (although the national sport in Australia is cricket, as well as Austria Rules football – which is actually more like rugby).
Home to five million people, there’s so much to do in all the different districts of Melbourne, which is often referred to as Australia’s cultural capital, thanks to its many attractions and a long history that’s evident in the fascinating variety of the architecture.
One of the best places to hang out is in St Kilda, close to Albert Park, which centres around the Esplanade and its beachfront cafés. By night there’s plenty going on in the vibrant pubs and bars.
Another great place to spend an evening is along the Yarra river, which runs through the centre of the city. There’s an incredible buzz in the area, with everything from fine dining to Chinese takeaways to whet your appetite: not to mention the Crown Casino, which is the largest casino complex in the southern hemisphere.
Melbourne is truly a city where everyone comes together: a melting pot of cultures that reflects Australia’s own diverse origins. That’s what makes it absolutely fascinating.
Get around by tram: Melbourne has the largest single urban tram network in the world, including the city circle ‘heritage trams’ that visit the city’s highlights. There’s even a tram that will take you straight to the grand prix on race day.
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