For more than a quarter century, Melbourne has been the home of the Australian Grand Prix. And during that journey it has been the famous Albert Park Street Circuit that has hosted the race.
Due to the nature of the parkland track constructed annually from public roads and car parks, it has remained unchanged since the first Melbourne race in 1996. Same road surface, same corner. While cars have evolved a lot, the circuit has not been able to do so.
After years of backlash about a single-lane racing line and overly limited passing opportunities, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation has finally given the Albert Park circuit the birthday it deserves.
There’s a new, more passing-friendly layout, a new road surface, and a bigger, better pitlane.
What has changed in Albert Park?
The first corner of Albert Park, a notorious hot spot for accidents, has been widened by 2.5 meters to the driver’s right. The idea is to reduce the funnel effect that used to force the cars to have a very narrow top, and to make it easier for the cars to move side by side.
turn 3 Turn
In a momentous occasion, Turn 3 has been widened to four meters on the driver’s right, as well as re-profiling to increase positive camber. There should be more lines available than this and the top can also be shifted backwards so that passing opportunities are slightly longer.
Ariel Over Albert Park
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
Turn 6, which was once a strange right-hander, has undergone a significant change as part of the new layout. The corner has been widened by more than 7.5 meters to the driver’s right, turning it from a stop corner into something that almost looks like a sweeper. The result is expected to be an increase in eye-watering speed of 70 km/h through the corner.
The old Turn 9/10 chicken, which used to take cars on a palm tree-lined sweeper towards Turn 11/12 flipflops, is now gone. It is now a flat-out blast from Turn 6 through Turns 7 and 8 and known all the way as Turn 11/12, but is now Turn 9/10. Speeds to reach that complex are expected to exceed 330 km/h, with drivers subject to 5.4 G as they turn into Turn 9. The Back Strait will be used as the new DRS zone.
Turn 6 to Turn 10, After a long time to exit Turn 11, the nearly flat-out blast is now a prime passing opportunity. When it comes to executing a move the corner has been widened to three meters and re-profiled with a more positive camber.
The end corner has also been widened from the inside to make it harder for the drivers to defend their position.
The pitlane has been widened by two metres, with the pit wall now sitting rigidly on the edge of the track where there was once a meadow. Pending FIA sign-off, the plan is to increase the pitlane speed limit from 60 km/h to 80 km/h, which could open up more strategic options for the crew.
Daniel Ricciardo, Renault F1 Team RS19, in the pits
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
The entire layout has also been revamped. It was a job that desperately needed to be done, with the original tarmac left untouched as it was first laid in 1995 before the first Grand Prix of Melbourne the following year. And given that these are public roads for 51 weeks of the year, the Surface had seen a lot of traffic in its 27 years.
Why has this changed?
Altering the layout of Albert Park has been on the cards for several years. Drivers and team owners have long been critical of the layout, which was seen as outdated, especially as the cars were fast. It was always viewed as a single-lane track, with short, bumpy braking zones making it impossible to overtake all without a significant speed advantage.
Back in 2017 the Australian Grand Prix Corporation seriously investigated making wholesale changes to the circuit. That plan was no different from what has now been done, a long, steep straight to the north of the lake. However in that version, the old Turn 11/12 complex was replaced with a hard stop for overtaking.
Ultimately the plan was cancelled. The AGPC did not see enough benefit to warrant the disruption to Melbourne’s daily life that would shut down busy public roads.
However criticism of the layout continued. The following year the drivers were back in arms and the idea of changes was brought back to the table.
Ultimately the AGPC decided that if a much-needed resurfacing was to occur – a significant disruption in its own right to daily traffic – it could re-profile parts of the circuit at the same time.
So were engaged to help bring to life a new plan for Formula 1 drivers. A revised layout was agreed and, using the brakes in racing in Australia enforced by the pandemic, work began in early 2021.
Stage 1 was widening the pitlane by two meters, which moved the pitwall to the edge of the racing surface, where there was previously a grass ledge.
Phase 2 of the project was 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.
Albert Park Modification
Photo by: Australian Grand Prix Corporation
Will it improve racing?
The changes made to the Albert Park layout are specifically aimed at creating better overtaking opportunities.
While Turn 1 is unlikely to be a major overtaking spot, widening work should make it less single-lane and give drivers a better chance to tuck into the draft and set a pass at Turn 3. And executing that pass should be easier than the additional four meters of width at the entry of Turn 3, a more positive camber that provides more mid-corner grip.
Technically, losing the old Turn 9/10 chicken means there is a less potential passing area. It never really passed a significant amount though, so what should have been a significant passing opportunity on the track – why was it sacrificed to help build the new Turn 11.
Cars from Turn 6 will be flat-out through a fast turn 9/10 left-right sweeper and then a major stop at Turn 11. That corner is wider than ever and there is more positive camaraderie than ever to ensure that there are many effective lines and opportunities for drivers to get creative in order to pass.
Should plans to increase speed limits in the new, wider pitlane materialize, it could also open up more strategic options for teams due to shorter transit times.
As well as hoping that the new layout will improve racing, there are predictions that the lap speed will drop to about five seconds.
Albert Park Stats
• Length: 5.279 km/3.28 mi (down to 0.024 km/0.016 mi)
• Turns: 14 (2 below)
• Fastest lap: 1m24.125s (Michael Schumacher, 2004)
• Number of F1 races held: 24 (1996 – 2019)
• Capacity: Approx. 140,000
• Most wins in the circuit: Michael Schumacher (4)
• Most successful manufacturer: Ferrari (8 wins)
• Final Winner: Valtteri Bottas (2019)