Formula 1 cars graced the streets of Melbourne for the first time in 3 years. And with all of the action from the 2022 Australian GP, some say it was worth the wait! Scratch that – F1 felt pretty different without the Australian GP. F1’s return to Australia was a huge event, with the race amassing a crowd of 419,114 people!! This made the 2022 Australian GP the largest sporting event of all time in Australia. Who knew that F1 was as gargantuan as it is? We dearly missed the atmosphere that the Aussie fans created, and I’m sure that I’m not the only F1 fan that’s glad that F1 could return to Australia this year.
With a crowd that large, surely there was pressure on F1 to deliver an exciting race. And deliver they did, because those 58 laps were action-packed. First of all, the build-up to the race was strong. Charles Leclerc stormed to pole position in qualifying on Saturday, with Max Verstappen lining up alongside him. That’s the 2nd time this season that Verstappen and Leclerc have shared the front row. That’s a battle the fans wouldn’t want to miss. On top of that, teams like McLaren and Alpine were looking strong, whereas teams like Haas and Aston Martin were really struggling. A driver who struggled in qualifying was Carlos Sainz. In Q3, he couldn’t complete a good lap because of the Red Flag caused by Alonso’s crash, which is why he started in P9.
When the 5 red lights went out in Australia, Leclerc got a strong start and retained the lead of the race. His teammate, however, bogged down the order. Leclerc went on to win the race, with a strong display of domination coming from the Monegasque. It’s only Round 3 of the season, but there’s plenty to analyse in the Red Bull v Ferrari battle. Leclerc didn’t just win in Australia, he won with a Grand Slam. In F1, a Grand Slam is when a driver gets pole position, the race win, the fastest lap, and has led every lap of the race. It’s the most dominant performance a driver can achieve at a race weekend.
With Verstappen retiring, Sergio Perez came through to finish P2. It was a consistent race for him. He managed to overtake both the Mercedes drivers, despite their luck and race pace both being pretty good! And in P3 was George Russell, who scored his first podium with Mercedes. It wasn’t the first podium of his career if you count the 2021 Belgian GP. But it was his first podium where he won it on track with some actual racing happening. In this race review, we’re going to look at the Red Bull vs Ferrari battle. We’ll also look at how some teams succeeded in Australia, such as McLaren and Mercedes. And lastly, we’ll analyse Alex Albon’s insane drive.
Leclerc Achieved A Grand Slam As Verstappen and Sainz DNF’d
Let’s analyse the Red Bull vs Ferrari battle, and specifically how dominant Charles Leclerc was. Before we get into the race, let’s look at qualifying. In Q1 and Q2, the Red Bull cars were clearly faster than Leclerc. We were looking forward to seeing Perez and Verstappen fighting for pole position. But in Q3, Leclerc came through with a rapid lap for pole position. In the early Q3 times, Leclerc’s lap was fastest but was only 0.001 seconds faster than Perez’s lap. This left people wondering – will Leclerc join in and make it a 3-way fight for pole? His teammate was out of the mix because Sainz crossed the line a second or two too late. His first lap didn’t count, because the session got Red Flagged because of Alonso’s crash. Qualifying was far from ideal for both the Spaniards.
In the final laps of qualifying, Sainz didn’t have enough time to warm up his tires, because he had some issue with the car which left him leaving the pitlane fairly late. That meant that Sainz would qualify in P9. That was disastrous, especially when you look at his teammate’s performance. While Verstappen went on provisional pole at the end of qualifying, Leclerc came through with a lap that was nearly 3 tenths of a second clear of Verstappen. You could see how hard he was pushing – he squeezed out every bit of pace in that Ferrari. Verstappen had to start behind Leclerc for the 2nd time this season, showing that Ferrari and Leclerc are really strong. But nobody could anticipate how strong they would be in the race.
