If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then Melbourne is in for some serious love this weekend. Formula One hasn’t visited Australia since 2019 and as one of the most iconic circuits in the world, the teams cannot wait to go racing there again.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the strict restrictions that Australia put in place has deprived us of some incredible moments, but the sport has moved on incredibly quickly since we last visited Melbourne.
Lewis Hamilton was ‘only’ a five-time champion, George Russell was at the back of the grid in his debut season and Max Verstappen was diving down the inside for an overtake. Okay, so perhaps some things never change, but this break has meant that several drivers this year will be racing in Australia for the first time.
Mick Schumacher, Zhao Guanyu and Yuki Tsunoda will treasure their first F1 race in Oz, however, one driver has been here several times before. Sebastien Vettel has 53 Grand Prix wins to his name and has won on three separate occasions in Australia, but he’ll just be glad to be out on the racetrack for the first time this season, having missed both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain with Covid-19.
He hasn’t been behind the wheel since pre-season practice so rustiness may be an issue, but ever the professional, the German can’t wait to get going for Aston Martin this term.
“After testing positive and missing the first two races, it feels a bit like arriving late to school, so I’m really keen to get going again!” Vettel said. “Starting my season in Australia is something I’ve done before, of course, and it’s also great that Formula 1 is returning after a difficult couple of years.
“For me, after nearly a month out of the car, it will be important to learn throughout the practice sessions, and I hope we can take some steps forward in what is usually an exciting and unpredictable race.”
Niko Hulkenberg had taken his seat for those two races alongside teammate Lance Stroll and it has been a mixed start to the season for the team. In Bahrain, Stroll finished 12th having started 19th, but Hulkenberg could only come home in 17th, While in Saudi Arabia, the German came 12th with Stroll in 13th.
The constructor will hope that Australia marks a fresh start and they can secure a top ten finish, and more importantly start to get some points on the board. Last season, they finished 7th with 77 points in total, above their rivals Williams, Alfa Romeo and Haas, but judging by the early progress the latter two have made this term, they may find it difficult to match that performance.
It seems they should finish above a Williams severely lacking pace, but Melbourne marks an important landmark in their season. They are back to full strength with Vettel’s experience and will want to come away from this weekend with at least a point in the bag.
Sebastien Vettel and the Australian Grand Prix. Two Formula One staples return this weekend.