Drivers are nearing 8G in the new-spec Formula 1 cars at Albert Park, with the high-downforce cars described as “brutal” and “monsters” following the first qualifying session of the season.
The unofficial Albert Park lap record was smashed today, Sebastian Vettel beating his old benchmark – set by the German back in qualifying for the 2011 Australian Grand Prix – for the first time during free practice 3, before Lewis Hamilton decimated it with his 1m22.188s in qualifying.
While shy of the much-touted five-second improvement over 2016 lap speeds, the cornering forces generated by the new cars raised plenty of eyebrows in the paddock.
“The cars are brutal to drive – we are not far from 8G with the peak in high corners – so it is pretty good fun,” said Haas driver Romain Grosjean. “But it is hard on the body, it is hard on parts, it is hard on the cars.
“You better not miss the turning point on some places. The speed we go through the corners is insane compared to the past. You need to be more precise, more accurate, more on it, and the body gets a pretty tough time into some corners so it could be.”
Polesitter Hamilton, now holder of the fastest ever lap at the Albert Park circuit, echoed Grosjean’s sentiments about the new cars being more fun to drive than the previous generation cars.
“It is incredible,” he said. “It is the best I have ever experienced here. The grip is fantastic, the aero makes such a drastic difference. You can push deep into the corners, it is amazing.
“I’ve not had the car skating around on the low grip tyres we have had in the past, so [it is] very exciting to drive.”
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff added that tomorrow’s race in the ‘monster’ cars will be a test of how well prepared the drivers are in terms of fitness.
“Those cars are real monsters,” he said.
“I think you can see that on the onboard, the cornering speeds are very impressive and we will see tomorrow in the first race how physical they actually are and how much it takes out of the driver.”
Williams driver Felipe Massa compared the cars to those from the 2008 season, adding that he was surprised times weren’t even quicker compared to 2016.
“I really thought we would have been three seconds quicker,” said the Brazilian. “I don’t know; maybe the track is a bit slow.
“The car is a lot more fun to drive, more like 2008, which for me was quite high downforce. I think tomorrow we’ll have an idea how it is for the show. I really hope it can be a nice race.”
One side effect of the increased mid-corner speeds seems to be a ‘lights out’ effect at the limit, Lance Stroll, Daniel Ricciardo, and Jolyon Palmer among those to have been caught out by a sudden loss of grip so far this weekend.
According to Grosjean, the scope to slide the cars is very limited.
“They are done to function in a certain way of sliding, and soon as you go out of that you lose all the downforce,” he said. “As the downforce is massively high then the drop is massively bigger, when it is gone, it is gone.”
Max Verstappen, however, said it was the tyres making the cars difficult to catch in a slide.
“[The cars] are more stable through high speed corners,” he said. “The only problem is when you lose it, it’s more difficult to catch because of the wide tyres.
“It’s difficult to get it back. That’s the only thing. In general, when you keep it in the right track it is actually a lot more fun.
“Especially in qualifying when you go low fuel, they are really enjoyable to drive.”