F1 PREVIEW: Australia set for season opener as Hamilton and Mercedes target hat-trick

Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton

The scene is set for Lewis Hamilton and his Brackley-based Mercedes team as they each target a third successive world crown when the 2016 F1 season blasts off in Australia this weekend.

F1’s biggest ever season is set to be a titanic tussle between all-conquering Mercedes AMG Petronas and the rapidly-improving Ferrari team, while Red Bull are also targeting a return to winning ways following a couple of barren years.

Nico Hulkenberg

Nico Hulkenberg

The Australian Grand Prix is the traditional starting point for the season and always provides a great spectacle.

Set in Melbourne’s Albert Park, the track offers a stern test to the F1 world and has on many occasions provided the odd upset or two.

Speaking this week, Hamilton said: “It is now time for us all to get down to business.

“The off-season has seen us all busy with the development of the new car and all the guys back at base have been working really hard. I believe we have a good package for 2016 and we will soon see.”

Having won the last two World Championships, Hamilton has his eyes on the hat-trick this year but one man standing in his way is team-mate Nico Rosberg.

The German said: “The new 2016 car looks great and is a really good machine.

“The Mercedes-Benz engine feels really smooth and I think we are going to have a great season.

“For me, the aim is to win the World Championship and I know I will have to fight hard against Lewis, and others, but when was winning a world championship ever easy!”

Silverstone-based Sahara Force India have overcome numerous off-track problems to arrive in Australia full of confidence with their new VJM09-Mercedes.

Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez will once again drive for the Vijay Mallya-owned team, and both showed good speed during the two official pre-season tests at the Circuit de Catalunya in Spain.

Top six finishes are the aim for the team during 2016, although Perez is keen to replicate the form that saw him finish on the podium at the Sochi Autodrom last October.

Part Bicester-based Scuderia Toro Rosso will use Ferrari powerplants in their cars this season.

The team has retained both Carlos Sainz Jr. and Max Verstappen for the campaign, and Sainz said this week: “Testing went OK for us. We are using a Ferrari engine this year, so the development of our car took longer as we needed to work around the design at the rear of the car.

“The car feels good and I am looking forward to being in action this weekend.”

Free Practice takes place on Friday, qualifying is on Saturday morning with the race starting at 5am (GMT) on Sunday.