The 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship gets underway in Melbourne next week with the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. Hosted at the beautiful Albert Park for the 17th consecutive year, the 5.303 km street circuit is located south of Melbourne city centre, and uses public roads surrounding the man-made Albert Park lake.

• From 2002 – 2011, the winner of the Australian Grand Prix has gone on to become World Champion seven times

• DRS can be used over 56% of the lap distance in qualifying, a total of 2970 metres

• The Safety Car has been deployed in six of the last ten Australian Grands Prix on a total of 15 occasions

• Mercedes-Benz power has won three of the last four Australian Grands Prix (2008, 2009, 2010)

It wouldn’t be a new Formula One season without a few new regulations to get our heads around. For 2012, they are relatively few in number, but have had a dramatic impact on the look of the current generation of Formula One cars – and also have the potential to alter the sporting outcome of races. Here are the most important new sections of the 2012 Sporting and Technical Regulations.

Sporting Regulations

• Maximum race time: Art. 5.3, no race may now last longer than a maximum of four hours. Last year’s Canadian Grand Prix lasted a total of 4hrs 4min 39.537s, although only 57min 10s were actually spent at racing speed!

• Driving etiquette: Arts. 20.2 & 20.3, drivers may no longer leave the track without “justifiable reason”, while the acceptable limits of defensive driving have now been formally written into the rules. Drivers may not make “more than one change of direction to defend a position” and, when moving back onto the racing line, must leave racing room – “at least one car width” – between their car and the edge of the track.

• Crash testing: Art. 22.2, all mandatory crash tests must be completed prior to a team conducting any track testing. This was previously only mandatory for race events.

• In-season testing: Art. 22.4 (i), provision has now been made for one three-day in-season test, to be held in Mugello from 1 to 3 May. MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS topped the tables for average daily mileage in pre-season testing, completing an average of 472 km per official test day with the F1 W03. The car completed a total of 4,250 km over nine official test days, plus a further 200 km during filming days, with just two on-track stoppages.

• Team curfew exemptions: Art. 30.19, team catering, marketing and media personnel are now formally exempted from the curfew observed by other team members.

• New Safety Car rules: Art. 40.12, if it is considered safe to do so, cars that have been lapped by the leader will be allowed to unlap themselves under the Safety Car. This will have the effect of putting the field in position order at every restart and leaving all cars free to race, rather than the leaders having to pass backmarkers, thus improving the racing – in 2011 in Singapore, after the Safety Car period, the presence of backmarkers allowed Sebastian Vettel to build a nine-second lead over second-placed Jenson Button in a single lap! The Safety Car was deployed a total of 12 times over seven races in 2011, compared to 21 times over 12 races in 2010.

Technical Regulations
• Lower nose height: Art. 3.7.9, “No bodywork situated more than 1950mm forward of the rear face of the cockpit entry template may be more than 550mm above the reference plane.” This apparently anodyne sentence is at the root of the distinctive stepped-nose appearance of the majority of 2012 Formula One cars, as the maximum permitted chassis height remains at 625mm above the reference plane.

• Reduced tolerances: Art 3.12.6, permitted manufacturing tolerances for aerodynamic components have been reduced by some 40% to 3mm (from 5mm previously).

• Throttle and exhaust controls: Arts. 5.5, 5.6, 5.7, 5.8, the regulations covering these areas now amount to a total of 954 words (!) and regulate the use of engine throttles, engine torque demands and the positioning of exhaust outlets. This section of the rules is over ten times longer than it was 12 months ago: in 2011, the same regulations were totalled just 89 words, a reflection of the complexity of the ‘blown diffuser’ systems the new regulations aim to outlaw.

• Additional load test: Art. 18.9.2, an additional vertical load test on the lateral impact structures on the chassis brings to 18 the total number of load and impact tests a chassis must pass in order to receive FIA homologation.

Michael Schumacher
“Finally, we can stop trying to read the tea-leaves from testing and actually go racing. Melbourne is a perfect location, and the ideal place to start the season. The city loves Formula One, the fans create a great atmosphere and obviously, as drivers, we feel that too. And because we’ve already got a buzz about what’s to come, it just makes you want to get out there and start driving. During winter testing, we completed lots of miles and built up a really complete set of data, which should put us in a good position for the first race and to develop the car even further in the right direction. We’re ready for the 2012 season to begin…”

Nico Rosberg
“I’m really looking forward to the start of the new season in Australia next weekend. I had a perfect winter break with plenty of rest, a good training camp and a successful pre-season test programme where we were able to put a lot of mileage on our F1 W03 car. So we are really ready for the first race. I always love the atmosphere in Melbourne; it’s a great city and the fans are fantastic. After all of the hard work, and all of the speculation, it will be really interesting to see where we are on Saturday afternoon after qualifying. Before heading to Australia, I will be in New Zealand for a bike training camp to help me adjust to the time difference and the climate ‘Down Under’.”

Ross Brawn, Team Principal
“The build-up to the start of a new season is always an exciting time, no matter how many times you have experienced it, and everyone at the team is looking forward to the action getting underway in Melbourne next week. We are well prepared, both at the factory and on track, as a result of our structured development and testing plan, and I am confident that we are in a good position. How this translates to our performance relative to the competition is, of course, the key question and it will be interesting to see how it all shapes out next weekend. My thanks to all of the team at Brackley and Brixworth for their hard work and dedication over the winter months and I hope we will be able to reward them with a strong season. Melbourne has always been one of the atmospheric races on the calendar, and certainly one of my favourite cities to visit, so I look forward to a good week ahead.”

Norbert Haug, Vice-President, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport
“It´s only a little over 100 days since Formula One was in Brazil for the final race of the 2011 season, but now we are ready for the 2012 season to begin and to get back to what we love best: going motor racing. Starting the third season with our Silver Arrows works team, we think we are better prepared than the two years before, which indicates that our learning process is heading in the right direction. The Mercedes F1 W03 has run reliably since its first run on 16 February, completed 4,450 km during pre-season testing, and achieved an average daily testing mileage of 472 km: this equates to an average of more than one and a half Grand Prix distances during each of the nine test days. Nico and Michael are both excited about the new season and highly motivated, while our team members back at base in Brackley and Brixworth and on track are working extremely hard to deliver both performance and reliability at the opening race. The whole team has done a good job in both areas this winter. After testing, we know we have a solid basis to work from and a good platform for development. Understandably, there is much speculation about the pecking order of the new season, and finally we will get a first answer on Saturday afternoon during qualifying in Melbourne, when everybody has to put their cards on the table. Before the first race of this long season, I would like to thank all our team members who have worked so hard and with dedication during the past months, with our clear target which is making the next step in improving our performance compared to our competitors. We aim to show that we have taken this step forward as the first part of a continuous process of improvement.”

Source: Mercedes AMG Petronas