THE AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX: F1 GEARS UP DOWN UNDER

After two years in the pandemic wilderness, the Australian Grand Prix is back for its first race in three years in front of a sold-out crowd eager for a sight of the all-new generation of Formula 1.

MELBOURNE GRAND PRIX CIRCUIT

Laps: 58

Distance: 5.303 kilometres

Corners: 14

Albert Park has been reprofiled and resurfaced since 2019 in a substantial change to its character.

The biggest modification involves the run from turn 6 to what used to be the turn 11-12 chicane. Turn 6 has been widened by around eight metres, increasing minimum speed by a whopping 70 kilometres per hour, and turns 9 and 10 have been expunged completely, creating one long sweep down to the former 11-12 chicane (now renumbered turns 9 and 10) with a top speed of 330 kilometres per hour for a much bigger braking zone.

Turns 1, 3, 11 and 13 are also all wider to generate overtaking possibilities, the summary being that the track is substantially faster than at F1’s last visit.

THE 2019 RACE

Winner: Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)

Valtteri Bottas dominated in what he described at the time as his best-ever race. He was pipped for pole by teammate Lewis Hamilton but rocketed off the line to take the lead, forcing the Briton into a defensive position strategically that allowed the Finn to gallop away to a 20-second victory and the bonus point for fastest lap.

FORM GUIDE

Historically Lewis Hamilton has been the man to beat on Saturdays, claiming all six poles since 2014 and eight of the 13 since his 2007 debut. But the historical trend is weighted heavily against his recent form, and few would tip Mercedes to be close to pole contention after a shocking first two races by Silver Arrows standards.

Ferrari and Red Bull Racing are the form constructors. Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen have split the two victories so far, with Leclerc and Sergio Perez sharing poles. The two cars have been so evenly matched and such a long way ahead of the rest that the battle for Albert Park will surely be fought exclusively between them — perhaps even by all four drivers, with both Perez and Carlos Sainz inching closer to their teammates at the previous round.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Normally the Australian Grand Prix is a safe one-stop race featuring little overtaking, but the new circuit profile and abrasive new surface mean this may as well be a new race from the strategy and set-up perspective.

There are two key characteristics to play for at Albert Park: traction and top speed.

Traction and acceleration have always been a part of the challenge in Melbourne, and based on Bahrain, this will be a Ferrari strength this weekend.

However, with the removal of some corners and speeding up of almost all the others, that advantage will be somewhat neutered, and the long back straight will favour Red Bull Racing’s happiness running with less downforce to achieve a higher top speed. On balance it may be a toss-up.

All that said, teams have had time to make adjustments and create upgrades with the week off, so the competitive picture may well change by this weekend. As will be the case for much of the early part of this season, it’s best to expect the unexpected.