After one of the most intriguing pre-seasons for many years, the new-look Formula One is set to be unleashed in Melbourne this weekend. As the sport enters a new era, there are still plenty of questions marks surrounding who is competitive, who is in trouble and - perhaps most importantly - the reliability of the new cars. Early signs are that Mercedes and Williams are the teams to beat, with Force India and Ferrari also a threat in race trim. However, the wretched pre-season suffered by reigning champions Red Bull has left the pace of the new RB10 unknown. It's all change in 2014 and the Australian Grand Prix will finally answer so many questions from testing. New cars, new engines, new tyres ... a new world champion?

2013 race

The season-opener last year provided the perfect result after the drama of the final race of 2012. Qualifying was postponed until Sunday morning due to heavy rain, but while Sebastian Vettel took pole position in a Red Bull front row lock-out, the race was far from as straightforward. Tyre strategies made for an action-packed race, with Vettel being harried by the two Ferraris - Fernando Alonso eventually passing during pit stops - and Kimi Raikkonen making a two-stop race work to eventually win by over 12 seconds from Alonso. Vettel came home third as Red Bull struggled to get the most out of its tyres compared to the Lotus and Ferrari.

Most successful driver at Albert Park: Michael Schumacher (4 wins)

Most successful team at Albert Park: McLaren, Ferrari (6 wins)

2014 session times (All times local)

FP1: 1230 - 1400
FP2: 1630 - 1800
FP3: 1400 - 1500
Qualifying: 1700 - 1800
Race: 1700

Track information

Lewis Hamilton:
"I love Albert Park; it's a circuit that really puts drivers to the test. It's a half-and-half mix between street circuit and race track, with a really bumpy surface that's tough on tyres. There are two high-speed sections, but the majority of corners are rated as low or medium speed, so you need to try and put as much downforce on the car as possible. Overtaking is tricky here but not impossible. It's usually pretty close between a move coming off and ending badly, which is why we see a lot of safety cars.

"Another factor is the weather, which can be blistering hot one day and freezing cold the next. You really do get four seasons in one day here! There have been race weekends in the past with temperatures in the teens during qualifying, but rising well into the thirties during the race. It can change very quickly, so you have to keep one eye on the forecast and set the car up to be able to cope with every scenario.

"In terms of layout, the end of the start / finish straight is the fastest section with quite heavy braking into Turn One. It's so easy to out-brake yourself here and there's always a few tense moments over the course of the weekend as drivers push the limits. You quite often see incidents on the first lap here too as it's pretty tight which, added to the adrenaline of that first race start of a new season, has created plenty of drama over the years.

"Turn Three offers the best overtaking opportunity, but it's far from easy to make a pass stick. You have to get a good exit from the first two corners and be brave and decisive when you make your move. Aside from that, it's through the final two turns, 15 and 16, that you really want the car to work best. These are very slow and are where the most lap time can be gained from the car. A good run through here determines your speed down the start / finish straight."

Weather

In typical Melbourne fashion, the weather is set to fluctuate this weekend. Friday and Saturday look set to be dry and hot, with the drivers and teams getting consistent conditions to practice and qualify in. However, Sunday is due to be wet and cool, with Saturday's forecast high of 30C dropping to 17C on race day. As if this race needed spicing up any more this year...

Prediction

Well this couldn't be harder. Based on pre-season testing it would be foolish not to go for a Mercedes-powered team. The pace shown by Williams was impressive and it would be great to start the season with a win for Sir Frank's team, but Nico Rosberg is going to get the nod due to the impressive way Mercedes hit the ground running from day one of the first test.

 

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