Excitement building as F1 teams arrive in Melbourne ahead of season opener

Lewis Hamilton

Listen to final practice and qualifying on 5 Live Sports Extra Saturday from 02:55 GMT

Formula 1 is doing its part to modify the cars and the rules to encourage more contested racing and Westacott's corporation is investigating tweaks to the circuit.

Mercedes and Ferrari are tipped to engage in what could be one of the tightest title battles in recent history, ahead of a midfield scrap that is shaping up to be even more unpredictable than last season. "I'm just really looking forward to being back in the vehicle and working with the team again".

His team-mate Valtteri Bottas was forced to hand a race victory to the Briton in Russian Federation a year ago at a crucial phase of the season.

Kubica was preparing for the 2011 season when he suffered a horror injury in a rallying crash during pre-season, and it has taken eight long years to return to the top level of single seater motorsport, and he feels this weekend's Australian Grand Prix will be like a second debut after such a long time away. "We could draw some conclusions from testing but not much. We don't know what they've got up their sleeve".

"My last Formula 1 race was in Abu Dhabi 2010, so I am looking forward to going to Australia with a few things to cover and learn". 'We had our weaknesses last year here and there and we obviously try to fix those and do much better this year.

If Bottas can emerge as a stronger competitor for 2019 then he still has to rely on an external factor - the performance of reigning World Champions Mercedes against the apparently rejuvenated Ferrari squad.

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Under different management and after a positive winter testing, Ferrari have arrived in Melbourne with a fast auto and plenty of buzz, raising expectation of a genuine challenge to five years of Mercedes dominance.

But Hamilton later told Sky Sports: "It might be closer than we think, it might be a bigger gap than we think".

At a bumpy street circuit where overtaking has been hard, F1 bosses will hope the introduction of new rules can inject spice. They actually looked like they had the better vehicle. Even without any upgrades, just getting the auto nicer to drive, better balanced and more stable, there will be performance from that.

An onboard video released by Formula 1 compared the quickest laps completed in testing by Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton, with Bottas accepting Ferrari has "a very stable platform, and we definitely have work to do on that", but again reiterated his faith in the long-term capability of Mercedes to put in a sustained title fight.

The 21-year-old Leclerc, Ferrari's youngest race driver since 1961, is one of a number of tyros seeking to make an early impression in Australia.

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