The WilliamsF1 Team travels to Australia this week for the third round of the Formula One season, the Australian Grand Prix. Moved from its traditional slot as the season's opening race to allow for the Commonwealth Games, the Australian Grand Prix will, for the eleventh time, be held at the picturesque Albert Park circuit in the heart of Victoria's capital, Melbourne.
Despite showing good race pace, the team encountered mixed fortunes in Bahrain and Malaysia and is seeking a more reflective result in Melbourne this Sunday. Having secured seven podium finishes at Albert Park since the Grand Prix moved from Adelaide in 1996, the team is determined to field competitive FW28s for Mark Webber's home race and Nico Rosberg's debut at the Melbourne street circuit.
The Australian Grand Prix will be the final leg of a continuous three race tour for the team before returning home for the start of the European season. The majority of Williams personnel travelled straight to Australia after the Malaysian Grand Prix, while the drivers completed various marketing commitments for the team's sponsors. Nico Rosberg stopped over in Singapore last Tuesday for a dinner with regional representatives from the Royal Bank of Scotland before heading straight to Melbourne a few days early to settle into the time difference. Mark Webber has also been working hard, starting his trip home with a visit to Tasmania to promote the Mark Webber Pure Tasmania Challenge, his personal adventure race which takes place on the Antipodean island after the end of the racing season. Next stop Sydney and a photoshoot for the team's shaving partner, Philips, followed by a VIP track day for RBS at the weekend. Mark flies into Melbourne later this week but, before he can concentrate on the racing, he will be guest of honour at a store opening for Mattel.
The team returned to the test track after the Malaysian Grand Prix with Alex Wurz and Narain Karthikeyan assuming testing responsibilities in Valencia. Developing race specifications for Melbourne, the pair covered over 1,000kms of the Spanish circuit while evaluating optimum tyre compounds for lower temperature conditions and various revised mechanical components as well as validating fixes for the two mechanical failures encountered in Malaysia. The team is confident that the source of both the engine and hydraulic maladies at Sepang have been identified and rectified. Wurz and Karthikeyan also ran brake checks and put the miles on new parts brought by Cosworth for the CA2006 as part of their on-going development programme.
A non-permanent street circuit, the drivers will face a green and dirty track for Friday's practice sessions prompting low grip levels on a circuit with minimal run off areas. Fortunately, however, conditions improve rapidly over the weekend as the cars continue to lay rubber with every trip out of the garage. At 5.303km, a lap of Albert Park is one of the longest on the calendar and comprises a strenuous mix of short straights and 16 slow and medium speed corners. A high downforce configuration, Melbourne demands a balanced car set-up with good traction control and stability under braking. Webber and Rosberg will both enjoy new engines in Melbourne, which can only be a benefit at a track where torque, rather than top end speed, is rewarded.
Mark Webber: "The Australian Grand Prix is always a special fixture on the F1 calendar because there's a tremendous atmosphere at Albert Park. It is also probably one of the best organised Grands Prix of the season. Of course, it's particularly rewarding for me to drive in front of my home fans and I'm really looking forward to seeing how the weekend will unfold. Melbourne has finished staging a very successful Commonwealth Games so there's already a big buzz around the city and an exciting Grand Prix will be a fantastic way to top off the past few weeks.
The recent pace of the FW28 has been encouraging and, although we had a double retirement in Malaysia which was a big shame, there's no question we'd like a big points haul in Melbourne. With the race a month later than normal this year, the weather could be a lot cooler, and potentially quite inconsistent, so that could be a factor as well. I'm more than ready for the race weekend and I've been in Australia for over a week now and spent a great few days down in Tasmania working on the Mark Webber Challenge which we launched in Melbourne on Tuesday. I was able to do some trekking, cycling and paddling in a kayak in some of the most spectacular and remote locations in the world. It was awesome!"
Nico Rosberg: "I'm looking forward to Melbourne and continuing our strong performance. I haven't been before, but I've heard that Melbourne is a lot of fun so it's going to be good. The cooler temperatures will be a bit of a change from what we've experienced at the last two races, but I believe that we have made some improvements in order to be just as strong in cooler conditions."
Sam Michael, Technical Director, WilliamsF1: "As with all street circuits, Melbourne has low grip levels due to all the contaminants that end up on roads from general traffic. Normally this means there is a high rate of track progression as the rubber from Formula One tyres is laid down over the course of the race weekend. With only two high speed sections and a combination of slow and medium speed corners, the car can be set-up more softly than usual. As the power level has dropped with the introduction of V8 technology, so too has braking energy. This results in lower brake wear and lower brake temperatures compared to that seen in previous years.
Another significant difference this year is that the Australian Grand Prix is being held a month later than normal due to the Commonwealth Games. This means that the temperature is likely to be lower and more variable, with a high chance of rain during the weekend. The most immediate impact this will have is on tyre choice. We have been tyre testing in Valencia this week as it most closely represents the Melbourne circuit, and will help us make our decision this weekend.
Both cars will have new engines for Melbourne, with an upgrade to the part that failed on Nico's car in Malaysia. The problem on Mark's car in Malaysia was a cracked hydraulics pipe which we have also addressed.