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F1 Hits Melbourne this weekend



When the "gentlemen" start their engines this weekend at the Albert Park race circuit, regular protesters of the Melbourne Grand Prix will have a reason, even if slight, to rejoice. For the first time in 25 years, turbocharged 1.6-litre V6 engines have replaced the V10s and V8s that have provided the signature scream of formula one engines since the GP arrived in Melbourne in 1996.

Instead the high-tech engines, while still incredibly, unbelievably loud, will emit a lower-frequency growl, less of an assault on the ears than previous years.

One of the richest sporting events in Australia, the Formula One Grand Prix officially kicks off on Friday with two practise sessions, qualifying laps on Saturday and the big race on Sunday, the world's fastest drivers battling it out over of 58 laps, each of which features 16 turns.

As the first round of the season, the Melbourne Grand Prix holds a special place on the formula one calendar, as the new championship battle begins at Albert Park among some of the worlds richest sporting teams.

An Australian Grand Prix spokeswoman said ticket sales were extremely strong for the 2014 event and attendance at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix weekend was 323,000 making it one of the most attended of the year across the world's circuits.

Sunday's twilight start time of 5pm is coordinated to ensure the race can be televised into Europe from about 7am Sunday morning.

First used in 1996, the 5.3 km Albert Park street circuit was created specifically to usurp the Adelaide Grand Prix.

The legendary Michael Schumacher - who is currently on life support as a result of a head injury sustained in a skiing accident - holds the Melbourne Grand Prix lap record, with a time of one minute, 24.125 seconds, which was set in 2004.

Pit bosses will need to have wet weather, fully treaded tyres at the ready with rain forecast for both Saturday and Sunday.

Qualifying for the big race was delayed until the Sunday at Albert Park in 2013 for the first time, with rain washing out most of the qualifying sessions the previous day.

Australian F1 fans may lament the absence of driver Mark Webber - who retired at the endo f the 2013 season - but can look forward to his replacement at Red Bull, fellow Australian, Perth driver Daniel Ricciardo, who will take over in the Red Bull No.2.

A podium finish is unlikely for the young driver, however, with Red Bull plagued through the off-season with ongoing engine troubles.

And fans will be curious to see whether the relationship between Ricciardo and teammate, Sebastian Vettel, will replicate the intense rivalry that Webber and Vettel shared on and off the track.

Set against the high-octane thrills and spills of the massive motor sporting event is the undercurrent of uncertainty hanging over the future of the race in Melbourne, with Grand Prix big-wig Bernie Ecclestone facing bribery charges in Germany (to the tune of $44 million) and negotiations - headed by chairman of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, 74-year-old Ron Walker - hanging on a knife's edge.

The F1 is contracted to Melbourne until 2015 and Victorian taxpayers have paid a high price to stage the event.

Current negotiations between Ecclestone and the Australian Grand Prix Corporation have been ongoing for some time.

At the Grand Prix launch this week, Mr Walker tried to distance himself from the Ecclestone scandal and admitted the negotiations were at a delicate juncture.

"They're his issues not ours, we're negotiating directly with his team and we'll get a successful outcome but we're not rushing anything, we're not blinking," he said.

Premier Denis Napthine told the ABC this week, that he has faith in Mr Walker's "tough" negotiation skills.

"Those negotiations have been going on some time and the fact they've been going on for some time indicates that we're playing a very tough game," he said.

Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park Racing Circuit

Friday March 14

Practice 1: 12.30pm – 2pm (11am – 12.30pm NT time)

Practice 2: 4.30pm – 6pm  (3 – 4.30pm NT)

Saturday March 15

Practice 3: 2pm – 3pm (12.30 – 1.30pm NT)

Qualifying: 5pm  (3.30pm NT)

Sunday March 16

Race: 5pm (3.30pm NT time)     




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