Gear up for the first race of the new season with the first in the series of our official race previews - your guide for every lap of every race in 2017. Hear from the team, drivers and management as we prepare for round one in Albert Park, Melbourne.
NEED TO KNOW
Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix
The Australian Grand Prix has been a permanent fixture on the Formula One calendar since 1985. The race has had two homes during that time: Adelaide (1985-’95) and Melbourne (1996-present), where the race is staged at Albert Park.
Like coffee? The flat white was invented Down Under in the ’80s, although no-one is sure exactly where. Baristas in both Sydney and Melbourne have laid claim to it
Dampers. The locals aren’t referring to a suspension component; chances are they’re talking about their soda bread
Melbourne has enjoyed its warmest March for 77 years, with temperatures more than four degrees above the daytime average of 24 degrees. The forecast is for a dry race weekend
2016 pole position
Lewis Hamilton - 1:23.837s
Nico Rosberg, 57 laps, 1:48:15.565s
2016 fastest lap
Daniel Ricciardo - 1:28.997s (lap 49)
1:24.125s (Michael Schumacher, 2004)
Purple Ultrasoft | Red Supersoft | Yellow Soft
Distance to Turn One
300 kmh/186 mph (on the approach to Turn One)
250kmh/155 mph (Turns 11/12)
90kmh/56mph (Turn 15)
High. There are seven braking zones, where the cars will be slowing from more than 230kmh/143mph. The extra weight this year – minimum, including driver, is 722kg – will add to wear rates over a race distance
Medium. There aren’t many straights along which to cool the car’s complex hybrid systems
55 per lap/3,190 per race
16:00hrs local / 05:00hrs GMT
The left-hand-side holds an advantage because it’s situated on the cleaner, racing line. There’s another advantage to be had from starting on the grippier, Option tyre, which provides a four-metre advantage over the Prime tyre away from the line
There are two DRS zones, on the approaches to Turns One and Three. But neither is very long, making them relatively ineffective
Don't put the kettle on...
during the pitstops. Pirelli’s tyres are more durable this year, meaning one-stop strategies should be the norm in Melbourne. The timing of those stops will be governed by traffic. Full world championship points will be awarded after 75 per cent distance/43.5 laps
280m/0.714 miles. Estimated time loss for a pitstop is 21s, which is relatively short and opens up strategy options should more than one pitstop be necessary
48 per cent, which is a relatively high probability. The highest number of Safety Car periods in this race is four, in 2006
Watch out for...
the weather. Melbourne’s coastal location means the weather can change very quickly, from sun to rain and from warm to cold. Qualifying in 2014 was rain-affected
“The start of a new season always gives us a range of feelings – great excitement to be racing again, and the sense of the unknown as we go into a formula with a brand-new set of regulations. We don’t yet know where everyone stands as testing was a proving ground for the teams more than ever before, and it’ll be interesting to see how quickly teams show their hand over the course of the weekend.
“I’m incredibly motivated for 2017 and I can’t wait to see what kind of racing this new shake-up of the sport will bring. We already know the sport is a lot more physical and the cars are more challenging to drive – from a driver’s point of view this is exactly what we were looking for in the new regulations, and I really hope this will translate to good battles on track.
“After a difficult two weeks of testing we’re prepared to face a difficult weekend in Melbourne. We’ll do our best with what we have and there’s a lot of hard work and collaboration happening within the team, but the lack of time before the first race means you have fewer options for big changes. The first step will be to work on reliability before we can make any assumptions or predictions about performance, and we will try to enjoy the weekend as much as we can.”
“Since my position as full-time racing driver for McLaren-Honda was confirmed back in September, it feels like the Australian Grand Prix weekend has been a long time coming. It’s a great feeling knowing that I’m about to start my full first season in Formula 1 and it’s a dream I’ve been working towards for my entire racing career.
“I’m looking forward to stepping into the MCL32 cockpit on Friday morning and I feel totally ready for the challenge ahead. I’ve prepared very well over the winter, worked a lot on my training and in particular my strength and endurance, and I’m incredibly motivated to work hard with the team to make improvements step by step. I’ll be pushing hard as always and I’m looking forward to getting back into the car.
