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Australian GP: what time is the race? And how early do I need to set my alarm?

It’s the Australian GP this weekend, and that means the dreaded Sunday morning alarm. Unless you live in a more convenient time zone…

Published: 29 Mar 2023

F1 returns to Australia this weekend for the third round of the 2023 season, and the standings are finely poised with only a single point separating Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez after two races.

That’s in the drivers’ championship though: the constructors’ championship is already looking like a one-horse race with Red Bull scoring maximum points (almost) so far and leaving everyone else for dust. Here’s hoping Perez can take the fight to his teammate and keep things interesting at the head of the pack.

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So what should you look out for in Melbourne? Well there’s been big news at McLaren where design chief James Key has been sacked following the team’s abysmal start to the campaign. But remember F1 isn’t like football, so putting someone new in charge (or three people, as McLaren has decided to do) won’t fix things overnight.

This is bad news for rookie Oscar Piastri, who will make his home grand prix debut in a car that’s likely to be scrambling about at the back of the pack. Although, the 21-year-old somehow dragged the MCL60 to P9 in qualifying in Saudi Arabia, so perhaps he can work wonders with it again…

An old home favourite is set to make an appearance too: Daniel Ricciardo will be in attendance this weekend as part of his role as Red Bull reserve driver/merch salesperson, so no doubt we’ll get to hear how he’s enjoying life outside of F1.

Need more details for when to tune in and what to expect from the race itself? Please continue to scroll in a southerly direction…

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What time is the Australian GP? And what time is qualifying?

Brace yourself UK fans: the Australian Grand Prix starts at 6am sharp on Sunday 2 April. And if you’re dead set on being alert for the action when the lights go out in Melbourne, that’ll mean getting up even earlier than that to haul yourself out of bed, stick the kettle on and de-zombify on the sofa during Martin Brundle’s grid walk. Yawn.

And if you want to do the same for qualifying as well, it’ll mean doing exactly the same the day before as well as the session starts at 6am on 1 April. No, that's not a joke.

For what it’s worth, the first practice session starts at 2.30am on Friday 31 March, with the second following at 6am. The final shakedown before qualifying begins at 2.30am on Saturday.

What’s the weather going to be like?

At the time of writing the weather looks set to be unsettled while the F1 circus is in town, although the weekend itself should be relatively dry with highs of 18 degrees; so not the scorcher the Australian Grand Prix has been in previous seasons.

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Rain is currently forecast for Friday which could interfere with FP1 and FP2, but it doesn’t look likely (yet) that the teams will need to call upon the wet-weather Pirelli tyres during the grand prix itself.

Where is the Australian GP taking place?

The Australian Grand Prix is being held at Albert Park in Melbourne, which has hosted the race ever since it was switched from Adelaide’s street track in 1996. It’s only missed two years - 2020 and 2021 - when it was cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Albert Park is basically Melbourne’s answer to New York’s Central Park with a lake, golf course and open public spaces for city folk to retreat to, except for a few weeks of the year it is transformed into a high-speed, FIA-grade racetrack for F1’s finest to do their thing betwixt many concrete barriers.

How many laps is the Australian GP?

The Australian Grand Prix will consist of 58 laps of the 5.278km (3.280mi) circuit, which amounts to 306.124km (190.240) of racing.

Last year’s race was won by Charles Leclerc in a time of 1:27.548, although that included a couple of periods behind the safety car (both actual and virtual): organisers believe that this year’s grand prix will be even faster, especially with the addition of a fourth DRS zone that’ll help chasing cars close up on those ahead.

Fingers crossed this leads to a festival of overtaking.

Who’s going to win the Australian GP?

You’d be a brave soul to back anyone other than Max Verstappen or Sergio Perez for victory: the Red Bull RB19 has utterly dominated the first two races, and Max Verstappen managed to secure the team’s second one-two finish last time out in Saudi Arabia despite starting way down in 15th place.

But if (heaven forbid) the two Red Bull drivers manage to take each other off in the first corner, it could open the door for Fernando Alonso to score a first F1 win in a decade, such is the pace of the surprise package that is the Aston Martin AMR23. Heck, if Lance Stroll has a good day at the office he could well be a contender for the win in the right circumstances.

Then you’ve got Mercedes and Ferrari fighting it out as the third and fourth fastest teams at the moment, although they’re not a million miles off the pace of the Aston. Which means Lewis Hamilton, George Russell, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz could all find themselves on the top step of the podium (with a generous helping of fortune, of course).

How can I watch the Australian GP?

UK viewers have two options: either sign up to Sky Sports in order to watch the grand prix on its dedicated F1 channel, or subscribe to Now TV in order to stream Sky Sports’ coverage that way. Those are the only two (legal) methods available to you if you want to watch the action live.

If you’re not fussed about seeing the grand prix as it happens, then Channel 4 will broadcast free-to-air highlights of both qualifying and the race on Saturday and Sunday: these start at 11.15am and 12.30pm respectively, and mean you can avoid the early alarm clock and not spend the whole day staying off the internet in order to avoid the result. Win win.

If for whatever reason you’re up when the race starts but have no wish to wait for the highlights show, you can tune in on the ol’ wireless for live commentary of the race on BBC Radio 5 Live.

What’s the Top Gear view on the Australian GP?

Australia provides one of the best atmospheres of any grand prix on the calendar (hence why it hosted the first race of the season each year until recently) but lately F1 has outgrown the narrow circuit. Literally. This generation of cars are massive compared to what was raced a decade and a half ago, which means overtaking at Albert Park has become more and more difficult and led to procession-like races with little overtaking. Boo.

Fingers crossed that changes made to the track last year - and the addition of another DRS zone - will help drivers give us the wheel-to-wheel action we all crave. The race has a huge contract with F1 that runs until 2035, so it’d be nice if organisers could crack the hard-to-overtake thing before Lewis Hamilton hits his 50s…

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