From Lewis Hamilton chasing the victory to Manor searching for the finish line, here are the things to watch out for In Melbourne…
* The Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne is the race at which you’ll hear the phrase “pecking order” over and over again. F1 needs to get a sense of order after winter testing, but the 5.3km (3.29 miles) Albert Park track is not very typical of the average race circuit, so it’s possible this first ‘pecking order’ will be a slightly misleading ‘pecking order’. Apart from the Silver Arrows cars at the front. Last year a tiny split tube/sleeve ruined Lewis’s race. This year he’ll want to start off with a win.
* The weather forecast for the weekend is mixed, with temperatures predicted to vary significantly with a Friday high of 20C, Qualifying up at 27C, and the race back at 20C. No rain is expected.
* We will glimpse the new Marussia/Manor Motorsport entry for the first time in Friday practice and see how good a job the engineers have done in creating a 2015 runner out of a 2014 machine. The team is likely to struggle to get within 107% of the P1 time in Qualifying, having done no running at all other than shakedowns.
* We will also get to see the helmets that will remain with the drivers for the rest of 2015. The FIA have told drivers they have to stick with one design for an entire season – something Martin Brundle has been banging on about for years. Sebastian Vettel has already said he might be tempted to incur an FIA fine and break the rule.
* After some good winter testing times and a competent performance behind the wheel, 17-year-old Max Verstappen could set an unbeatable record – the youngest ever F1 points scorer. And if not Melbourne, then maybe Sepang. Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Junior (or as Eddie Jordan likes to call him, ‘Another Carlos Sainz’) also represent the youngest F1 driver pairing of all time and the least experienced of all time. Each making their F1 race debuts in Australia.
* It’s the home race for Daniel Ricciardo who was robbed of P2 last year by a faulty fuel flow sensor. The Honey Badger is glad to be back racing in Oz: “I love going home and the fresh air really gives me that home feeling. I spend so much time now away from Australia that anywhere in Oz feels like home really. It’s the cars, the accent, the food and the weather. The whole [Melbourne] vibe and atmosphere is just amazing. It’s busy and there is always something going on. The track is fun. I’ve always liked street circuits. I think it’s a great and fast flowing circuit.
* Williams Head of Vehicle Performance, Rob Smedley, believes that handling will vary a lot from Friday to Sunday at Albert Park. “ As it's a street circuit the grip will develop and improve throughout the weekend. The car starts off with a lot of understeer on the dirty circuit and later in the weekend the rear tyres can become the limitation. In the cooler conditions the front tyre graining can be an issue too so we need to have done our homework on both scenarios for the race.”
* Analysts will be keen to see how the lap times stack up against last year’s timesheets. In 2014 the final tests were in Bahrain and so couldn’t be compared to Barcelona’s testing times of 2015. This will be the first like-for-like test one year on. Not all of the track time has come from the engine, though. Pirelli have been changing the compounds…
* It’s Pirelli’s fifth season of Formula One. Motorsport Director Paul Hembery: “Just like last year, we’ve nominated the medium and soft compounds, which cover the very wide range of usage conditions that are possible in Melbourne. The new rear structure increases traction and helps drivers get onto the power earlier, one of the factors that has led to faster lap times this year.”
* Fernando Alonso has been advised to continue recovering from his testing accident concussion and hands his seat back to Kevin Magnussen who scored a magnificent debut podium in the race last year. Given McLaren’s endless problems in testing there is no great optimism that the car can run at the front, as Jenson Button explained: “While we know the city and the circuit well, what is more of an unknown is how we will fare in the MP4-30. McLaren-Honda has been working incredibly hard over the winter, and although we would of course have liked to cover more miles in Jerez and Barcelona, I can definitely see a difference in the car from the first day to the last.