“In terms of performance, I’m not setting myself any particular targets, other than to keep my head down, learn a lot from the team and from Fernando, and do my best. I know the guys and girls at McLaren and Honda very well, and I feel very much part of the family, so there’s no sense of nervousness about starting my first full season as a Formula 1 driver. It’s my first time in Australia so I’ll be soaking up the atmosphere, enjoying the buzz of the first race of the season, and we’ll see how the weekend unfolds from there.”
“It’s no secret we at McLaren-Honda had a more difficult two weeks of testing than we’d anticipated, and we’ve been working together closely since returning from Barcelona to address the issues we’ve faced in time for the first race of the season.
“As a team, we’re very excited to be going racing again, but aware of the unknowns that face us as the lights go out to start a new era of Formula 1. We don’t yet know where the formbook lies, so until we hit the track on Friday morning it’s impossible to predict how the weekend will unfold. It’ll be interesting for us all to see the pecking order emerge as each session goes by, as well as where our own strengths and weaknesses lie, and we’re prepared for a challenging weekend ahead.
“We will approach this season race-by-race – for us Australia will be the benchmark by which we can understand where we are in relation to the rest of the field, and what we need to do to tackle the coming grands prix. We won’t make any promises or predictions about our performance or results, but McLaren and Honda will continue to worth together in partnership and maximise everything we have in our package. Melbourne is always a fantastic season-opener and we’re looking forward to seeing and hearing the fans trackside – the atmosphere there is always something the whole team really enjoys.”
“It has been a challenging winter for everyone at the team. Obviously the problems we had in Barcelona limited our track time and put added pressure on our pre-season preparations, however, we were still able to generate a huge amount of useful data.
“In terms of performance, there has been room for improvement with mapping in order to have better driveability, and with further analysis we were able to make additional changes to be ready for Melbourne. We know we are heading in the right direction and we’ll continue our efforts in order to increase our competitiveness throughout the season.
“As a season-opener, the Australian GP is a strenuous grand prix for the drivers, car and the power unit. It is also unpredictable and tricky because of its track features. The circuit is flat, narrow, slippery and fast. Our priority for the weekend will be to extract the most out of our power unit, while maintaining reliability.
“It won’t be an easy weekend, but despite the challenges we love coming to Melbourne. The fans are amazing, and we always have fantastic support from our Honda Australia peers. We hope we can show our appreciation through our efforts on the track."
2017 AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX – FREE PRACTICE
McLaren-Honda kicked off the 2017 FIA Formula 1 World Championship with a productive and relatively trouble-free first day’s practice for the Australian Grand Prix.
The team spent the first session focusing on capturing aero data, fitting large aero rakes to Stoffel Vandoorne’s car for the opening run. For FP2, the engineers worked on set-up balance before switching to tyre evaluation work over a long run.
Fernando Alonso finished the second session in 12th position, with team-mate Stoffel in 17th.
“Relative to winter testing, we had fewer issues today than we had in Barcelona.
“We could run a little bit more, so we were able to extract more potential from the car – that’s positive. Still, there’s definitely more to come, and we still need to keep working because we’re quite far away from the front-runners in terms of lap time.
“Every time we were on track today, though, we learned something. We were also able to test some new components, and they seem to be working fine, which is positive. There’s still a lot more to come from us, and we need to maximise our potential.”
“The feeling with the car was OK today.
"Obviously, I missed a little bit of running in FP1, but I think we had a very good FP2, catching up on mileage. Getting laps was my main focus today – I wanted to get some times on the board, do some longer runs, and get a better understanding about the package we have.
“It’s very difficult to predict where we’ll qualify tomorrow: I’m not really looking at the lap times at the moment; it’s more about the feeling, for me. I’m still finding time in the car on every lap, feeling more comfortable, and I’m happy that the set-up changes are going in the right direction. “I made a big improvement from FP1 to FP2, so hopefully tomorrow will be another step forward.”
“After the difficulties of winter testing, it was satisfying to conclude today’s free practice sessions with minimal disruption. In fact, we got plenty of laps under our belts and were able to complete the run programme on both cars today. So that was a steady step forward.
