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The Albert Park circuit - the engineer's view 02 Mar 2004

David Coulthard (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/17D crosses the line to win
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Race Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, 9 March 2003

Formula One's top technicians on the Melbourne track

Melbourne's Albert Park circuit is among the most popular with drivers and fans, but what challenges does it present for the Formula One engineers and their finely-tuned machines.

Willy Rampf, Technical Director, Sauber:
"The rule change limiting the upper rear wing to only two elements instead of three has resulted in a reduction in downforce, and this in turn means that most circuits now will require maximum downforce. Melbourne's Albert Park is one of these. It is also very hard on brakes, so you aim for brake stability as a priority."

Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director, BAR:
"Melbourne is a great place to start the 2004 season, after the cold and damp of winter testing. The Albert park track is not particularly challenging for driver or car although brake wear is high and there have been cooling problems with the radiator ducts ingesting the autumn leaves.

"This is the first race with the new single-engine regulation so reliability will be at the top of everyone's attention and for most of the teams running on Friday will be quite limited. BAR has the advantage of running a third car on Friday with Anthony Davidson driving and the engineer and race drivers will need to maximise the benefit of this extra information for the race-tyre choice."

Dr Mark Gillan, Head of Vehicle Performance, Jaguar:
"Melbourne is an exciting track for all the teams and we are no exception. The track is generally a high-down force track and with its many corners it can be quite hard on the brakes. Speeds around the track are not necessarily the highest on the calendar but there is a lot of braking and fast acceleration giving an average in the region of 218kph."

Sam Michael, Chief Operations Engineer, Williams:
"Albert Park is a low grip street circuit, with both slow and medium speed corners and two high speed sections, a complex combination, all of which need to be catered for in the set-up.

"It is also a high downforce circuit and, with the rule changes over the winter that reduced downforce and drag, we will be running close to the highest level of rear wing. A mechanical set-up, geared towards giving good traction out of slow speed corners but without compromising mid-corner balance is required. The number of times the drivers have to brake from high speeds is frequent so brake wear can be a factor - it's not the toughest circuit on brakes but this detail can't be ignored."

Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering, Renault:
"Melbourne has something of a reputation as a car-breaker and, no doubt, the regulation changes for 2004 will increase speculation over the possible numbers of retirements.

"However, in light of the engine rules for this season, it is interesting to note that engine failures in Melbourne are actually a relatively infrequent cause of retirement. Partly, this can be explained by the environmental factors of the engine: the ambient temperatures are not usually sufficient for overheating to be an issue, and while the percentage of the lap spent at full throttle is among the highest of the year (67%), the longest period of full throttle is similar to that at Budapest, and it is prolonged periods at high revs that really endanger reliability.

"Modern transient dynamometers also now allow engine manufacturers to run extremely realistic race simulations, reproducing the profile of engine speed and load recorded from a car on a circuit in the most severe operating conditions. If an engine on the transient dyno can complete a full simulation in this configuration, then the ability to survive Melbourne should be well proven.

"However, not all failures can be pre-empted by such simulations, as there are many supporting systems for the engine based around the chassis, such as oil, water or electrical systems. These will not always have been subjected to as much load and vibration as the engine will have been, and all too often, the engine can find itself blamed for failures whose origins are in subsystems which are the responsibility of chassis designers."

Hisao Suganuma, Technical Manager, Bridgestone:
"From a track surface point of view, the Melbourne race circuit is quite smooth and requires a soft-medium range compound to facilitate grip levels. Front tyre graining can be an issue resulting in understeer. However, teams will want to work on the prevention of understeer for the best chance of a good one-lap qualifying performance. They will also need to work on getting a good balance of front and rear tyres, which provides consistency over a race distance. In addition to this, the pitlane changes and the increase of pitlane speeds will most likely result in an extra pitstop and therefore shorter race stints, so tyre wear will not be as much of a factor."