First Pit Stop: Melbourne

The 2017 Formula One season gets underway at the Albert Park, Melbourne from 24-26 March.

Every race track has its own history and Albert Park is no exception. When Formula One came to Australia in 1985 it set up home in Adelaide. However, ex-racer-turned-entrepreneur Bob Jane wanted a race in Melbourne. He created a huge ‘thunder dome’ and invented the AUSCAR series, bringing NASCAR action to Australia.

The desire to have a race in Melbourne did not wane. Despite the popular end of season slot for the Adelaide race, pressure was growing from the Melbourne motor sport community, and in 1992 Jeff Kennett was elected the new premier of the State of Victoria. He immediately set about improving Melbourne’s profile. First on his list was the Australian Grand Prix. An agreement was reached with Formula One in 1993, but the contract with Adelaide did not expire until 1995, so Kennett had plenty of time to prepare.

A track was developed in Melbourne’s beautiful Albert Park, part of it using closed-off public roads, and in 1996 the city held the first round of the world championship.Since then the race has become very popular with drivers and fans alike, and the party atmosphere of Melbourne keeps them coming back year after year.

So, what is new in the 2017 season. Changes are part of this sport, with new rules and regulations brought forth by FIA (Federation of Internationale DeL’Automobile), making the sport more interesting to the global audience. The most important is the exit of Bernie Ecclestone, the Chief Executive of Formula One, who ran the sport virtually single-handedly for 40 years. Liberty Media completed the purchase of Formula One in January and Chase Carey replaces the 86 year old as its Formula One Chairman and Chief Executive, bring to an end the chequered career of Bernie Ecclestone.

There have been some changes to the cars – aerodynamics and tyres – which would mean faster lap times.The change in the car aerodynamics would increase corner speeds as this would give the machines improved down force. However straight line speed is expected to be slower as the cars are made heavier, longer and wider, making overtaking manoeuvres difficult.

The tyres are now fatter with both the rear and front tyres expanded. The tyres are now expected to give more grip and last longer. We could now see more one stop races. There is a marginal increase in fuel allowance; but this would not make a big difference as the extra grip would eat away more fuel.

There would be one team and one racer shorter in the 2017 season. The departure of Manor racing team would see the grid shrink to 10 teams and the absence of the German Grand Prix means there would be 20 races this season.

The much- awaited showdown between friends turned foes; Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg; is now all part of history, as the 2016 world champion called it quits for the 2017 season, leaving Lewis Hamilton as the overwhelming favourite to win the title for the fourth time. The retirement of Rosberg means that for the first time in 23 years, there will be no reigning champion on the starting grid. The last time this anomaly happened was in 1994, the season after Alain Prost won his fourth Formula One title and then retired.

2016 saw the two Mercedes drivers fight tooth and nail for the championship, which was decided in the season’s final race at Abu Dhabi. And after a decade in Formula One, Rosberg clinched his maiden championship, the winning margin being a mere five points. Rosberg won nine of the 21 races fought during the season, with Hamilton finishing on top in 10. While Rosberg’s reliability with his car was the talking point, the Briton had mechanical issues to contend with, most notably in Malaysia when an engine failure almost certainly cost him victory and swung the balance in Rosberg’s favour. Looking closely at some of the stats, shows how close these two drivers challenged each other for the coveted world championship.

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Rosberg would be the best example for a man of resilience. At the end of 2014, when he finished runner up to Lewis Hamilton, it would have been heart breaking. Then in 2015, he picked himself up but only to lose the title again to Hamilton. Any driver would have thrown in the towel, acknowledging the fact that they have lost to a better driver. But not Rosberg. He proved that he is a better driver than Hamilton and won the 2016 championship. His perseverance is remarkable and his resilience alone makes him a worthy champion. He thus emulated his father, Keke Rosberg, who won his formula one title in 1982 and thus becoming only the second son of a Formula One champion to win a title; the first being Damon Hill, after his father Graham won in 1968.

As the 2017 season bids goodbye to the champion, let us celebrate his achievements in the words of BBC Radio 5 live commentator Tom Carlson “You have the car: 11,000 parts; you have the team: 1,000 people; you have the sponsors: $400m a year for a top team, and you have the drivers. To maximise all of these different areas is a huge challenge and Rosberg has been the glue that’s held it all together at Mercedes in 2016.” Nico Rosberg’s feedback is the best in Formula One, according to his engineers; he is fluent in six languages and is the sponsor’s dream. He started out with Williams in 2006 and was named Britney (after singer Britney Spears) by his team mate Mark Webber. A worthy champion indeed.

ValtteriBottas replaces Rosberg at Mercedes as Lewis Hamilton’s new partner. Whether the Finn would be able to fill the big shoes of Rosberg is a million-dollar question. The world watches with bated breath as the drivers prepare to vroom around the 20 circuits, challenging the versatile Briton Lewis Hamilton.

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