The Australian Grand Prix officially kicks off today in Melbourne, and here’s all you need to know from Albert Park.

Track action at the Australian Grand Prix starts today with the support series firing up, though Formula 1 will bide its time until Friday to hold its first free practice session.

Anticipation is building for the resumption of battle between title leader Charles Leclerc and reigning champion Max Verstappen, but it’ll be on the Monegasque to prove he’s ready to mount a title tilt now that the Dutchman has been there and done that.

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Meanwhile, behind the scenes there’s speculation Audi is in the final phase of its plans to buy its way into Formula 1 via a stake of Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren team, with German media reports pointing to an eye-watering sum on the table.

Here’s what you need to know this Thursday.

LECLERC 2.0 COULD WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP

Charles Leclerc is starting his fifth season in Formula 1 as a title contender — and a contender for Ferrari no less.

Ferrari carries the weight of expectations of Italy on its shoulders, on the team’s own expectations then weigh on the shoulders of its lead title contender. It’s no insignificant task or minor stress.

It’s a pressure that may have cracked a younger Leclerc not only for his inexperience but also for his propensity to be too emotional. Few can forget his episodes of self-flagellation over team radio after his early career crashes.

Charles Leclerc’s time is now, according to a Ferrari teammate. Photo: Getty Images
Charles Leclerc’s time is now, according to a Ferrari teammate. Photo: Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

But Ferrari test driver Marc Gene says at the wise old age of 24 years old Leclerc has managed to dial out the worst of his outbursts to make himself a better balanced driver.

“Charles, he used to be very emotional, and this year he has changed a lot,” Gene told the F1 Nation podcast.

“Charles is like a 2.0 version of himself. When I went to Barcelona for the private testing, we spent a lot of time together and he was completely changed in his mindset and his mentality, and you can see it.

“[In Bahrain] I was expecting Charles to be more over the moon after qualifying, after the pole, and the race, but he seemed so much more mature and aware that this is a very long championship.”

Ricciardo eyeing points at Albert Park | 02:18

Given Ferrari’s habit of dropping the ball, it might be wise for Leclerc to keep his excitement — and disappointment — in check in the run-up to Australia and the rest of the season.

REPORTS: AUDI BIDS TO BUY STAKE IN MCLAREN

The Australian Grand Prix week is kicking off with rumours that Volkswagen brand Audi is again attempting to buy a stake in McLaren after rounds of recent talks failed to land the deal.

German publication Automobilwoche reported Audi has put in a €650 million offer for an initial stake in the F1 team, which currently sits eighth in the constructors standings.

Rumours of Audi’s potential association with McLaren are nothing new. One particularly aggressive whisper last November that the deal was effectively done was shot down by the team, though CEO Zak Brown admitted in January that he had been in discussion with VW but that “in the short term and medium term we are very happy where we are”, per the BBC.

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Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris inspect a full size McLaren F1 Lego car. Picture: Jake NowakowskiSource: News Corp Australia

Indeed rumours of VW’s involvement in Formula 1 are positively old hat. The auto giant has been implying an interest in entering the sport as a constructor, engine manufacturer or partner for the better part of a decade, and every new suggestion is generally taken with a helping of salt.

But the situation is different this year, with F1 also zeroing in on its new power unit rules for 2026, which are seen as key to finally enticing one or more Volkswagen brands into the sport. The use of synthetic fuel and greater electrification are crucial elements to getting them over the line, and Reuters has reported a meeting this week or next could be the final tick of approval for an engine program.

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Lewis Hamilton driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team W13 on track during final practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia. Photo: Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

FORMER HAMILTON TEAMMATE OPENS UP ON WHY THE BRITON IS SO HARD TO BEAT

Lewis Hamilton has famously been beaten by a teammate over the course of a season only once in his entire career: 2011, to Jenson Button.

The seven-time champion has always been a formidable garage rival, even in his less consistent early years. His second teammate at McLaren, Heikki Kovalainen — who replaced Fernando Alonso after the Spaniard left in a huff at the end of 2007 — has opened up about what it’s like to go up against one of the sport’s all-time greats.

“Occasionally I could match him, but over the full season I had to stretch every session to match him,” the Finn told Talksport in the UK. “You can only do so much stretching, and then you run out of energy, and that was the case with me.

“I didn’t have enough margin in my capacity to do the times and the races that he did, so it was not easy.

“His level of performance is so high that, even for super talents like Max [Verstappen], it requires a lot of effort, a lot of focus, a lot of energy, so it’s not going to be easy.

“Not everyone can handle that, it’s as simple as that.”

A warning to Mercedes newcomer George Russell, even in Mercedes’s times of struggle.

RECORD FOUR DRS ZONES APPROVED FOR ALBERT PARK

The FIA has confirmed that the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit has had four DRS zone approved for this weekend’s race, up from three in 2019 and a record number of the sport.

Formula 1 had already intimated its intention to use four via an update to the track map on its website, but confirmation only arrived via the official circuit documentation on Wednesday.

It’s an all-guns-blazing approach to improving the raceability of the Albert Park track. Combined with the various circuit modifications and the new cars, the scene would appear set for action.

But the inclusion of a fourth activation point has proved controversial in some circles.

Croft’s early 2022 F1 impressions | 07:05

The DRS has always had its critics as a band-aid solution to the sport’s overtaking problems, and whereas some enjoyed the DRS-assisted action at the end of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, others were critical of the fact it was largely based on attempting to game the DRS detection points to be the driver with the speed advantage down the front straight.

But there’ll be a key difference this weekend. Whereas all three Jeddah zones had their own activation points, facilitating the gamesmanship, in Melbourne there are only two detection points comprising two zones each.

The two zones between turn 14 and turn 5 are essentially one long zone broken up by a chicane, and likewise the zones between turn 8 and turn 11. That means there’ll be no disadvantage for a driver who completes a move in the first of the two zones and no reason for the games we saw in Saudi Arabia.



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