F1 2020: Lewis Hamilton the man to beat as new season begins in Australia
- A new Formula One season begins in Melbourne with Lewis Hamilton once again the man to beat as he bids to go level with Michael Schumacher.
Lewis Hamilton will begin the defence of his Formula One drivers' title as the 2020 campaign gets under way with the Australian Grand Prix.
Mercedes driver Hamilton is a six-time world champion and now within one crown of tying Michael Schumacher for the all-time record of seven.
The race in Australia, which begins at 16:10 local time (05:10 GMT) on Sunday, will be the first chance to assess the prospects of the top teams and drivers at the start of the final season before sweeping changes are made to the regulations.
Chief competition for Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas is again expected to come from Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel, plus Red Bull, whose lead driver Max Verstappen is partnered by Alex Albon.
LAST TIME OUT
This is the first race for more than three months, with the last event of the 2019 season having been the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December.
That grand prix was one of the least exciting of the campaign and saw Hamilton crown his title success with a dominant race victory, winning from pole position with Verstappen and Leclerc making up the remaining podium places.
Bottas charged through from the back of the grid to finish fourth, ahead of Vettel and Albon.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR IN AUSTRALIA
While pre-season testing provides a guide, no one truly knows where each team stands with their 2020 cars until we have seen them in full competitive action.
We should get the clearest idea yet of where Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari sit in the pecking order, and how significant the gaps are, with the title contenders eager to strike an early blow in the first of 22 races.
Further down the grid, McLaren are hoping to push on from their fourth-place finish last year as they retain their driver line-up of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris. Renault will hope for better in their second season with Daniel Ricciardo, who will be partnered at his home race by new arrival Esteban Ocon, and Racing Point want to be in the mix.
Since his last win in Australia, Hamilton has finished second in four straight races at Albert Park. Former team-mate Nico Rosberg and current partner Bottas have won two of those races, with Vettel triumphing in 2017 and 2018 for Ferrari.
TOP FIVE OPTA STATS
Another record in sight - Hamilton has a record eight pole positions in Australia, including the last six in a row from 2014 to 2019. If he reaches nine, he will be the first F1 driver in history to hit that level at a single circuit.
Fantastic four - Vettel is one win away from equalling Michael Schumacher as the driver with the most wins in Australia (four). If the German wins, he would equal his total for all of last season (one win).
Can he go back to back? - Bottas, the winner of last year's race, is hoping to win for a second time at the same Grand Prix, a feat he is yet to achieve in his F1 career.
Five years on - Race day will mark exactly five years since Verstappen's first F1 race, which also took place in Australia.
No home glory - An Australian driver has never won, been in pole position, or reached the podium in 35 editions of this Formula One Grand Prix.Published 11 Mar 2020, 19:00 IST