It feels like it comes around faster and faster each year, but the return to Melbourne for the familiar curtain raiser is already here.
Given the large regulation change for 2017, which sees a return to wider track cars and tyres, the Australian Grand Prix this year is heading into somewhat of an unknown. With laptimes estimated to have been reduced by up to five seconds per lap they are going to faster, and the races shorter. The side effects though are completely unknown – what is overtaking going to be like for example, is it going to be harder despite what could be a more powerful DRS system.
Melbourne is an ideal season opener though, taking over from Adelaide in 1996 and has been a firm favourite for fans to attend from all over the world. That isn’t to say that Adelaide wants that crown back though, with suggestions over the last couple of weeks they were planning a return.
The track, a street track based around the lake in Albert Park is relatively unchanged since its debut, now with one of few circuits having a number of gravel traps instead of the now familiar large tarmac run off areas. Likely many, there are going to be changes for 2017, with the faster cars meaning safety changes ahead of the new season.
Following winter testing the favourites are Mercedes and Ferrari, although it is unclear who has the advantage. Many speculate that Mercedes is just ahead despite Ferrari taking all the headlines during the couple of weeks in Barcelona. Red Bull by their own admission have said they are not where they wanted to be, with a car which looked more undeveloped than either the Mercedes or Ferrari.
The battle for the midfield could be interesting. Williams should be at the front of that pack following testing, although there could be a really tight battle behind them featuring Renauilt, Toro Rosso, Force India and Haas.
All eyes will be on McLaren though. They have had headlines for all the wrong reasons, initially talking up their prospects before disappointing in testing. Work needs to be done and quickly if they want to keep Fernando Alonso for a fourth season, and could find themselves without a world championship winning driver in 2018.
So just as the clocks change, the lights go out on Sunday for the start of another season – this year more than any is going to be interesting to watch.