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Five things to look out for at the Australian GP including Sainz return and Russell dominance

Five things to look out for at the Australian GP including Sainz return and Russell dominance

Formula 1 hits the streets of Melbourne

After a one-week break, the Formula 1 circus continues its journey around the globe with a trip down under to Melbourne, Australia.

The opening two races in the Middle East set the precedent for what appears to be another fairly straightforward Championship for both Max Verstappen and Red Bull, with the Austrian team securing 1-2 finishes in Bahrain and Jeddah.

However, the Australian Grand Prix in 2023 was one of the races of the season, with three separate standing starts creating havoc all across the grid.

With this only being the third track the new cars will have driven on, the teams will still have a lot to learn about their new machinery and we could see some surprise packages. Here are five things to keep an eye on this weekend down under:

Stay up or Wake up?

Since the return to Melbourne following the COVID-19 pandemic, UK fans have been faced with dragging themselves out of bed for a brutal race time of 6:00 am.

However, this year European fans will have a rather daunting decision to make. Stay up or wake up?

With a race time two hours earlier than in previous years, 4 am (London), it is going to be a rather brutal watch for those struggling to keep their eyes open especially if Verstappen leads after turn one.

The race time isn't the only schedule change from last time out, with qualifying now at 5 am and practice one at 1:30 am, so either set your alarms or crack open a Red Bull (other energy drinks are available) and get ready for the action.

Russell Taking Control

Ahead of the 2024 season, all the talk at Mercedes revolved around Lewis Hamilton following the 39-year-old's decision to leave the team in 2025 for a seat alongside Charles Leclerc at Ferrari. But perhaps the attention should be on Hamilton's teammate George Russell.

Russell has taken a 2-0 lead in both qualifying and races at the start of 2024, with Hamilton being quite a chunk off the pace of his fellow Brit. Russell also got the better of Hamilton in his debut season with Mercedes which included a maiden win in Brazil.

This shouldn't really come as a surprise as Toto Wolff has had his faith in George Russell since his junior career, and the 2018 F2 champion looks to be getting the better of Hamilton so far this season.

George Russell
George Russell

The 26-year-old was extremely quick last year in Melbourne and was actually leading the race before an ill-timed red flag caused Russell to fall out of podium contention.

With the Mercedes again not performing up to their high standards in 2024, it could be argued that Russell's tough three-season spell at the back of the grid is helping him maximise results while Hamilton struggles.

However, Hamilton started the 2023 season in a similar fashion before a string of excellent results, so it will be interesting to see if youth or experience wins the Melbourne battle.

Party for Piastri

It wouldn't be an Australian Grand Prix without a hometown hero, and rather unusually it is looking unlikely to be Daniel Ricciardo despite his full-time return to the grid as there's a new Aussie on the block.

Oscar Piastri was always going to be a success in Formula 1, but his debut year was a far bigger success than most people would have expected as the youngster secured two podium finishes and a sprint race victory at Spa.

The 22-year-old has also had to put up with the talented Lando Norris as a teammate, but with Norris still chasing his first victory Piastri will certainly feel he can challenge the Brit more often in 2024.

If that's Piastri's goal, he has certainly made a good start as he sits ahead of Norris in the driver standings after out-qualifying and beating Norris in Jeddah. McLaren are one of the more exciting driver line-up dynamics on the grid with both young and hungry to prove themselves and it's going to be very interesting to see if Piastri can continue to take the fight to Norris and extend his advantage at his home race.

Sainz makes his return

After being taken for emergency surgery less than two weeks ago in Saudi Arabia, Carlos Sainz is set to return to the track in Australia demoting Ollie Bearman back to his F2 seat.

Bearman impressed on his debut, with an impressive P7 finish from 11th on the grid, but it is no secret that if Sainz was in the car Ferrari would have expected a bigger points haul considering Leclerc's pace.

It isn't really a surprise to see Sainz back considering the Spaniard somehow managed to get himself back to the Jeddah circuit after his surgery as he was spotted limping to the Ferrari garage to support his team.

While Sainz wouldn't be racing if he wasn't ready to get back into the car, it seems highly unlikely he will be back to his absolute best so quickly, and having missed out on championship points in Saudi he will be determined to put in a good performance.

Sainz will be looking to challenge for the third podium place assuming Red Bull enjoys another clean sweep with Sergio Perez and Verstappen. But he will be going up against a buoyant Leclerc, presumably without the break issues that allowed Sainz to breeze past him in Bahrain so we could be set to see some friendly-fire action between the two prancing horses.

Tsunoda's Red Bull bid

It is no secret in the paddock that the second seat at Red Bull is up for grabs in 2025, and with Perez continuing to be a considerable margin behind Max there is certainly an opportunity for both RBs to prove themselves.

Yuki Tsonoda is a particularly interesting candidate as he enters his fourth season in Red Bull's junior team. Tsunoda was extremely impressive last season in a car that was more often than not the least competitive on the grid and has taken his form into 2024 with a P9 finish in Jeddah.

Yuki Tsunoda- Getty
Yuki Tsunoda- Getty

The Japanese driver was also unlucky not to beat Ricciardo in Bahrain, as controversial team orders saw Ricciardo move ahead of Tsunoda while he was fighting Kevin Magnussen.

Unlike a lot of things in Formula 1 the situation at RB is very simple, whoever is faster out of Tsunoda and Ricciardo will have a better shot at the second Red Bull seat and so far Tsunoda seems to be the one more up for the challenge.

With Ricciardo returning to Melbourne for the first time since 2022 he will be determined to put on a show and begin his bid for that coveted seat in 2025 but the form books all point to Tsunoda to upset the Aussie party.

Featured Image Credit: Getty

Topics: Formula 1, Max Verstappen, Mercedes, George Russell, Lewis Hamilton, Red Bull Racing, Charles Leclerc