For more than a quarter of a century, Melbourne has hosted the Australian Grand Prix. And throughout this trip, it was the famous street circuit of Albert Park that hosted the race.
Due to the very nature of the parks track, built every year from public roads and car parks, it has remained unchanged since the first race in Melbourne in 1996. Same road surface, same bends. While the cars have evolved enormously, the circuit has not been able to do the same.
After years of comments regarding the single lane racing line and very limited overtaking opportunities, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation has finally given the Albert Park circuit the birthday it deserves.
There’s a new, friendlier layout for overtaking, a new road surface and a bigger and better pit lane.
What has changed in Albert Park?
Albert Park’s first corner, a notorious collision hotspot, has been widened by 2.5 meters to the driver’s right. The idea is to alleviate the funnel effect that used to force cars into a very narrow top and make it easier for cars to move side-by-side.
A key overtaking opportunity, Turn 3 has been widened by four meters to the driver’s right, as well as re-profiled to increase positive camber. This should make more lines available and may even move the top back so overtaking opportunities persist a bit longer.
Antenna above Albert Park
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport pictures
Turn 6, once an awkward right-hander, has undergone a significant change as part of the new layout. The turn has been widened by more than 7.5 meters to the driver’s right, transforming it from a stopping corner into something almost like a sweeper. The result should be a 70 km/h speed increase in the turn.
The old Turn 9/10 chicane, which led cars over the palm-lined sweeper to the Turn 11/12 seesaw, is now gone. It’s now just a full-throttle blast from turn 6, turns 7 and 8, and up to what used to be called turn 11/12, but is now turn 9/10. The approach speed to this complex is expected to be over 330km/h with drivers being subjected to 5.4Gs when turning into Turn 9. The back straight will be used as the new DRS zone.
After the long, almost flat out blast from Turn 6 on the exit of Turn 10, Turn 11 is now a great overtaking opportunity. The wedge has been widened three meters inward and re-profiled with more positive camber to increase viable lines when it comes to executing a move.
The penultimate corner was also widened on the inside to make it harder for riders to defend their position.
The escape route
The pit lane has been widened by two metres, with the pit wall now leaning against the edge of the track where there used to be a grass curb. Pending FIA approval, the plan is to raise the speed limit in the pit lane from 60km/h to 80km/h, which could open up more strategic options for crews.
Daniel Ricciardo, Renault F1 Team RS19, in the pits
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport pictures
The entire route has also been redone. It was a job that desperately needed to be done, with the original tarmac having remained untouched since it was first laid in 1995 ahead of the inaugural Melbourne Grand Prix the following year. And given that these are public roads for 51 weeks of the year, the surface has seen a lot of traffic in its 27 years.
Why has he changed?
Changing the layout of Albert Park has been on the agenda for several years. Drivers and team bosses have long criticized the layout as outdated, especially as the cars got faster. It has always been considered a single-lane track, with short, bumpy braking zones making overtaking virtually impossible without a significant pace advantage.
In 2017, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation seriously investigated to make wholesale changes to the circuit. This plan was no different from the work that has been done now, with a longer, faster straight north of the lake. However, in this version, the old complex of the 11/12 turn has been replaced by a hard stop for overtaking.
Eventually, the plan was scrapped. The AGPC could not see enough benefit to justify the disruption to Melbourne’s daily life that the closure of busy public roads would cause.
However, criticism of the layout continued. The following year, the pilots took up arms again and the idea of change was brought back to the fore.
Eventually, the AGPC decided that if much-needed resurfacing were to take place—a significant disruption to daily traffic in itself—it might as well reprofile parts of the circuit at the same time.
So a number of Formula 1 drivers were brought in to help bring a new plan to life. A revised layout was agreed and, using the pandemic-imposed pause in racing in Australia, work began in early 2021.
Phase 1 consisted of widening the pit lane by two metres, which also moved the pit wall to the edge of the racing surface, where there had previously been a grass curb.
Phase 2 of the project was the general widening and re-profiling work around the circuit to create the new layout.
The third and final phase was the complete resurfacing of the circuit which was completed earlier this year.
Alterations to Albert Park
Photo by: Australian Grand Prix Corporation
Will it improve the race?
The changes that have been made to the Albert Park layout are specifically aimed at creating better overtaking opportunities.
Although Turn 1 is unlikely to be a key overtaking point, the widening works should make it less single lane and give drivers a better chance of slipping into the rough and trying to put in places an overtake in Turn 3. And executing that overtake should be made easier by the extra four meters of width at the entrance to Turn 3, and the increased positive camber providing more mid-corner grip.
Technically, losing the old 9/10 chicane means there is one less potential overtaking zone. However, it never really produced a significant amount of overtaking, so it was sacrificed to help create what should be THE key to overtaking opportunities on the track – the new Turn 11.
Cars will explode hard out of Turn 6 all the way through the fast left-right sweep of Turn 9/10, then come to a big stop at Turn 11. This turn is wider than ever and has more positive camber than ever for s ensure that there are several effective lines and opportunities for drivers to be creative in overtaking.
If the plan to raise the speed limit in the new widened pit lane comes to fruition, it could also open up more strategic options for teams due to reduced transit time.
As well as hoping the new layout will improve racing, there are predictions that lap speed will drop by around five seconds.
Albert Park Stats
• Length: 5.279 km/3.28 miles (0.024 km/0.016 mile less)
• Towers: 14 (down from 2)
• Fastest lap: 1m24.125s (Michael Schumacher, 2004)
• Number of F1 races organised: 24 (1996 – 2019)
• Capacity: approx. 140,000
• Most wins on the circuit: Michael Schumacher (4)
• Most successful constructor: Ferrari (8 wins)
• Last winner: Valtteri Bottas (2019)