Australian F1 Grand Prix 2019: Start Time, Drivers, TV Schedule and MoreMarch 16, 2019
Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes are still the dominant forces of Formula One ahead of the first race of the 2019 season, the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on Sunday.
Hamilton is the driver to beat, but he'll know how strong the threat from Ferrari is. The team has bolstered an already impressive vehicle to afford Sebastian Vettel the chance to match Hamilton car for car.
Keeping pace with superior vehicles is the challenge for Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen. He'll be aided by Honda engines this season, but the talented 21-year-old still faces a daunting task loosening Hamilton's grip on the title.
Date: Sunday, March 17
Time: 5:10 a.m. GMT/1:10 a.m. ET
TV Info: Sky Sports F1, ESPN
Live Stream: Sky Go, ESPN Player
Full list of drivers available, per the F1 official website.
Hamilton offered a timely reminder of his ability to stay ahead of the field by posting the fastest times in the first two practice sessions on Saturday. The 34-year-old finished 0.036 seconds quicker than Vettel in FP1 before posting a lap time 0.8 seconds quicker than Verstappen in the second practice session, per the F1 official website.
Those finishes inspired confidence from the champion ahead of qualifying.
While he can be expected to once again be in the thick of the title tussle, Hamilton will have to be better than ever to keep revamped Ferrari at bay. Quality of the vehicle could prove decisive in Vettel's bid to match Hamilton's haul of five titles.
Sky Sports' Martin Brundle thinks "the grid might be chasing a red car this year rather than a silver car." Speed will be an advantage for Vettel, but one other intangible may ensure the edge continues to belong to Hamilton.
While the latter continues to comfortably outperform teammate Valtteri Bottas—who finished 0.048 seconds behind Hamilton in FP2—Vettel is set to face a fresh challenge from team-mate Charles Leclerc, who replaced Kimi Raikkonen.
Perry McCarthy, a former Stig on Top Gear, told Warren Muggleton of the Daily Star how precocious 21-year-old Leclerc will increase the pressure on Vettel: "Everyone has known for a long time exactly how talented Charles is. And his big moment in time is to go out and start beating Sebastian. Vettel will be Charles' absolute target."
The burden of staying ahead of one of the sport's rising stars, while still trying to chase down its dominant force, could prove too much for Vettel.
By contrast, Verstappen is likely to gain enthusiasm from a change of team-mates. Daniel Ricciardo leaving for Renault and Pierre Gasly coming on board has put the spotlight firmly on Verstappen.
He has the talent to pull off a few notable wins in a car he's admitted isn't fast enough yet, per Craig Venn of The Checkered Flag. Verstappen's career is on the rise, even though it's doubtful Red Bull have done enough to boost the engines to seriously challenge Mercedes and Ferrari.