“Today was really about evaluating and measuring the effectiveness of a number of new parts, which we achieved in the first session. For FP2, we started to make more meaningful adjustments to the cars’ set-up, and concluded the day with some long runs.
“It’s still too early to get an accurate read on where we stand, but, all things considered, this was a pleasing first day.”
“It’s good to finally be back out on track at a race weekend, and kick off the season. It’s been a tough week of preparations to put in place counter measures for the issues we had during winter testing. “Today we were able to show certain advances from Barcelona regarding reliability, completing FP1 and FP2 without any major issues.
“For tomorrow’s qualifying, we still have some more room for improvement with mapping for better driveability, and of course, we are not satisfied with our current position. We will work hard during FP3 together with McLaren to find the best set-up.”
2017 AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX – QUALIFYING
Fernando Alonso gave it everything in qualifying this evening to line up in 13th position for tomorrow’s Australian Grand Prix. The Spaniard underlined his legendary pace by setting 12th-quickest time in Q1 before setting a best time of 1m25.425s at the end of the Q2 session.
Stoffel Vandoorne’s qualifying session was hampered by a persistent fuel pressure issue, which forced him to abort his first two attempts at setting a Q1 lap time. Once the problem had been righted, his engineers dispatched him for one final crack at setting a time, and he delivered a 1m26.858s lap to line up 18th on tomorrow’s grid.
1:25.425s (13th overall)
“After the difficulties we encountered in winter testing, we came to Melbourne without a clear idea of where we stood. But we’ve more or less run through all the sessions without trouble – which is better than we’d expected.
“I had sufficient sets of tyres to be able to enjoy my laps in both Q1 and Q2. I was happy with the balance of the car and was able to really push it. That’s useful because, at the moment, we need to extract the maximum out of the package we have.
“Tomorrow we’ll start 13th – in the middle of the pack – which is definitely not our target. Finishing the race is going to be tough. And, if we do finish it, to end up in a decent position we’ll need help from the weather and for other cars to encounter trouble.”
1:26.858s (18th overall)
“I had a fuel pressure issue in Q1 and had to abort my first two runs as the engine was running low on power. That was a shame – because, after FP3, everything was heading in the right direction and I was feeling confident. But it’s always difficult when you only get one opportunity to set a time because you can’t take risks and have to make it really count.
“Still, we’ve made some good steps forward this weekend: Fernando and I both feel more comfortable in the car, and that confidence means we’re able to push it a little bit more.
“Obviously, we still have a lot of work to do, but we can take some positives from the potential we’ve shown so far this weekend, and I think we can have a good race tomorrow.”
“Fernando showed all his experience this afternoon, and coupled it with his undiminished natural speed, to carve a perfect lap whose verve and fluidity deserved better than P13. But in truth that’s all our car is capable of delivering at the moment, and Fernando produced it all. Bravo.
“Stoffel suffered a fuel pressure problem that caused him to have to abort not one but two runs early in Q1, but then kept his cool to post a very good lap in extremely frustrating and stressful circumstances. He’ll start tomorrow’s race from P18 – but, like Fernando’s, his lap was a lot better than that.
“We know we aren’t where we want or need to be, either performance-wise or reliability-wise, but we’re working through our problems together, and I’m massively impressed by the esprit de corps that exists within both McLaren and Honda. Well done, guys.
“Tomorrow’s race may be a difficult one for us, but we’ll pull together to get the best result possible.”
“Today’s qualifying was important because it gave us the first chance to judge our current position on track compared to our competitors. And although P13 and P18 is not where we want to be this season, after such a tough winter testing we can be relatively satisfied with our improvement.
"Fernando drove incredibly to extract everything out of the car, and Stoffel handled the pressure of qualifying extremely well despite having issues throughout the session. We are very lucky to have two such talented drivers in our team.
"Hopefully we will have a good start to the race tomorrow and we will have the opportunity to fight for points in the race. We know anything can happen, and you can be sure our drivers will be ready to grab any opportunity thrown their way. .”
