Sure, the new rules brought in to shake up Formula 1 this year are great, but do you know what’s even better? F1 racing in Australia for the first time since 2019. But a lot has changed since F1 last raced in Albert Park, and not all changes could be for the better.
For anyone who doesn’t quite remember, F1 was all poised to race in Melbourne in 2020 as Covid-19 was first sweeping the globe. A lot of personnel were, rightly, uncomfortable being there and questioned why F1 planned to go ahead with the race on the eve of a global crisis.
But, after a McLaren team member tested positive and the squad pulled out of the Grand Prix, F1 had no choice but to call off the 2020 race altogether. A decision that probably should have been made weeks before.
Anyway, the sport hasn’t set foot (or wheel) in Australia ever since. But now, thankfully, the Albert Park circuit has returned to the F1 calendar in 2022, alongside Singapore and Canada which have also been missing since 2019.
And, to prepare for the arrival of brand new F1 cars, organizers of the Australian race have given the track a spot of TLC. A raft of changes have been made to Albert Park, the most notable of which relates to the sheer quantity of DRS zones now present.
DRS, or Drag Reduction System, is a flap on an F1 car’s rear wing that can open to reduce drag and increase its top speed. On the straits, it gives cars an extra 7mph with which to chase down their rival.
It’s a great addition to the sport that has helped make overtaking easier. But, there are strict rules about when it can and cannot be used. Drivers may only activate DRS when they are within a second of a car in front, and they can only use it on certain parts of the track, called DRS Zones.
Most circuits have just two or three DRS Zones, at the 3.6-mile Silverstone Grand Prix track there are just two of these. One on the Hangar Straight and the other on the Wellington Straight.
But at the Australian Grand Prix, F1 has decided to cram four DRS Zones into the 3.3-mile Albert park track. Up from the three seen in past years.
The additional DRS Zone in Australia has been added in a re-profiled section of the circuit, between turns eight and nine. This should be a good thing for fans, as DRS has already proven to be a powerful tool for drivers in the 2022 F1 cars.
But, there is something strange about the additional zones in Australia. Where normally, each zone has its own detection point to determine if a driver can use DRS, that isn’t the case at the Australian Grand Prix.
Instead, one activation point will detect who can use DRS in the first two zones, and a second will determine which drivers can use it in the third and fourth. This seems odd, as if you have DRS on the main straight, you’ll likely pass your rival before you have it again just after turn two. There, you’ll likely be able to pull clear of the car you just overtook.
Sure, it might make it easier for drivers to make moves stick, but it gives other drivers less opportunities to defend and retake position. I’m reserving judgment for Sunday, but could this be a case of F1 giving fans too much of a good thing?
The extra DRS Zone isn’t the only change being made down under. Across the 3.3-mile circuit, it’s been made wider to encourage overtaking, the track surface has been updated and several corners have been tweaked to try and improve racing.
Turns one and three have been widened to increase overtaking opportunities and reduce the likelihood of a crash. Turn six has also been widened, making it more of a sweeping bend into turn seven, rather than a hard braking corner.
F1 has also removed a chicane and replaced it with a long, sweeping curve, which is also the location of the new DRS Zone.
Further round the course, turn 13 (now turn 11) has been widened by three meters and has been slightly re-profiled to try and aid overtaking. Turn 15 (now turn 13) has also been altered to make it harder for drivers to defend their position.
It’s a fair amount of change for a track that has remained relatively unaltered for almost 25 years.
But, if the new layout and the new cars can deliver a race that lives up to everyone’s excitement about Australia’s return to the calendar, I’m sure there are few who will complain come Sunday.