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Have the Track Layout Changes Improved Racing at Albert Park?

Written by Vyas Ponnuri, Edited by Yu Xin Wang

Image credits - Morgan Hancock/NurPhoto via Getty Images

As a record-breaking 444,631 fans flocked the confines of Albert Park to witness Formula 1 action for the weekend, the atmosphere at the street circuit was abuzz. Sunday’s spectacle saw 131,124 fans treated to a wild Grand Prix as three red flags were flown during the race (a sporting record), and only 12 cars saw the chequered flag in the end.

However, the Grand Prix will be remembered for more than just the chaotic restart. Drivers reeled off overtake after overtake into the fast chicane at turns nine and ten. Sergio Perez entertained the crowd seated at the lakefront with multiple overtakes, while Esteban Ocon too pulled off a splendid overtake around the outside of Oscar Piastri at the corner. Max Verstappen also pulled off the move on Lewis Hamilton at the corner, thus taking a lead he never relinquished.

Later in the race, Lando Norris set up an overtake on Nico Hulkenberg at turn 12, switching back to take the inside line into turn 13, moving up to eighth, helping McLaren get off the mark in 2023. The conventional overtaking spot of turn three saw Lewis Hamilton and Carlos Sainz pull off overtakes as well.

Perez overtaking Piastri; Image credits - Bryn Lennon - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

While these were just some overtakes pulled off during the Formula 1 race, the feeder series Formula 2 and Formula 3 witnessed plenty of action in their debut outing.

The Formula 2 race, in particular, saw drivers take to the run-off area while emerging after their pit stops, or make unusual overtakes into turns 12 and 13.

The Formula 3 sprint race saw Luke Browning go airborne at the kerb at turn nine, as he tried to keep level with his teammate Sebastian Montoya. It was a scary moment for the Hitech outfit.

After a whole weekend filled with Formula 1, Formula 2, and Formula 3 action, one question remains: Have the layout changes improved racing at Albert Park? The answer to this question would be a resounding yes. A final tweak to the circuit - adding a DRS zone between turns eight and nine - definitely added to the spectacle of the event.

Trialled during Free Practice in 2022 season, the DRS zone wasn’t implemented during the following qualifying sessions or the main race. The zone was removed for “safety reasons” according to FIA, the sport’s governing body.

The quick chicane was perhaps the reason for the removal of the zone, as drivers barely braked into the chicane, and the threat of going into the corner with the DRS flap still loomed. It would be a heavy shunt into the barriers had a driver taken such a fast corner with less rear downforce, and thus, the FIA opting for the removal.

Despite removing the DRS zone, the number of overtakes shot up by three times during the 2022 race: 34 overtakes against 10 for the 2019 race. This was mostly aided by the new generation of cars being able to race closer to each other, but the track layout changes also played a huge factor in aiding overtaking, evidenced by the overtaking statistics from both races.

For 2023, the FIA decided to bring back the fourth DRS zone, in a bid to increase the spectacle. The additional DRS zone surely lived up to its expectations, as this chicane witnessed many splendid overtakes despite fewer overtakes in the 2023 running of the race compared to 2022's.

The ensuing chaos may have lulled us into thinking the race saw more overtakes than usual. However, excluding overtakes on lap one, restarts, pit stops, and overtaking drivers retiring from the race, you get 29 overtakes. That’s five fewer than the 2022 edition.

Nevertheless, the race was exciting, with drivers racing closer in multiple laps. This was the case when cars from P2 to P7 were all on the same straight for multiple laps. The addition of an extra DRS zone has also enhanced the effect of the DRS system, and makes it more crucial for a driver to push and stay within a second of another driver in order to get ‘towed’ along by the driver in front. Hence, drivers were encouraged to stay close to the other driver, for the fear of falling out of DRS and losing pace relative to their rivals.

With the increased spectacle of this season’s Australian Grand Prix, next year’s running of the event will have plenty of hype to live up to. Even without the chaos of this season’s race, it should still provide for an exciting race.

As for the Formula 2 and Formula 3 series, a precedent for the future of the series was certainly set down at Albert Park. It was an action-packed weekend of racing, but it was mainly brought about by drivers struggling to maintain tyre temperature during both races, and routinely causing incidents.

The incidents were drivers either misjudging the proximity of the barriers to the track, or by attempting overtakes when there wasn’t enough room to pull off the overtake, thus putting their rivals off the road.

Image credits - Morgan Hancock/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The sheer magnitude of incidents on display was down to the drivers racing at the track for the first time, and having the ‘new track blues’ with only 30 minutes of practice. Come next season, we can expect cleaner races, with drivers learning from their mistakes and being able to executing overtakes to perfection. The races would still pack plenty of action, but this time in the form of stellar overtaking rather than rookie errors and crashes by drivers.


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