At the race start for the 2022 Australian GP, Leclerc retained the lead. As for his teammate, it was a different story. Sainz fell down to P14 by the end of Lap 1. Everyone around him started on the medium tires, but he started on the hards. The hard tires generally take a while to rubber in and to get in the ideal operating window in terms of tire temperatures and tire wear. But Carlos Sainz struggled even more than usual with the hard tires. On Lap 2, he tried to make an overtake down into the high-speed chicane of Turns 11 and 12. The chicane itself is tricky, but the braking for the chicane is not usually a problem. However this year, it proved to be difficult.
Sainz overtook Schumacher in the approach to Turn 11 but braked too late for the corner. He didn’t lock up, but he missed the apex and was hit with a snap of oversteer. That sent the Ferrari onto the grass at a high speed. The grass was dry, but it didn’t have much grip. Sainz’s car was bumping on the grass before it spun, slid across the track, and into the gravel trap. The car was beached in the gravel, putting an end to Sainz’s miserable weekend. He was running in 2nd in the drivers’ standings before Australia. He was only 12 points behind his teammate. After the Australian GP, Sainz fell to 3rd in the standings. He is 4 points behind Russell, with Russell being an astonishing 34 points behind Leclerc. The Monegasque driver is dominating the championship 3 races in!
READ MORE: The changes made to the Albert Park Circuit
The speeds coming into Turn 11 are higher thanks to the removal of the previous chicane. This means that the drivers would have to brake early. In the race, when there are cars nearby, and when you’re racing on cold hard tires, it could be tricky to judge the braking point correctly. Kevin Magnussen ran off the track and across the grass the same way Sainz did, but he managed to slow the car down and avoid a spin. That could be due to having warmer tires.
But going back to Red Bull vs Ferrari, what happened to Max Verstappen? Well, the 2022 Australian GP left the reigning champion in an astonishing 6th place in the standings. He was about to finish the race in P2. He was nowhere near beating Leclerc, but P2 is still a good 18 points. But then disaster struck for the 2nd time in 3 races. Verstappen pulled over to the marshal post at the exit of Turn 1 and retired from the race. This was just about as mysterious as his car’s mechanical failure at the 2022 Bahrain GP. It wasn’t as dramatic, because it didn’t happen as late in the race. On Lap 39 of 58, Verstappen was going through Turn 1 when he shut the engine off. He reported that he smelled “some weird fluid”, which is when the team told him to shut the engine off.
F1 engines operate at over 100 degrees Celsius, but that’s when the car is going at hundreds of kilometres per hour. So much air is hitting the cars are designed to use that air to cool the engines and the brakes. But when the car isn’t moving, and that air isn’t rushing through the car, there is essentially no cooling. That’s why Verstappen’s engine caught fire. A fire can damage the parts of the engine, which is not what Red Bull needs. This incident already had huge implications for the championship. After the double-DNF from the Bahrain GP, Red Bull can’t afford any more retirements.
After that disaster, we didn’t think that Red Bull would struggle with reliability. Everyone expected Red Bull to have fixed their issues. Having 2 engine failures in the first 3 races of the season is a huge problem. On top of that, their parts would’ve taken some fire damage, which could mean that Verstappen will take grid penalties in the future for replacing worn engine components. Thankfully, Sergio Perez didn’t run into any issues. Verstappen retiring gave P2 to Perez, so Perez scored those 18 points for the team.
This is something positive for Red Bull. It’s great to see that Perez is able to match, or like he did in quali in Saudi, beat Verstappen. Red Bull have finally found the right driver to partner with Verstappen. And after Verstappen’s bad luck in Bahrain and Australia, Perez is ahead of the reigning champion in the standings. For the first time since Ricciardo left, Red Bull have two cars in the fight. Sergio Perez has finally proved to be a rapid racer in the Red Bull car. Or at least they’re supposed to. Perez ended up carrying the team because of Verstappen’s retirement. While Ferrari also had only 1 driver scoring points, Leclerc won the race and got the fastest lap.
As a driver, he scored the most he possibly could have. Because of Leclerc’s strong first 3 races, Ferrari are nearly 40 points clear in the standings. And instead of Red Bull, it’s Mercedes in 2nd. Mercedes are only 10 points ahead of Red Bull, but at least their car is reliable, and at least both their drivers are scoring points. Red Bull need to iron out their issues. But before looking at what caused Verstappen’s engine failure, let’s talk about Charles Leclerc dominating the 2022 Australian GP.
