The spell of Albert Park*

Formula 1 is about to enter in its 63-d season. Yes, you can say that it is past the middle age and it becomes more elder. But having in mind the activity and vitality of Mr. E, who’s 20 years older than Formula 1, we should be certain that we’re not going to retire our favorite sport.
It’s not clear whether F1 is going to remain the same in the future, but until it’s here, it will surely entertain the supporters, while they will become younger.

The 2012 season in Formula 1 is starting in Melbourne.
Australia Grand Prix is part of the circus since 1985. But “Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit” or “Albert Park”, as this street track is known, hosts F1 races every year since 1996.
For those who love the stats we need to note that in Melbourne there were two more races named GP of Australia – in 1953 and 1956, at almost the same track, however, not as a part of the Formula 1 season.

There’s a popular regularity in the F1 world – whoever wins at “Albert Park”, he wins the season, too. It might be worth looking deeper into that history pattern, so that we can look in the future and understand the spell of “Albert Park”.

Here are the solid statistics:
16 races on “Albert Park”, 14 of them as an opener of the season;
10 out of 14 races are won by the driver who later grabs the World Driver Championship, and just 4 races with “other” winner.
Initially, this might seem incidentally, but it’s more looking like a regular pattern which we need to have in mind.
But let’s look at the rule and its exceptions in details:
It all starts in 1996 – the first race on “Albert Park” in the history of Formula 1.
Winner is Damon Hill driving “Williams Renault”. He wins categorically ahead of the teammate Jacque Villeneuve. In the end of the season, the glory of winning the WDC goes to Hill, while second is again Villeneuve.

Next season, in order to have balance in track’s development, the winner is not the one who snatches the championship title later. In 1997 David Coulthard wins with “Mclaren Mercedes”, champion later on becomes Jacque Villeneuve with “Williams Renault”. The initial pattern is visible in the next two years – in 1998 Mika Hakkinen wins the first race and the title, while in 1999 when Hakkinen is again at P1, Eddie Ervine wins the opening race of the season with Ferrari.

Until the end of the 20th century the result is 50/50. After year 2000, however, everything changes. Michael Schumacher starts to shine and creates many new records and benchmarks. He wins in Australia and the championship in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2004. In 2003 the first place goes to David Coulthard, again with “Mclaren-Mercedes”.

In 2005 the Australian GP again doesn’t hint at the final winner of the season - Giancarlo Fisichella drinks the champagne happiest with Renault, while WDC goes to his teammate Fernando Alonso.
That’s the last exception to the rule. In 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011 when the Australian Grand Prix is the first race, 
winner of the race is always a champion. We’re talking about 4 different champions and Michael Schumacher has almost nothing to do with it …

The obvious conclusion is that in Australia either the final champion wins most of the time, or some “other driver”.  We should note that none of the “exception” drivers manages to become a champion, such as Ervine or Fisichella. Moreover, they have never had the status of being “driver No. 1” in their teams.

David Coulthard was a second driver in Williams, and then he was second among peers in Mclaren. He may have had the “privileged” status in Ron Denis’ team in 2001, when he was the only rival of Michael Schumacher in the fight for the title, but he didn’t win in Australia, and he never achieved the level of confidence allowing him to beat Michael Schumacher.
While being in Red Bull you can say that he was the prime driver, but so what? Two times P3 in four years …

Eddie Ervine was having a lot of the “second driver” syndrome, but in 1999 when he had a real chance to become WDC, he failed, probably a bit thanks to Michael Schumacher, too.
Eddie was also a “first choice” in Jaguar – the team to become later Red Bull, but he, just as David, managed to score two P3 for three years. That’s not to underestimate his sharky behavior as a businessman …

Giancarlo Fisichella never got close to title fight, although he had a chance in 2005, by winning in Australia, to acquire the “First driver” badge. He was always on the wrong place or in the wrong team. Unlike the previous two, Fisichella scored one podium as a “Prime driver” with “Force India” and second place at Spa in 2009.

The three winners in Australia, who didn’t become champions, are quite alike and very different at the same time. Three great drivers who didn’t get to the top of the hill …
… so, (wink ;)) if in Sunday, 2012, Mark Webber wins, don’t expect him to be the champion. He’s more likely to be “exception”.

The spell of “Albert Park” was relentlessly precise so far. The choice of the faith too – you are either the champion, or labeled “blown away”. This is why the six world champions, as well as the rest of the grid, have something else to fight for – the Grand Prix of the Faith.

A win in the first race of the season will be very important for each of them. But that will be as important as the overall performance during the season.
What is going to happen, I wonder, if we know who will be the champion after the first race? Whether the interest will drop down for the rest of the races? These are questions that you can answer for yourself. Personally I consider the path to the title, and how you got there, much more important than the title per se – the latter is for the stats.

Besides, this regularity may stop being regularity, just as any answered riddle.

*With many, many thanks to Kiril Varbanov -

Pic: - wikipedia


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