The return of F1 to Australia for the first time since the 2020 event was cancelled because of COVID-19 has coincided with Melbourne having undertaken a revision of its Albert Park circuit.
As well as re-profiling a number of corners, a slow chicane on the back section has been removed to help set up a faster blast down to the newly tightened Turn 11.
F1 drivers gave the thumbs up to the modifications, plus the new track surface, after their first experiences on Friday.
World champion Max Verstappen said: “It’s good. I think the track grip is quite nice, the bumps definitely improved. I think that made the track nicer because you can attack the corners better now, being a bit more smooth. They did a good job with that.”
Lando Norris added: “It is fast, it is exciting. It is easy to make mistakes and I think with this car generally compared to last year’s, it is a bit easier to make mistakes. You will maybe see a few more drivers locking up the tyres and going into the gravel, so it is difficult to put a good lap together.”
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly was equally enthusiastic.
“The faster you go, the less margin for error you get, and I must say it’s something I like, I find quite exciting,” said the Frenchman.
“It can go very quickly south when you go at such speeds, but generally speaking, it’s quite a flowing track. It’s very high speed but sort of combined corners, like Turn 3, you always need to think about the next corner and what’s coming. I find it pretty good.”
Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT03
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
But while happy with the configuration for its challenge, the jury remains out on whether or not the tweaks will actually deliver a benefit when it comes to producing better racing.
Gasly added: “I’m a little bit sceptical about that. I don’t know how much better it will be, if it is better.
“I think we need to wait and find out. I don’t think it’s going to get worse. To be fair, I don’t think there were many overtakes in the past here. I can’t say it’s 100% we are going to see the same race as Saudi, I don’t believe so, but hopefully I’m wrong.”
Local hero Daniel Ricciardo added: “Ask me Sunday night. I think it will be better. Is it going to be 10 times better? Probably not to that extent. But I think it will be to some degree better.
“I think also complemented by another DRS zone, and cars that can follow a bit better this year, if there’s not more overtaking, you’ll at least see closer racing and more nose-to-tail.
“I think we’ll get a fun one on Sunday, but I’m cautious to oversell it because I honestly don’t know what the facts will be. The main thing today was that it was an enjoyable driving experience.”