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Will Melbourne track changes favour Red Bull or Ferrari?

The next round of the 2022 Formula 1 World Championship sees a welcome return to Melbourne's Albert Park, although the circuit represents an entirely new challenge.

After a brief catching of breath following the two frantic opening rounds of the 2022 Formula 1 World Championship, the sport decamps to Australia for the third race of the season. Once a hotbed of excitement for a new F1 season, back when Melbourne held the opening race of the year, Albert Park being shifted to the third race of the year doesn't mean that the levels of anticipation are in any way diminished. Indeed, Melbourne's absence from the calendar for three whole seasons means that there's a level of pent-up fan fervour waiting to explode as the park circuit opens its gates for F1 once again – two years on from the ill-fated trek Down Under for the 2020 event that would be cancelled before practice began in light of the worsening COVID-19 crisis. There's plenty for fans to look forward to this weekend. Not only is the venue itself a favourite for the drivers due to its intimate feel with temporary grandstands lining the tarmac, Daniel Ricciardo returns to race on home soil for the first time since his truncated 2019 outing. While he's struggled for form with McLaren, his 2021 Monza victory is fresh enough in the mind to guarantee him a hero's welcome.

The circuit goes through numerous changes

While Albert Park is a familiar venue for any F1 fan, given that it hosted a race every year between 1996 and 2019, the Australian circuit has gone through quite a few modifications for this year's event. Almost every corner on the track has been tweaked in some way, with the intent being to allow for varying lines through the tighter-apexed corners by widening and reprofiling. For instance, the approach to Turn 1 has been widened by some two-and-a-half metres, with the apex kerbing also altered. The same has happened at Turn 3, with the approach widened by up to four metres. These were traditional overtaking zones, meaning that there could be even more opportunities now. But it's the second sector where the modifications have completely changed the DNA of the circuit. The old Turns 9 and 10 have been removed, meaning there's no longer a corner to slow down the drivers as they take to the curved 'back straight' beside the lake. This means the drivers now approach the chicane at a much higher speed. Further changes have also been made in the third sector, with the old Turn 13 (now Turn 11) reprofiled to make a harder, longer braking zone. The entire circuit has also been resurfaced for the first time since joining the F1 calendar. Added to these changes is the decision to include an unprecedented four DRS zones , meaning the race is sure to have plenty of high-speed overtaking.

Ferrari v Red Bull, Chapter Three?

The first two races of the year resulted in titanic scraps between Red Bull and Ferrari, with Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc respectively leading the charge for their teams. There's little reason to doubt that it won't be more of the same this weekend, with expected downforce requirements set to fall somewhere between what the teams would have run in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Ferrari have opted against bringing any updates, meaning their F1-75 will continue to run virtually unchanged since the start of pre-season testing. Mercedes, like Ferrari, aren't expected to have any updates just yet, despite having hoped to have had a new rear wing design ready for this weekend. Red Bull, however, are expected to roll out a new rear wing design aimed at reducing drag – something which could be critical down Melbourne's long flat-out blasts. With more intensive upgrades expected when F1 returns to Europe for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, the race in Australia is likely to see a very similar performance pecking order to the first two rounds.

Haas able to take on Mercedes once again?

With Mercedes unable to introduce any significant parts changes which might vault their W13 a little closer to the action at the front, George Russell and Lewis Hamilton are likely set for another weekend in "no man's land" as the third-quickest team. But, much to their chagrin, Haas have been frighteningly consistent and close to their performance during the opening two rounds. With Kevin Magnussen suffering in qualifying in Saudi Arabia as his neck muscles gave out from his lack of F1-specific training, expect the Danish driver to be closer to fighting fit this weekend after getting some well-deserved rest post-Jeddah. Having been a thorn in Hamilton's side through a terrific (albeit DRS-assisted) scrap late on in Saudi Arabia, Magnussen and Haas have fared extremely well in Australia in the past (until the wheels, literally, came off). Now that they've got a performing car they seem to understand, they could be a dark horse to be best-of-the-rest this weekend.

RESULTS 2024 F1 Monaco Grand Prix - Free Practice 2