Formula 1: Harder, better, faster in 2017? The new season kicks off in Melbourne

Formula 1
Racing gets under way again at Melbourne on Sunday

The wait is almost over.

One hundred and 17 days after the curtain came down on the 2016 campaign at Abu Dhabi, Formula 1 is back as the new season gets under way in Australia this weekend.

With new rules and new era cars, it is a step into the unknown. Mercedes might be the favourites once again, but they could well have a real fight on their hands this time.

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F1: Christian Horner on tyres, overtaking and shoeys

Where are we?

Albert Park circuit
This will be the 22nd Formula 1 race to be held at Albert Park, while Melbourne has been the season-opener on 19 occasions

There will always be excitement about the start of a new season - the anticipation, the element of the unknown and the hope that this one will be even better than the last - but there is something about having Melbourne as the setting for the opener that makes it even more special.

With the city's shiny skyscrapers on one side and sailboats and surfers at St Kilda beach on the other, the Albert Park circuit offers a unique setting, winding its way around a glistening lake in idyllic parkland.

There's a real buzz about the place as fans turn out in big numbers, eager to see the new cars first hand, and that buzz extends to the paddock as team personnel and media meet up, often for the first time since the end of the previous season.

Daniil Kvyat
Surf's up! Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat will be looking forward to the new season after a rollercoaster 2016 in which he was dropped by Red Bull

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What are the main changes?

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Palmer's guide to the new F1 cars

The cars are wider, more physically demanding to drive and much faster than last year, with lap times expected to drop by up to five seconds.

Bigger cars and extra downforce is, however, expected to make overtaking more difficult, with several drivers reporting after testing that it is difficult to follow another car closely.

More durable Pirelli tyres could also lead to more one-stop races.

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Ayrton Senna
The 1991 Australian Grand Prix is the shortest race on record. It was stopped after 14 laps because of torrential rain, with Ayrton Senna the winner

Happy hunting ground for McLaren - the stats

  • McLaren are the most successful constructor in the history of the Australian Grand Prix. They have 11 wins and 26 podiums.
  • Their last podium was in 2014, when Kevin Magnussen finished second.
  • The Australian Grand Prix has been won from pole position on nine occasions. The lowest position a driver has won the race from is 11th - Northern Ireland's Eddie Irvine achieving that in 1999 for Ferrari.
  • The winner in Melbourne has gone on to win the drivers' championship 13 out of 21 times.

How to follow on the BBC

Formula 1
Coffee drinkers rejoice! Australia is the home of the flat white

BBC Sport will have live coverage of all the season's races on BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, plus live online commentary on the BBC Sport website and mobile app - including audience interaction, expert analysis, debate, voting, features, interviews and video content.

Australian Grand Prix coverage details
DateSessionTimeRadio coverageOnline text commentary
Thursday, 23 MarchAustralian GP preview21:00-22:00 GMT & podcastBBC Radio 5 live
Friday, 24 MarchFirst practice00:55-02:35BBC Radio 5 live sports extraFrom 00:30
Friday, 24 MarchSecond practice04:55-06:35BBC Radio 5 live sports extraFrom 04:30
Saturday, 25 MarchThird practice02:55-04:05BBC Radio 5 live sports extraFrom 02:30
Saturday, 25 MarchQualifying05:55-07:05BBC Radio 5 liveFrom 05:00
Sunday, 26 MarchRace06:00 BSTBBC Radio 5 liveFrom 04:30 BST
Monday, 27 MarchAustralian GP review04:30-05:00 & podcastBBC Radio 5 live

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