2017 AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX – RACE
Stoffel Vandoorne earned McLaren-Honda its first race finish of the season in today’s Australian Grand Prix, coming home in 13th position.
His team-mate Fernando Alonso looked set for an unexpected points finish, running strongly in 10th position before bodywork damage dropped him out of the top 10 and caused him to retire the car in the pits.
After a difficult winter, there are plenty of positives to take away from the opening race weekend of the year, and the whole team will be pushing to make further improvements ahead of next month’s Chinese Grand Prix.
(due to Ricciardo's five-place gearbox penalty)
DNF (bodywork damage)
1:30.077s (lap 48)
One (lap 16 - 3.46s)
Option > Prime
“In terms of driving, I probably had one of my very best races today. I was able to drive the car at my maximum; I felt confident, and I enjoyed driving the car throughout the race – I was able to push.
“With such little degradation from this year’s tyres, it’s enjoyable to be in the cockpit again. However, that enjoyment is less for us, because we are not fighting at the front.
“Our car is obviously not very competitive at the moment, so being able to keep the car in the points was a little surprising. At the end of the race, I had a problem that prevented me from finishing the race.
“It’s disappointing to see we’re not ready to fight at the front – we need to quickly make some further improvements.
(due to Ricciardo starting from pits)
1:29.440s (lap 53)
One (lap 9 - 20.635s)
Option > Back up
“I had a very tricky race.
“At my pit-stop, I had to perform a full power-cycle of the car to reset it, which cost me time and position, and I also lost the dashboard readout for a while. Throughout the race, I was very busy on the steering wheel, making a lot of changes to the car’s settings while trying to bring the car home.
“Nevertheless, after the tests in Barcelona, we didn’t really expect to finish the race, so this is a little bit of a milestone today. We definitely don’t have enough pace to compete with the cars ahead of us, so we need an extra big push for China, in a fortnight’s time.
“We’ve had decent mileage all weekend; Fernando showed well in qualifying; and we finished the race, so there are positives to take away from this first weekend of the season.
“I think I probably deserve a slice of birthday cake this evening!”
“The 2017 Australian Grand Prix won’t be remembered as one of McLaren-Honda's finest hours, and indeed there are precious few reasons for us to be cheerful here in Melbourne this evening.
“However, I want to pay tribute to our drivers, both of whom performed superbly, albeit in very different ways. “Fernando’s car suffered a damaged left-front brake duct early on, but he nonetheless drove a prodigiously impressive race, wringing every last tenth-of-a-second from a compromised car on every lap, and at one stage a points finish looked to be a possibility for him.
“Tantalisingly close to the end of the race, however, the damage on his car developed into a terminal problem, the floor having become irreparably broken, forcing him to drive back to the garage and retire. That was a bitterly disappointing end to a wonderfully spirited drive, but I guess that’s racing.
“Stoffel had a dreadfully frustrating afternoon, losing his dashboard function early in the race - causing him to have to count his gearchanges both up and down in the absence of the usual on-dash digital readout – which problem we were able to address by bringing him in for an unscheduled system reboot.
“He soldiered on to the finish – and, although his afternoon was a difficult and unsatisfying one, the fact that he went the distance was a consolation of sorts. Indeed, bearing in mind that he’s now driven the grand total of just two grands prix, I’d describe his performance as dogged and diligent: a very difficult job very well done.
“From here we'll return to Woking and Sakura, where our development work will continue with relentless intensity, with regard to chassis and power unit alike, in an effort to improve MCL32 for the Shanghai-Bahrain double-header in a fortnight's time.”
“We knew coming into the weekend that this race wouldn’t be an easy one. But, despite a number of issues, I’m still happy with the progress we’ve made over the last weeks.
"Stoffel drove a determined race to the chequered flag, despite his issues, and Fernando once again drove brilliantly to extract everything from the car. It was disappointing for the team that he was unable to finish while running in the points, and with just five laps to go.
“Still, we take away some encouragement. Both of our drivers performed well in what was a challenging season-opening race, with retirements up and down the grid.
“We will now look ahead to the next race in China, and prepare together with McLaren to have a competitive race.”