The Herald walked the pit lane on Thursday as teams prepared for two practice days ahead of Sunday's Melbourne Grand Prix.

MORE: Spark Sport launches for Melbourne Grand Prix

There was naturally excitement in the air. It was, after all, the buildup to the first race of the new Formula One season.

Still, the Albert Park circuit does not always produce the most exciting event on the F1 calendar.

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"The problem with Melbourne is that it's difficult to overtake here," Mercedes-AMG Petronas chief race engineer Andrew Shovlin said.

The better news: Shovlin notes a couple of changes to the FIA's design rule changes should make the action more exciting this year.

No, not the latest Nintendo game console but the steering wheel used in the 2018 Formula 1 season by Mercedes-AMG Petronas driver Lewis Hamilton.
No, not the latest Nintendo game console but the steering wheel used in the 2018 Formula 1 season by Mercedes-AMG Petronas driver Lewis Hamilton.

The principal change is a move to simpler, taller and wider front and back wings, so the spoilers will no longer create so much chop for car behind.

"The big drive is for closer racing, and these cars should be better for that," Shovlin said.

Changes anticipated next season will help, too, he thinks.

"By 2021, they [the FIA] want to get cars that you can drive really closely and have wheel-to-wheel racing - which was made worse in Formula 1 by the big wide tires, which basically create a huge amount of turbulence and the cars couldn't get close."

New Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc (in cap facing camera). Ferrari, Renault and Mercedes drew easily the biggest crowds during the a crushed public pit lane session.
New Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc (in cap facing camera). Ferrari, Renault and Mercedes drew easily the biggest crowds during the a crushed public pit lane session.

He adds, "And the only reason they did big, wide tires was because someone thought it would look good. That was the only reason for it."

Fans wait to catch a glimpse of drivers along Albert Park's Melbourne Walk.
Fans wait to catch a glimpse of drivers along Albert Park's Melbourne Walk.

The other major change in Formula 1 over the past couple of years has been the end of the internal combustion engine's monopoly.

Does 20-year veteran Shovlin miss the noisier old days?

"The problem with the V8s was that they were noisy, but that was about all that was good about them. The manufacturers wanted something they could generate actual useful research from, and that's what these engines have provided."

The F1 cars that will race in Melbourne on Sunday will be restricted to 100kg of fuel per hour.

Mercedes two cars will generate around a fifth of their horsepower from an electric engine, with a battery under the driver's seat collecting regenerative power created from braking and the heat of the exhaust.

Shovlin doesn't agree with all the rule changes, but he says they keep teams on their toes - and that these days they have more logic to under F1's new owners, who he sees taking a more balanced approach to decision making.

"Before, it was Bernie [Ecclestone] and 40 lawyers," he joked.

Another rule change for 2019 is that the weight of the car and driver are now calculated separately, and ballast will be used to compensate for smaller drivers who fall short of a minimum weight of 80kg - meaning larger (by F1 standards) drivers are no longer penalised.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton certainly looked bulkier to the Herald, and an AP report from recent training in Barcelona confirms it.

Hungry for more success, Lewis Hamilton added a twist to offseason preparations before launching his quest for a sixth Formula One world championship.

Not getting high on their own supply: Red Bull crew relax with some water.
Not getting high on their own supply: Red Bull crew relax with some water.

He binged on snack food. Less for the taste of it, more for the effect it would bring.

Eating a belly-full first and then doing extra hard workouts to turn that needless excess fat into muscle meant Hamilton returned to the track looking bigger than ever.

Bigger neck, bigger upper body, bigger arms.

He wasn't the only F1 driver to relax the diets and beef up the body after a rule change took away an advantage for being lighter.

The crush at Thursday's pit tour day indicated a big crowd is in the offing for race day Sunday.
The crush at Thursday's pit tour day indicated a big crowd is in the offing for race day Sunday.

"Over the winter and in the break, I could eat whatever I wanted, so pancakes and Cheetos, all that stuff. But I stayed very active," Hamilton said during preseason testing at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit.

"For the last month or so I have been pretty clean. My body fat is going down and you target more efficient defined muscle. I am not trying to be the Hulk. It takes time to put on muscle in the right way, but it has been great to eat bigger portions."

Sunday's race was the first since the 1950s when a driver received a bonus point for the fastest lap.

Fastest lap bonsus point

Another change this season will see the driver of the fastest lap awarded a bonus point, for the first time since the 1950s.

Shovlin was a touch apprehensive about that one.

"Drivers, while they are supportive of the team, they're not quite as supportive of the team as they are of themselves," he said.

He added that Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton knew how and when to drive within his limits.

[UPDATE: In the event, it was the team's other driver, Valtteri Bottas, who took the lead in the season-opener and (according to Reuters) ignored instructions to play it safe. It all ended well, as Bottas won the season opener and took the bonus point for fastest lap.]