Australian Grand Prix: Melbourne ready for new F1 season

The long winter is over. Formula 1 2019 is finally here. With new drivers and familiar rivalries, the season gets under way at the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday.

A graphic to show the track layout at Albert Park for the Australian Grand Prix

What can fans expect from the opener?

Fresh ideas, lots of new faces and some old ones in different places, too.

Race week begins early this year as Australia hosts the Formula 1 season launch event on Wednesday. Featuring all 20 drivers and their team principals at Melbourne's Federation Square, you can expect a carnival atmosphere.

Once the action gets under way, how far will teams push their shiny new cars around the Albert Park circuit now an extra point is up for grabs for the driver who sets fastest lap in the grand prix? Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo clocked one minute 25.945 seconds at last year's race. Could the Aussie repeat the achievement on home soil for new employer Renault?

Elsewhere, Sebastian Vettel will feel all eyes are on him following Ferrari's impressive showing during pre-season testing in Barcelona. In the hunt for world championship number five and his first title for the Scuderia, the German has to contend with the juggernaut that is Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes, but also Monegasque hotshot and former Sauber driver Charles Leclerc as his new team-mate.

Valtteri Bottas will be hoping for a big season. The Finn crashed out in qualifying 12 months ago and ended 2018 without a win to his name. With Esteban Ocon in the wings as Mercedes' reserve driver, a solid start at Albert Park is essential. Let's just hope for Bottas' sake Mercedes chief strategist James Vowles doesn't make another appearance over the team radio any time soon...

Lewis Hamilton tweets a picture of the Melbourne skyline
Five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton tweeted this beauty of a photo as he touched down in Australia in preparation for race week

Expect to hear the word 'rookie' multiple times in Melbourne as George Russell (Williams), Lando Norris (McLaren) and Alexander Albon (Toro Rosso) start their first seasons in F1.

Russell is the reigning Formula 2 champion, but after Williams' poor start to 2019 - they finished bottom of the running in testing, and chief technical officer Paddy Lowe left - there are questions over whether the British outfit can match the 21-year-old's potential.

For every newbie on the grid, there's a 'veteran' who has seen it all. Alfa Romeo have drivers at both ends of the spectrum with Kimi Raikkonen rejoining the team he made his debut for - albeit then known as Sauber - in Melbourne in 2001 and Italian Antonio Giovinazzi.

How can I pass the time until it starts?

There are two F1 television treats to enjoy in the build-up to this weekend. On BBC iPlayer, documentary Williams: Formula 1 in the Blood is available to watch until Tuesday, 19 March. It gives viewers an in-depth insight into the life and career of one of F1's most famous names, Sir Frank Williams.

On Netflix, the release of Formula 1: Drive to Survive - a behind-the-scenes look at the 2018 season - has racing fans analysing and debating the first 10 episodes of series one. In the absence of Mercedes and Ferrari (only eight teams allowed Netflix exclusive access), Haas team principal Guenther Steiner emerges as a star of the paddock.

The Italian's refreshingly honest phone call with team founder Gene Haas explaining the pit crew's horror show at Albert Park last season is one of many highlights.

Need a quiz to get the F1 brain working again?

Look no further than our Australian Grand Prix stats game.

From the fastest lap recorded to who has scored the most points at Albert Park, all you need to do is put the answers in the correct order.

An extra strong neck is required for 2019

When one of the most popular drivers on the grid is signed as your team-mate for the new season, a bog-standard training regime will no longer do.

With Ricciardo joining Renault from Red Bull, Nico Hulkenberg donned this medieval-like, heavyweight helmet while training at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy in France.

Nico Hulkenberg - Mouratoglou Tennis Academy

Over at McLaren, Norris - at 19, the youngest driver in the line-up this year - looked like a bull being lassoed on a ranch as he and his trainer put the hours in to beef up his teenage physique.

Or maybe the Briton is trying to emulate the American martial artist and actor who shares his surname? If you type the phrase: "Is Lando Norris..." into Google, the top answer returned is the brilliantly absurd "...related to Chuck Norris?"

Lando Norris' trainer pulls a neck weight which is attached around the McLaren drivers head
Lando Norris' trainer pulls a neck weight that is attached around the McLaren driver's head

F1 holiday album - what did everyone get up to?

Well, if you were Hamilton, you gave your Mercedes team bosses sleepless nights.

Not content with a simple jet-ski ride in a beautiful ocean or sunbathing on a tropical island, the five-time world champion opened up his bucket list and marked a giant tick next to 'Get skydiving licence'.

Lewis Hamilton skydiving
"The feeling of free fall is incredible." Tell that to Toto Wolff

For Raikkonen, a snowy trek in the Alps followed by a pointed-finger selfie in front of one of the world's most iconic mountains was a highlight for his ever-growing Instagram fanbase.

Kimi Raikkonen Instagram

Bottas, meanwhile, went for a style makeover and grew...a beard.

Not quite in the same league as 1970s Austrian driver Harald Ertl - a man who had a bushy beard and handlebar moustache before today's millennial hipsters were even born - Bottas has gone subtly stubbly in an attempt to find that killer edge in 2019.

Valtteri Bottas Twitter
BBC F1 cannot guarantee (but hopes) Bottas' beard will still be on his face come race day in Australia

How can I follow the Australian Grand Prix on the BBC?

Be prepared to pull a couple of overnighters this weekend as track action in Melbourne starts at the eye-watering time of 01:00 GMT on Friday for first practice.

Live radio commentary of practice and qualifying on Friday and Saturday will be available on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, while race-day build-up on Sunday begins at 04:30 GMT on BBC Radio 5 Live, before lights out and full commentary at 05:10 GMT.

You can also listen to all three days across the BBC Sounds app, via the BBC Sport website and mobile sport app.

BBC F1's online text commentary will be up and running early doors to bring fans the latest news, expert analysis, debate, interviews and reaction to whatever might happen at Albert Park. Get involved using the hashtag #bbcf1 on Twitter to have your say.

The 5 Live Formula 1 team of Jack Nicholls, Jennie Gow and former Renault driver Jolyon Palmer discuss the ins and outs of the new season in the Australian Grand Prix preview and review podcasts, which are available to download and keep.

All times GMT and are subject to change at short notice. 

Australian Grand Prix coverage details
DateSessionTimeRadio coverageOnline text commentary
Thursday, 14 MarchPreview21:00-22:00BBC Radio 5 Live
Friday, 15 MarchFirst practice00:55-02:35BBC Radio 5 Live Sports ExtraFrom 00:30
Second practice04:55-06:35BBC Radio 5 Live Sports ExtraFrom 04:30
Saturday, 16 MarchThird practice02:55-04:05BBC Radio 5 Live Sports ExtraFrom 02:30
Qualifying05:55-07:05BBC Radio 5 Live Sports ExtraFrom 05:30
Sunday, 17 MarchRace04:30-07:00BBC Radio 5 LiveFrom 03:40
Monday, 18 MarchReview04:30-05:00BBC Radio 5 Live
F1 podcast: Australian Grand Prix reviewDownload here

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