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Verstappen intrigued by Aussie GP changes

Formula One’s reigning world champion Max Verstappen is intrigued.

He’s fascinated by the changes to the Australian grand prix track at Albert Park.

He’s interested in how much dust will whip around the circuit when F1 returns to Melbourne after a COVID-enforced two-year absence.

And he’s also wary of rivals when he and his fellow drivers get their first look at the rejigged circuit during two practice sessions on Friday.

Organisers have tweaked the track: a full resurfacing has been accompanied by modifications of seven corners, with two corners removed altogether.

The number of turns is now 14 with the changes providing more overtaking opportunities and an expectation lap times will drop by about five seconds compared to the last race in Melbourne in 2019.

“It will be interesting to see the track updates,” Verstappen said.

“They will make quite a big difference.

“There should be more overtaking opportunities now too which is always positive.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how the car performs in Australia, the track can sometimes be quite dusty.

“I hope we can have another smooth weekend as a team.”

Red Bull Racing’s Verstappen pipped Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in Jeddah last month in the second grand prix of the fresh season.

The first race in Bahrain was won by Leclerc, who holds a 12-point break from his teammate Carlos Sainz, with Verstappen some 20 points behind the leader.

The trio again loom as the drivers to beat in Melbourne.

Australian hope Daniel Ricciardo has put a top-10 finish on his wish-list after troubles with his McLaren – failing to finish in Saudi Arabia after a 14th place in Bahrain.

Seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes are also struggling as they prepare to race at a track where Hamilton has taken eight pole positions, including the past six.

The Brit, winner of more Formula One races than any driver in history, has won twice in Australia but not since 2015 – and probably not in 2022, according to Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff.

“There won’t be a magic fix,” Wolff said after Hamilton’s 10th in Jeddah followed being gifted third spot in Bahrain when neither Red Bull car finished.

At the opposite end on the F1 specturm to race favourites Leclerc and Verstappen is Sebastian Vettel, a three-times winner in Australia.

This weekend will be Vettel’s first racing this season after he tested positive to COVID.

Vettel is in his second season with Aston Martin – one of two teams, along with Williams who have failed to bank a point in the initial two races.

“After testing positive and missing the first two races, it feels a bit like arriving late to school,” Vettel said.

“I’m really keen to get going again … after nearly a month out of the car, it will be important to learn throughout the practice sessions.

“And I hope we can take some steps forward in what is usually an exciting and unpredictable race.”

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