Even if Verstappen didn’t retire from the race, he was nowhere near Leclerc. Before the first pit window, Charles Leclerc had an 8-second lead to Verstappen. An even crazier example of Leclerc’s pace was after the 2nd Safety Car restart. The 2nd Safety Car ended at the end of Lap 26. At the restart, Leclerc got a bad exit out of the final corner, giving Verstappen a strong run down into Turn 1. Verstappen used the slipstream to go for the move around the outside into Turn 1. Despite porpoising heavily down into Turn 1, Leclerc stayed calm and used the inside line to stay ahead of Verstappen. That was confident defending, and Leclerc made sure to stay in the lead down into Turn 3 as well. Verstappen had the slipstream, but Leclerc placed his car in the middle of the track and stayed in P1.
From there on out, Charles Leclerc was unstoppable. 2 laps later he was already 1.8 seconds ahead of Verstappen. Leclerc only made 1 pitstop in the entire race, and that was on Lap 22. He came out of the pits in the lead of the race and was 7 seconds ahead of Verstappen at the end of the race. This meant he led every lap of the race. That contributed to his Grand Slam.
As I mentioned earlier, an F1 Grand Slam is when a driver gets pole position, the race win, the fastest lap, and has led every lap of the race. Seeing this from Leclerc so early in this season has surely intimated his rivals. Nobody could challenge the Ferrari. But Verstappen still could’ve finished in 2nd place. His finishing P2 was far better than him scoring no points. The engine failure cost him 18 valuable points, and we’re now going to look at what caused the engine failure.
What Caused Verstappen’s Engine Failure?
We still don’t know the exact cause of Verstappen’s engine failure at the 2022 Australian GP. Red Bull have completed their investigation into the issue, and we have a basic understanding of what happened. Red Bull boss Christian Horner confirmed that it was a “fuel system issue, external to the tank, that has caused the issue”. It could be that a fuel leak caused the engine failure. That would explain the smell of fluid that Verstappen reported. However, it could’ve been a different leak. Horner said that the team “filled the car with hydraulic fluid before the race but I don’t think it’s related to this issue.” He also said that it was “something totally different” to the fuel system issue that forced both Red Bull cars to retire in Bahrain.
Craig Scarborough, a technical journalist/illustrator, tweeted what is likely to be the area of the engine that failed. He said that the fuel line from the tank to the high pressure pump could be the area of failure. The high pressure pump is the part of the fuel system that makes sure the fuel is at high pressure when being delivered to the injectors. Helmut Marko, the advisor at Red Bull Racing, confirmed that the team “were able to clarify the cause of the fuel leak in Max’s car.” He didn’t confirm whether it is a long-term fix or an issue that the team can fix before the race in Imola. He went on to say “The matter is very complex. The problem is absolutely different from that of Bahrain.”
What’s even more worrying is that Verstappen knew he might not finish the race. Reportedly, the mechanics were carrying out significant work on Verstappen’s car before the car left the garage on Sunday. Verstappen said “I already had an indication before starting the race that it was going to be tough to finish. I knew there was a possibility but I just tried not to think about it and just focus on my race.” Christian Horner said, “We could see on the data that something was wrong, and Max could smell it as well.”
Horner told the media he’d “rather fix a fast car than try and make a reliable slow one fast.” A bit of a hit at Mercedes, and a statement that some don’t agree to. George Russell hit back, saying “It doesn’t matter how fast your car is if you don’t make it to the end.” I agree more with Russell than I do with Horner. Mercedes are steadily working out their problems. They don’t have a very fast car, but it’s proving to be reliable. That’s why they’re ahead of Red Bull in the standings. If Red Bull can’t sort their issues out, then Ferrari will just fly away with the championship. We’re 3 races in and Ferrari are already 49 points ahead of Red Bull.
