Our international correspondent, ardent motorsport fan and nuclear scientist brings you an F1 Preview 2019 ahead of this weekend’s race.

The 2019 Formula 1 season is due to get underway and the initial impression is that it will be spicy for F1 fans.  There are a number of changes on the grid, as well as to the rules, which will ensure that interest in the first round of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship, at Albert Park (Melbourne Australia) is peaked.

Click here to read Nick’s take on F1 testing.

What’s new?

First things first: there are new rules that will affect the cars’ appearance and performance. Front wings will be higher and wider, barge boards smaller and rear wings wider and higher… reminiscent of racing cars of yore. The DRS opening will increase by 20 mm, boosting its effectiveness by 25 per cent and the cars are allowed to carry 5 kg of additional fuel for a maximum of 110 kg.

Driver’s helmets are required to conform to more stringent safety requirements. Driver mass will now not be taken into consideration when weighing the car, however, at least 80 kg of the total mass of car and driver (the minimum mass has been increased to 740 kg without fuel) must consist of driver, seat and safety equipment.

There are several stories being bandied about that an extra point will be awarded to the driver posting the fastest lap of the race (the first time this will occur since 1959), however, this supposedly has to be voted upon and was yet to be confirmed at the time of writing.

New team battles

There are new team/driver combinations to look forward to, the most interesting being that of Daniel Ricciardo and Renault. The Australian is looking to lead the team to its first world championship and he’s well aware that 2019 will not be the year. To date, Renault has only won F1 world titles as an engine supplier. The Aussie will have Nico Hulkenberg aiming to prove his speed against his more illustrious teammate.

On paper, Ferrari has the hottest combination with multiple world champion Sebastian Vettel and the 2018 rookie sensation, Charles Leclerc. The latter essentially traded seats with 2007 champ Kimi Raikkonen. Many insiders claim the Ferrari’s new recruit will have the better of his four-time champion teammate. It will be a real test for Vettel and the team to deal with a young charger with everything to prove, a la Lewis Hamilton against Fernando Alonso at McLaren in 2007.

Raikkonen, the elder statesman of F1, has been farmed out from Ferrari to Sauber (now called Alfa Romeo Racing). Raikkonen will mentor Antonio Giovinazzi this season. Red Bull Racing has, arguably, the biggest challenge for this season, taking on a new engine partner as well as a new charge in Pierre Gasly to partner Max Verstappen – who has taken over the mantle as senior driver in the team.

Sister team, Torro Rosso, has an all-new driver line up to contend with in Alexander Albon and Daniil Kyvat who returns from the racing wilderness, while the same can be said for McLaren (Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris) and Williams (featuring the shock, albeit welcome return of Robert Kubica alongside George Russell).

Finally, Force India has been rebranded Racing Point following their bailout last year and features Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll as its drivers. No mention of Mercedes is necessary, as the team lineup of world champion Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas remains unchanged.

What do we know?

What can we expect for 2019, based on testing performance? Ferrari is fast and mechanically reliable…although Vettel only beat Hamilton by a whisker in terms of lap time at the second test session.

Defending champions Mercedes have been crying about design flaws, however, they worked hard throughout testing to overcome them. The team appears to be extremely reliable and ought to remain the favourites until the chequered flag falls in Australia.

Red Bull has been solid in testing, if not spectacular, and it is difficult to ascertain how close they will be to the “Big Two” or to the rest of the field – but is still expected that they will be the third best team on the grid.

It remains to be seen where the other teams are expected to be in the pecking order, however, it is generally agreed that Renault, Haas, Alfa Romeo, McLaren and Toro Rosso are very close in the mid-field. Williams, on the other hand, has been woefully slow and has had much negative publicity with regard to team leadership. The team does not deserve this and every fan hopes fervently that the team can turn it around.

The painstaking wait is over, in less than one week all will be revealed.