An F1® weekend is methodical, precise to the minute, and builds to a slow boil.
Friday features two one-hour practice sessions, with a two-and-a-half hour break between them. First practice (you'll hear people calling it FP1) is the first time F1® cars will have been traversing the 14-turn/5.278km track since last year, and while the various support categories would have been circulating in their own sessions beforehand, the track is usually considered 'green' or 'dirty' by F1® folk, meaning the first session is never about the stopwatch.
Get a feel for the track, gather some data for the engineers to crunch between the two Friday sessions, get your eye in, and – no matter what – stay away from the walls that will break cars and bruise egos.
Friday's second practice (FP2) at Albert Park is crucial for a few reasons. One, it's held at 4pm local time, meaning the track temperature will replicate what teams can expect in qualifying 24 hours later, and what the track might be like an hour into Sunday's race, which is usually around two-thirds' distance.
Second, you'll see teams spend the early part of FP2 chasing a fast lap time to simulate qualifying, and then spend the final 35-40 minutes gathering data on tyre wear while running with heavy fuel, simulating the early stages of the race. And lastly, you'll see teams asking their drivers to pit for tyres for the pit crews to get their reps in before race day. With pit stops so crucial strategically in F1®, practice really does make perfect…
On Saturday, it's time for business. The one-hour third practice (FP3) comes to a head in the final 15 minutes, where teams will send their drivers out on the softest tyres they have and with low fuel, getting a feel for optimum performance in qualifying. If you're wondering what the pecking order might be for the weekend, the final throes of Saturday FP3 is where teams finally show their hand.
No matter what you do for the rest of the weekend, find a good viewing spot and get comfortable for Qualifying (4pm Saturday), as that's when you'll really find out who's fast, and who isn't.
Qualifying is split into three parts; all 20 drivers will take to the track for Q1, which lasts for 18 minutes. At the end of that session, the five slowest drivers are eliminated from the rest of the session, and will take positions 16-20 on the grid for Sunday's race.
Next comes Q2 (15 minutes); lap times from Q1 are discarded, but like in Q1, the slowest five drivers at the end of Q2 are eliminated and take up positions 11-15 on the grid.
Want to see an F1® car completely unleashed? That comes in Q3 (12 minutes), which is a straight shootout for pole position for the remaining 10 drivers. At a circuit the length of Albert Park, drivers will typically complete two 'runs' in Q3 – an 'out lap' from the pits, a flying/timed lap to chase their best grid slot, and an 'in lap' to return to the pits, get fresh tyres fitted, and prepare to go again.
A driver can finish their flying lap in qualifying if they begin it before the clock strikes zero and the chequered flag waves to end the session, and every corner counts. Charles Leclerc set the pole position time in his Ferrari last year with a lap of 1min 17.868secs to cover 5.278km. That's an average speed of over 244km/h, by the way…
Then comes Sunday's race, which starts at 3pm local time and is held over 58 laps. Why 58? A Grand Prix lasts for as many laps of a circuit it takes to cover 305km, so the Belgian Grand Prix (held at the 7.004km Spa-Francorchamps circuit) is only 44 laps, while the Austrian and Sao Paulo Grands Prix (both the Red Bull Ring and Interlagos are 4.3km) are each held over 71 laps. Same distance, differing circulations…
A Grand Prix has to be completed inside a two-hour window – last year, Leclerc's winning time for Ferrari was 1hr 27mins.