As the Australian Grand Prix returns to the Formula 1 circus, but not after a gap of three years, a lot has changed around the sport and in it.
To get a sense of all that has happened since the last Australian Grand Prix (of 2019), it’s important to note that the likes of Mick Schumacher and Nicholas Latifi of Haas and Williams Racing, respectively have become full-time Formula 1 drivers.
Two key drivers whose careers began at Melbourne in 2019, think Lando Norris and Alex Albon, have today risen as the young pillars of the sport.
Norris, who was barely a teenager, back in 2019, is one of the driving factors of McLaren. Albon, meanwhile, went away from the sport only to come back later with Williams.
In such time, we’ve had countless cases of Coronavirus, numerous fatalities, an emotional one too in the realm of Formula 1 in that no longer is Kimi Raikkonen part of the starting grid.
But one of the old guards is back – Fernando Alonso.
Daniel Ricciardo, the home hero for the Australian Grand Prix, who last raced at Melbourne with Renault, is finding his feet again at McLaren. Charles Leclerc, whose 2019 Australian GP drive marked his maiden race for Ferrari, is today the go-to man of the Scuderia stable, a driver who got off to a flier this year in winning the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix.
But the changes brought on since Australia 2019 aren’t only restricted to team and driver changes or starting of new careers alone. In a bid to make the sport more competitive, part of which is to make F1 machines meaner and faster, we have amid us new rules and regulations, such as wider tyres, newly-defined sidepods and a recalibrated approach to aerodynamic functioning: the 2022 cars function with a ground effect!
Meanwhile, back on the Albert Park circuit, there are several critical narratives panning out.
Having set the fastest times in the Friday-bound Free Practice, both the Ferraris (each belonging to Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz) stand a great chance to gather pole on Saturday.
Max Verstappen, who bisected the two Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz during free practice, is confident that his Red Bull is right ‘up there’ with the red cars.
Do we have another Ferrari versus Red Bull duel on our Sunday menu- we shall have to wait and see? Moreover, can McLaren pepper the race with some blitz pace of their own- what could come any better?
The track, however, has undergone several changes too and wider apexes are just a part of that; Sunday’s highly-interesting Australian Grand Prix is all set to give the drivers no fewer than four DRS zones.
Expect an all out attack and that could well make the battles on the straights so much fun.
While it’s confirmed that Mercedes have brought upgrades to their W13, perceptibly in a bid to solve the enduring issue with porpoising, it’s not clear as to what extent has the Wolff-led side worked out a way?
At the conclusion of FP2, George Russell was in eleventh with Lewis Hamilton down in thirteenth.
And by that measure one can safely say that it’s highly unlikely that a Mercedes would claim pole position in a few hours from now; probably making it to the top five on the starting grid would be an inspiring phenomenon.
How quickly do fortunes change in Formula 1- don’t they? Who’d have expected a stalwart of the grid in Hamilton, a seven-time world champion, to be jockeying for positions inside the top ten as he is at the moment?
Surely, that would give Verstappen some relief. But maybe not too much as where the current 2022 narrative stands- it’s only the opponents challenging the Red Bull world champion who’ve changed; Mercedes earlier to Ferrari now. Verstappen is still holding it together and strongly against the rip roaring duo of Leclerc and Sainz.
All of that being said, few sights on the current grid can bring as much joy as seeing Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel return to the grid. A triumphant competitor with four world titles against his name, Vettel, finally beginning his 2022 season (after COVID recovery) finds himself racing on a track that’s brought him much joy in the past.
He’d claim a P3 upon his maiden drive for Ferrari, circa 2015, after which he’d win on two occasions, including the 2017 and 2018 drives.
But what can he do this time around? How smoothly will he sail his brand new Aston Martin 2022 F1 car?
This and more will figure among the endless litany of questions as one of F1’s most emphatic contests makes its way back onto the season come Sunday.