2023 Australian Grand Prix Roundup
For many years the season opener, now the Australian Grand Prix is third in the calendar but is a venue praised by F1 fans and drivers for the high-speed circuit, often dramatic races, and the warm hospitality that Australia always offers that rivals the warm weather. In recent years the Australian Grand Prix at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne hasn’t disappointed and is always one to look forward to in the calendar whatever number race it appears at.
This year was no exception as two race wins for Red Bull in the Middle East, one apiece for Verstappen and Perez, meant that for the first time they were looking to make it three out of three at the start of a season. A strong Aston Martin team and a resurgent Mercedes, as well as an unpredictable Ferrari, were hoping they’d be able to do something about that.
Following on from last time out in Saudi Arabia, Qualifying was looking like the same old story with Verstappen taking pole position for Red Bull, however teammate Perez would be starting from the back of the grid after beaching his car in the gravel in Q1. That left Mercedes with an excellent opportunity to show how strong they are becoming race after race with George Russel taking P2 ahead of Lewis Hamilton in P3.
Aston Martin continued their strong start to the season with Alonso in P4 and Stroll in P6, with the Ferrari’s either side with Sainz in P5 and Leclerc in P7. Alexander Albon took his Williams to a very impressive P8 with Gasly in P9 for Alpine and Hulkenberg P10 in the Haas rounding up the top 10 result for qualifying.
The race more than lived up to they hype with action aplenty, three red flags and restarts, numerous safety cars, crashes, time penalties and even the customary animals dicing with death on the track at times. The surprises began straight from lights out with Russel and Hamilton passing Verstappen at the start proving the potential that the Mercedes cars seem to be building upon. A collision for Leclerc with Stroll on the first lap brought out the safety car before a heavy crash for Albon, unfortunate to not take advantage of his great qualifying performance, brought the safety car out yet again before a red flag stopped the race to sort out the aftermath. This proved to be further bad luck for Russel and Sainz who had pitted early for tyres to attempt to take advantage of their positions yet would start further back at the restart.
The red flag meant drivers could then change their tyres for the restart which meant it was open racing for Hamilton and Verstappen when the race got going again. The Red Bull showed its impressive straight-line speed with Verstappen not taking long to pass Hamilton’s Mercedes once he was within DRS range. The gap between the teams still seemingly quite a gulf with nothing Hamilton could do once the Red Bull was within pouncing range. Once he’d taken the lead Verstappen managed to extend a comfortable gap to Hamilton, who was more focussed on managing the gap to a strong Fernando Alonso than trying to catch the race leader, Alonso himself also having to contend with a recovering Sainz and an impressive Gasly who were keen on his podium place.
Russel’s bad luck continued with massive engine failure on lap 17 resulting in flames shooting out the back of his car, a scene familiar with the roaring V10 cars but not something often seen in the hybrid era, and especially from the usually very reliable Mercedes team. Perez again showed the impressive pace of the Red Bull cars by fighting his way through the pack, eventually climbing from starting from the pit lane at the very back to fifth place and setting the fastest lap by the end of the race in the process for the final bonus point.
Surprises Till The End
The race seemed to have settled down and got past all the drama before Kevin Magnussen had other ideas in his Haas. After hitting the wall on the exit of Turn 2 and ripping his wheel off he spread debris over the track causing another safety car and then a few laps later another potentially over-cautious red flag for another race restart. This meant a 2-lap sprint to the finish on soft tyres and a proper sprint race to the chequered flag. In theory an exciting prospect for both the drivers and fans, in reality it didn’t go to plan.
The race restart was understandably frantic and got as far as the first corner before chaos ensued. A determined Carlos Sainz clipped the back wheel of Alonso’s Aston Martin causing him to spin off and end up brushing the wall. To avoid the unfolding situation, Gasly, looking to avoid the collision, collided with teammate Ocon putting both Alpine drivers into the wall and ending both their races. In the midst of the kerfuffle the Williams of Sargeant hit the back of De Vries’ AlphaTauri putting them both out of the race, whilst the Aston Martin of Stroll and Perez in his Red Bull both had to resort to off-roading to ensure they didn’t join the casualties of the first corner.
This obviously brought out yet another red flag just for fun and followed with a period of confusion as to how the race would actually end since there were only 2 laps left and no cars currently on track. Even the sun was beginning to set in Melbourne as the restarts and clean ups took their time to enable the race to be restarted. Back underway yet this time behind the safety car, (and possibly a wise move after the previous restart) the race resumed with the cars in the order they started the previous restart in, minus the cars that were unable to continue after the commotion settled down.
Verstappen was free to restart the race over the line as the safety car departed taking his first victory in Australia and his second of the season after just three races. Lewis Hamilton understandably overjoyed at his second-place finish and a relieved Alonso finished third after his spin and bump into the wall resulted in very little damage to his Aston Martin. The rest of the field crossed the line in quick succession with Sainz, Stroll, Perez, Norris, Hulkenberg, home favourite Piastri with his first points in Formula 1, and Zhou Guanyu completing the top 10 out of just 12 cars that finished in the end ahead of the unfortunate Tsunoda and Bottas.
Sainz, however, picked up a 5-second penalty after causing the spin of Fernando Alonso in the previous restart, and as the race was so close due to the safety car finish, was demoted to the back of the grid once the time was added on. This meant that Tsunoda picked up the final point of the race ending up in 10th in his AlphaTauri.
An eventful race that ended up with 3 grid starts, 2 rolling starts, 3 red flags and just 12 of the 20 cars crossing the finishing line. In terms of performance for those who did finish the race, Red Bull continued to prove how quick their car is with Verstappen comfortably remaining at the front after the early scare and Perez’s impressive surge through the field to set the fastest lap and finish in fifth. Despite the retirement of George Russel’s car, Mercedes will be optimistic at how well Hamilton’s car performed, managing to remain ahead of Aston Martin who they supply a lot of their running gear and lend their wind tunnel to for development.
Speaking of Aston Martin, their solid P3 and P4 finish continued their excellent start to the 2023 season and cemented their second place in the constructor’s standings. Ferrari continued to be unpredictable, showing promise at times yet being unable to capitalise or actually show how much potential their car could ultimately offer. McLaren will be happy with a double points finish for the first time this season, although surely they see it more of ‘it’s a start’ than where they actually want to be.
With Red Bull taking all the victories so far this year it is difficult to see how anyone could stop them from picking up another driver and constructor title this year. Mercedes are showing definite signs of improvement, however they will have to continue to improve to get anywhere near stopping Verstappen and Perez this year. Aston Martin are currently the closest rivals but will surely be happy to continue their current form without pushing too much in case it upsets the balance of their car, only time will tell how effective this would be. Ferrari will be hoping they can start to put together some kind of consistency or unlock some more potential from their car in order to fight for second place with Mercedes and Aston Martin at the very least.
The rest of the field seem to be fighting amongst themselves to become ‘best of the rest’ so far. A few unexpected race results or qualifying laps show that so many teams have the potential to upset the order, yet unlucky incidents or crashes mean that the rest of the field have it all to race for so far this season. The next race is another street race in the form of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in impressive Baku at the end of April. Will anyone be able to stop a dominant Red Bull or can the streets of Baku provide a tougher test for their cars and leave a gap for the chasing pack. We will have to wait and see.
Find out more about the race and the calendar for the 2023 season here: F1 – The Official Home of Formula 1