Mercedes upgrades on the way?

Mercedes was expected to introduce its first significant upgrade of the season for F1’s return to Melbourne with the arrival of an all-new rear wing to reduce drag and potentially a newly-designed floor, though it appears to still have the same rear wing it had in Jeddah. 

The update, which may not arrive until Imola or Miami, are aimed at combating its porpoising issues. The phenomenon has been at the heart of the W13’s problems so far in 2022, forcing Mercedes to run a compromised setup in a bid to reduce the bouncing effect.

As a result, drivers George Russell and Lewis Hamilton had contrasting fortunes at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix last time out as they dealt with an ill-handling car.

The seven-time champion was knocked out in Q1 for the first time since 2017, while Russell qualified sixth albeit behind Alpine’s Esteban Ocon. They went on to finish fifth and 10th respectively in the race. 

With Albert Park’s significant changes for this weekend, the circuit is likely to reward low drag and high speed - something Mercedes has lacked in the opening two grands prix of the year.

Speaking ahead of the weekend, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said: "At the moment, our track performance is not meeting our own expectations, but everyone at Brackley and Brixworth is focused on understanding the problems and finding the right solutions.

"There won't be a magic fix for the next race weekend, but we're pushing to steadily bring gains over the upcoming races, to hopefully move us closer to the front of the pack.

"Until then, we need to maximise each opportunity and make the most of the package we have."

Leclerc v Verstappen - Part 3?

The biggest talking point so far this season is Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen’s early duels.

Leclerc and Verstappen have one victory apiece as they went head-to-head on track in both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

After F1 enjoyed one of its greatest-ever title battles last season, Leclerc versus Verstappen could end up eclipsing that if the pair continue to battle aggressively on track but also continue to show each other respect.

Ferrari and Red Bull have been the class of the field so far but both cars have their respective strengths. 

Ferrari has been superior in the corners, particularly at low speed and keeping a good car balance while Red Bull maintains the advantage on the straights.

How these variables will play out this weekend will be interesting given that Albert Park is considerably different to how it was last time F1 raced in Melbourne back in 2019.

Vettel’s return 

After missing the opening two races of the season due to coronavirus, Sebastian Vettel makes his return this weekend.

Vettel is the most successful driver at the Australian Grand Prix, winning on three previous occasions (2011, 2017 and 2018) but his impressive historical record is unlikely to be able to save Aston Martin from its terrible start to the 2022 season. 

In Vettel’s absence, Lance Stroll and Nico Hulkenberg could only muster one Q2 appearance and never looked like fighting for the top 10 on merit with Aston Martin trailing Haas, Alfa Romeo, AlphaTauri and McLaren in Saudi Arabia. 

The four-time world champion will give Aston Martin a welcome boost but given he’s been out of the car for nearly a month and the lingering effects of covid still likely, it might take Vettel some time to get back to his very best.

Ricciardo’s homecoming

Daniel Ricciardo will race in front of his home crowd for the first time since 2019.

The Australian finally returned home after the conclusion of last season following a couple of years away due to the various travel restrictions linked to the pandemic. 

Unfortunately for Ricciardo, success on home soil looks to be a distant dream given McLaren’s early struggles this season. 

The Woking outfit ran most of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix at the back of the grid with low-speed corners and heavy braking zones at the forefront of McLaren’s problems in 2022.

The team fared better in Saudi Arabia, although it relied on the retirements of Fernando Alonso and Valtteri Bottas to propel Lando Norris into the top seven.

Australia’s new layout is high-speed and lacks too many heavy braking zones which should make McLaren more competitive than it was in Bahrain.

However, a big result for Ricciardo at his home event is a distant dream.

Four DRS zones and a drastically new track

For the first time in F1’s history, there will be four DRS activation zones for this weekend’s Australian GP. 

On paper, it looks like F1 has gone one step too far but given that there are just two detection points it should mean drivers won’t be too fearful like they were in Saudi Arabia to complete overtakes. 

Besides the four DRS zones, organisers have revamped Albert Park completely with Turns 1, 3, 6, 11 and the penultimate corner all widened.

The old Turn 9 and 10 corners have been removed and replaced with a 1.3km flat-out section that will host the new DRS zone.

The changes look promising with wider corners and higher top speeds - in theory - allowing for better racing.

Albert Park has often been one of the dullest races on the calendar with very few overtakes.

With new cars and a heavily-modified circuit, maybe 2022 will be the year Australia’s fans get to enjoy a breathtaking grand prix.