Rejoice F1 fans, your favourite sport is back! The 2018 Australian Grand Prix gets underway this weekend in Melbourne as the teams and drivers head out on track for the first competitive running of the year. Here are your reasons to watch all the action this weekend!
What is the competitive order?
After almost 8,000 laps between the ten teams in winter testing, we’re still none the wiser on what this year’s competitive order will be. The safe money for this weekend would be on Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. The four-time World Champion has taken every pole here since 2014, and Mercedes have won all but one of the past four season-opening Grands Prix.
Mercedes had near-bulletproof reliability over the two weeks of testing and put in strong lap times on long runs without using the softer tyres. Nonetheless, Toto Wolff has openly said that he expects 2018 to be a three-way battle between his own team, Ferrari and Red Bull.
Meanwhile, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo is anticipating just half a second separating the top three teams at the first round of the year, and he says even that prediction is ‘conservative’. We’ll only know the real pace of these cars in the last minutes of Q3 on Saturday.
The Midfield Battle
Will the Honda engines make it to the end of the race? Can McLaren make it through Sunday afternoon without any mishaps? Is Force India still the fourth best team? There are so many unanswered questions about the midfield pack as we head to Melbourne.
Toro Rosso was one of the surprises of testing, as they completed hundreds of laps of trouble-free running with their new engine partners Honda, while McLaren’s series of unfortunate events was worrying. The battle between Honda’s new allies Toro Rosso and their former partners McLaren, who are now powered by Renault, could be an interesting scrap this weekend. Who’ll come out on top?
Based on pre-season testing, the front of the midfield looks set to be a tight fight between Force India, Renault and Haas, at least for the opening rounds of the season, while the back of the grid looks to be made up of Williams and Sauber. But, as with the front of the grid, we won’t really know who is where competitively until Saturday’s qualifying session, and even then the race could provide an entirely different story.
Another DRS Zone
There were just fourteen overtakes during last year’s Australian Grand Prix, but we may see more this year thanks to an additional DRS zone.
For the first time in F1 history, there’ll be three DRS activation zones this weekend. In addition to the zones on the main straight and between Turns Two and Three, a new DRS detection point has been added before Turn Eleven, allowing an activation zone between turns Twelve and Thirteen. The idea is that the new activation zone will help the drivers bunch up to the cars ahead by the time they reach the following DRS zone on the main straight.
Will this help to improve the show?
All eyes on Haas
Arguably one of the biggest surprises of winter testing was the Haas team, who put in some eye-catching lap times. Even Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton seemed surprised by the American team’s relative pace. Haas could be the team to watch this weekend. They have good form at the Albert Park track. In their début race, Romain Grosjean finished sixth in Melbourne in 2016. Last year, Grosjean gave Haas their best ever qualifying result here with sixth on the grid.
Could a mixed up season opener give Haas a better result than their best ever fifth finishing position at the 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix?
A Home Winner?
Home favourite Daniel Ricciardo heads to Melbourne this weekend hoping to do what no Australian has done before – finish on the podium at Albert Park.
Ricciardo himself may have finished in the runner-up spot here in 2014, but the result was soon taken away from him as a result of a fuel flow infringement. Many have suggested after winter testing that Red Bull are the second-best team, so it’s entirely plausible that the Perth born driver could take his first elusive home podium. As for a home win – anything is possible in the opening race of the season. Ricciardo has made it clear that he wants Red Bull to show title-winning potential from the opening round of the season.
A new F1 and a new Safety Car
We’re going to see a very different F1 this weekend. We have a new, much talked about, logo and new TV graphics to go with it as Liberty welcome a new era of Formula One. We’ve also got a new F1 theme tune, composed by Brian Tyler. It’s not clear how the music will be used in the race broadcast yet, but it’s another change which will be intriguing to see unfold.
Aside from all of this, we’ve also been promised a ‘new approach’ to the way in which the action is broadcast. Lower camera angles will give an increased sense of speed, while ‘spotters’ around the track will aid the TV directors to pick up the best on-track action.
This weekend will also see the new Safety Car being used for the first time. A Mercedes AMG GT R replaces the GT S which had been in use since 2015. The likelihood of the Safety Car making an appearance here is quite high, with 12 of the 22 races at Albert Park has featured at least one Safety Car period.
The Australian Grand Prix begins at 6:10am (BST) on Sunday 25th March. In the U.K. the race is exclusively live on Sky Sports F1.