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MELBOURNE GRAND PRIX 8th - 10th March The 1996 FIA Formula One World Championship starts where the 1995 Championship ended, in Australia. But much of the Formula One scene has since changed,...

MELBOURNE GRAND PRIX 8th - 10th March

The 1996 FIA Formula One World Championship starts where the 1995 Championship ended, in Australia. But much of the Formula One scene has since changed, and the forthcoming season promises to be one of the most exciting in recent years, especially for Marlboro McLaren Mercedes and its new driver line-up of David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen.

The change of scenery for this opening round of the championship can be taken in the literal sense, as the Australian Grand Prix moves from Adelaide to Melbourne's 5.269km long Albert Park circuit. Albert Park first hosted this event in 1953, and has been totally revamped for the return of Formula One.

The very fast sweeping track - on which top speeds of 310km/h can be reached - will present the drivers with the challenge of having to set their cars and learn the circuit over a very short period of time. To help with this process, the cars will start to run on Thursday with two one-hour familiarisation sessions being made available to the teams.

A new qualifying formula has been introduced this year, consisting of two untimed one-hour practice sessions on the Friday, and two untimed 45-mins practice sessions on the Saturday morning, and a single qualifying session on the Saturday afternoon to determine the Grand Prix grid. Meanwhile, the most visible modification on the cars will be the raised sides of the cockput, developed to protect the driver's head in the event of an accident.

Mika Hakkinen will undoubtedly receive the warmest welcome on his return to Australia after his heavy crash in Adelaide last year, having fully recovered from the severe injuries he sustained. He has been blisteringly quick in pre-season testing at the wheel of the elegant and promising Marlboro McLaren Mercedes MP4/11 - topping the overall time sheets in Estoril, Portugal, with a lap of 1.19:65.

Mika's new team mate, Scotland's David Coulthard, is gradually settling down in the team and has already displayed the discipline and maturity which has enabled him to win a race in 1995. With both drivers benefiting from Alain Prost's experience as a member of the Marlboro McLaren Mercedes techincal group, and the new Mercedes-Benz F0110 Phase 3 engine fitted to the new McLaren chassis, the Marlboro McLaren Mercedes team enters the 1996 Championship with good reasons for optimism.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers David Coulthard , Mika Hakkinen , Alain Prost
Teams Mercedes , McLaren