Round three of the 2023 Formula 1 World Championship takes place this weekend, with Albert Park, Melbourne hosting the Australian Grand Prix.
F1 returned to the area in 2021 after missing a handful of races due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Charles Leclerc prevailed last year but it is a different looking picture ahead of the 2023 edition of the race, with Red Bull dominating the opening two events.
But what are the key questions for the upcoming round, and what will be the biggest storylines to emerge across the weekend?
Can Perez continue his momentum?
Sergio Perez took his fifth career grand prix win in Jeddah two weeks ago, commanding the race from start to finish. His result was undoubtedly aided by team-mate Max Verstappen’s early Q2 dropout due to a drive shaft failure.
However, Perez will look to use the momentum he gained in Saudi Arabia to propel himself forward and pose a stronger threat to Verstappen compared to recent years.
In the title fight, Verstappen has been tipped to cruise to a third title in similar fashion to last year – but with another win under his belt so early on in the season, it may force Verstappen to re-think the challenge that he has ahead of him in 2023.
Will Ferrari make a U-turn?
Ferrari endured a disappointing Saudi Arabian GP, with shocking lack of pace and more team errors hampering it throughout. Surprisingly, it ended up behind both Mercedes cars in the race, who have been signalling its woes consistently since the first round in Bahrain.
Ferrari was supposed to make a jump compared to 2022 but it appears to be in no way a race-winning outfit.
Australia has been a happy hunting ground for the Italian squad in recent years, winning three out of the last four races staged at Albert Park.
While few will be expecting it to challenge for the victory this time around, placing the mediocre Jeddah event in the past and displaying a more streamlined weekend in Melbourne would be considered a success.
Can McLaren get up and running?
It has been some time since McLaren has endured such a poor start to a Formula 1 campaign. Reliability issues in Bahrain and first lap damage in Saudi Arabia has sent it to the root of the standings after two events.
Oscar Piastri would’ve been hoping for more when he opted to sign for McLaren, who appeared to be moving forwards over the last few years.
Ahead of his maiden home race, the Melbourne native will be looking to get his name on the points board, as will Lando Norris – who, in the Drivers’ Championship, is currently positioned dead last behind his team-mate.
McLaren very much looks to be part of the midfield pack that doesn’t seem to have a back marker, meaning a clean race weekend very well may reward McLaren with points.
Can Alonso score a trio of podiums for the first time in 10 years?
Fernando Alonso’s dream start to life at Aston Martin in Bahrain got even better in Jeddah, where he picked up another podium result (albeit in confusing circumstances).
Alonso now has the chance to take three consecutive podiums and stretch his lead over the chasing Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.
The 41-year-old has not achieved such a feat since the 2013 season with Ferrari. His team-mate Lance Stroll will also be hoping to pose more of a challenge and secure a podium finish of his own before too long.
But so far, it has been Alonso who has shone at the squad and has showed no signs of dipping speed and momentum on the grid.
How will four DRS zones affect the racing?
F1 will run four DRS zones this weekend in Albert Park, a track that traditionally has not offered many overtaking chances.
Circuit changes were seen for the first time last year, and F1 even experimented with four DRS zones in free practice before one was scrapped due to safety reasons.
However, the fourth zone is back this year and will give the chasing cars more of a chance to get ahead of their rivals. Whether it will make it too easy for the competition remains to be seen, but with half of Albert Park’s straights progressing into high-speed corners, the added chance of an overtake could be a welcoming input.
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