As usual the first race on the calendar is the Australian Grand Prix, which once again is being held in the city of Melbourne. But even before the new cars headed out on the Albert Park street circuit for some practice runs, Aston Martin dropped the bombshell that it would serve as official technical partner of Red Bull Racing and develop a new hypercar with the team.
Apart from that little announcement, there haven’t been any major dramas. There’s a lot of talk that this could be Ferrari’s year, although during the winter tests Mercedes AMG never revealed the true performance of its car, which we might add demonstrated excellent reliability throughout the test period. The German team’s star driver, Lewis Hamilton, is the reigning world champion.
This season also sees the return of Renault as a constructor. Another team to watch is Haas, the first American F1 outfit in three decades. Haas, which is running a Ferrari power unit, had some trouble during the test period and being a new team isn’t setting its sights too high just yet.
As for the Australian race, it’s always a favorite on the calendar, not only because it’s the first time that we get to see how the teams perform with their new setups but also because of technical challenges of the Albert Park circuit. The 16-turn track’s length is 3.3 miles, and with a combination of short straights, second and third gear chicanes, it requires medium to high downforce and good traction.
This being a street circuit, there should be significant rise in grip levels throughout the weekend as the rubber goes down. The new regulations allow for a greater choice when it comes to tires, so there are plenty of unknowns as well. This season, there are three nominations, two of which are compulsory during the race. Pirelli has nominated its medium, soft and supersoft compounds, with the medium and soft nominated as compulsory.
One additional key change made this year is the qualifying format. There are still three sessions, though now the slowest driver will be eliminated every 90 seconds until only the pole sitter is left. Seven will be eliminated in Q1, seven more in Q2 and a final seven in Q3, leaving only the pole sitter.
The weather can also be quite changeable at this time in Melbourne as it’s the end of the Australian summer, and with the circuit being less than a mile from the sea this can have a large impact. The current forecast for Sunday’s race is clear skies and a peak temperature of 73 degrees F (23 degrees C).