After the long winter break, a new season of the Formula 1 World Championship is finally upon us. As usual, the first race on the calendar is the Australian Grand Prix, which runs this weekend at the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit, a street circuit in the vicinity of Melbourne's Albert Park.
The stop is one of the most popular on the F1 calendar, and there’s always a sense of excitement and anticipation as we learn which teams have the pace and which are struggling. This year also sees a number of new drivers at many of the teams, which makes this first race in Australia all the more interesting. And don't forget there's also the new aero rules, which should result in more overtaking.
Judging from the performance displayed during pre-season testing in Spain, it looks like we'll be treated with another season of close competition between top teams Mercedes-AMG and Ferrari. Red Bull Racing could also pull a surprise. In fact, the team was second fastest during Friday's practice, with drivers Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly outpaced by only Mercedes's Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas in the second session.
The Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit features a 16-turn layout that stretches 3.3 miles and features a combination of short straights and second- and third-gear chicanes, and requires medium to high downforce and good traction. Being a street circuit, there should be a significant rise in grip levels throughout the weekend as the rubber goes down. A 1-stop strategy was the winning choice last year and not surprisingly was used by the majority of drivers.
There's been a shakeup in tire classification this season. From now on, compound firmness will be graded between C1 and C5, with C1 being the hardest. Three compounds will be offered for each race, with white markings denoting the hardest, yellow the medium, and red the softest. For the Australian race, tire supplier Pirelli has nominated the C2, C3 and C4 compounds. We should point out that the firmness levels will vary between races, so a C2 compound in Australia won't necessary be the same used elsewhere.
Weather can be a mixed bag, helping to make Melbourne one of the more unpredictable races of the year. Fine conditions are forecast for Saturday's qualifying and while some light right might show up on Sunday, it should be cleared out before the start of the race in the afternoon. Last year's winner in Australia was Sebastian Vettel driving for Ferrari.