Melbourne's Albert Park is a stop-start mixture of temporary street course and a purpose-built track. This means the circuit includes an interesting variety of corners with unusual geometry and a constantly evolving track surface. Setting up the car is therefore a challenge, which is further complicated by the fact that most of the 16 corners are really quite different and by the addition of moveable aerodynamics and KERS for 2009. Renault explain how they plan to ready the R29 for racing…
Melbourne is on a par with the aerodynamic demands of Silverstone or Sepang and therefore requires a medium to high downforce set-up. With the introduction of moveable front wings, the drivers will be able to change the angle of their front wing by six degrees twice per lap (once to change to the new angle, and the second time to return to the original setting) which could be used to help balance the car between two corners or to aid following another car closely. The circuit features a few critical high-speed corners, such as the fast fourth gear open chicane that forms Turns 11 and 12, which is perhaps the most challenging part of the lap.
Renault driver Fernando Alonso explains: "You have to be so precise through this section. We take these corners at over 200 km/h and the approach to turn 11 is tough as your view is channelled by the concrete walls and you don't see the apex until late. If you make a mistake in turn 11, you lose position for turn 12 and that can ruin your lap time."
By using a higher downforce set-up, the drivers will hope to get good traction on the exit of the slower corners, which is important for carrying good speed onto the straights.
Melbourne has a number of chicanes where a responsive car with a good change of direction is critical. The suspension therefore has to be relatively stiff to achieve this, but at the same time the car needs to be soft enough to use the curbs and have good stability under braking. An optimum set-up therefore demands a compromise, dovetailing hard and soft settings accordingly.
Albert Park is a demanding circuit on brakes with six major braking zones demanding stops from over 300 km/h. It is not the severity of the braking, but the frequency that makes an efficient brake cooling solution a priority during the race. The track surface can be bumpy in the braking zones, but nothing too significant and a soft enough car should be able to ride the bumps without locking up under braking.
The temporary nature of Albert Park means the track is 'green' and dusty at first and gradually improves over the weekend. With the re-introduction of slicks this year, the team will pay careful attention during free practice to the behaviour of the super-soft and medium compounds that Bridgestone will bring to this race - both of which must be used during the race. The high track temperatures that we usually experience in Melbourne will play a role in determining which compound is preferred by the drivers.
Melbourne offers a good test for engines with the V8s operating at full throttle for 66 percent of the lap. However, the secret of a good lap time depends not on peak power, but on good torque to help launch the car out of the slow corners that connect the succession of straights. This is particularly true of turns 14, 15 and 16, which are all tight, tricky corners, as driver Nelson Piquet explains:
"The car wants to understeer in the final part of the lap and so that can make it difficult to get on the power early. Having KERS this year might make a difference as we may be able to use it to help our acceleration out of these low-speed corners or if we are trying to gain or defend a position. Either way it should help improve our lap times."