A Strong Race For McLaren and Mercedes
Let’s take a look at some of the performances in Australia, and compare and contrast those to the performances in Bahrain and Saudi. Let’s take a detailed look at the teams that performed well. Mercedes scored 27 points in the 2022 Australian GP. They finished in P3 and P4, with Russell taking his first podium with Mercedes. They scored 27 points in Bahrain as well, but Hamilton took the podium that time. But when compared to their performance at the 2022 Saudi Arabian GP, there’s a clear difference. Mercedes only scored 11 points, with Russell and Hamilton in P5 and P10 respectively.Hamilton hadn’t finished so far down the order in so long that he forgot that P10 is a points-paying position!
In terms of Hamilton’s car, they got the setup completely wrong. For Russell, he had a pretty quiet race. He qualified in P6, overtook Ocon on Lap 2, and then stayed in P5. He finished the race over 30 seconds behind the race leader. Russell was far away from the Top 4 pack, which were the Red Bull and Ferrari cars. In Australia, however, both the Mercedes drivers were able to battle the Red Bull cars. They did lose out when battling the Red Bulls, but they still had a fighting chance. In Bahrain, Mercedes would’ve finished in P5 and P6 if it wasn’t for the Red Bulls retiring.
In Australia, they were on for P4 and P5. They both overtook Lando Norris at the start. Hamilton overtook Perez with an opportunistic move since Perez had to slow down into Turn 1 to avoid hitting his teammate. In terms of on-track battling, the Mercedes cars weren’t that strong. Perez was the only driver to go wheel-to-wheel with a Mercedes – he overtook both of them with slick moves around the outside. On Lap 23, Perez made a brave move to overtake Hamilton into the fast chicane. Hamilton was going to use the exit and try and overtake Perez down the straight into Turn 13, but the Safety Car came out. As for Russell, he was ahead of Perez because he pitted under the VSC. Perez still overtook Russell for P3 around the outside of T13. Around 2 laps later, Verstappen retired, promoting Russell to P3.
Overall, Mercedes had strong race pace, and improved on their first 2 races. However, the most improved team was clearly McLaren. At the 2022 Bahrain GP, Daniel Ricciardo was struggling to overtake the Williams of Nicholas Latifi. At the 2022 Saudi Arabian GP, McLaren were still doing better, and were running at the verge of points, but not in the points. Norris only finished in P7 because 3 cars retired, and 2 drivers had compromising strategies. However, Norris’s pace was strong at the end. He was challenging Esteban Ocon for P6 until the finish line. Also, keep in mind that one of the retirements was Daniel Ricciardo. He faced an engine failure with just 13 laps left in the race.
Now let’s look at McLaren’s performance at the 2022 Australian GP. For the first time in 2022, both McLaren drivers made it into Q3. Lando Norris qualified in P4, with Ricciardo in P7. Norris qualified faster than BOTH Mercedes cars. Looking at race pace, McLaren were better there as well! At one point in the race, a McLaren vs Mercedes battle was shaping up. The order was Hamilton, Russell, Norris then Ricciardo. Norris was looking to challenge Russell, and Russell was looking faster than Hamilton. On the other hand, Ricciardo looked like he might be faster than Norris. So it was an intriguing situation where team orders could’ve been involved. In the end, the McLarens finished 5th and 6th, scoring 18 points. It was their first double-points finish, which came perhaps earlier than expected.
But why were McLaren suddenly so quick in Australia? We don’t think that McLaren made a miracle upgrade. The most likely answer is to do with the characteristics of the Albert Park Circuit. With the changes to the circuit, there is a clear reduction in braking zones. Only Turns 3, 13, and 15 are major braking zones. McLaren reported having issues with the brakes in Bahrain. The Bahrain International Circuit has at least 7 or 8 heavy or tricky braking zones. Compare this to the Albert Park Circuit. With the lower number of braking zones, McLaren’s issues were rather nullified. This explains McLaren’s sudden increase in pace. But will this sustain? The next F1 race is the Emilia-Romagna GP in Imola. The Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola has at least 7 braking zones. Will that affect McLaren’s performance? Only time will tell…
Mega Race for Albon
Alex Albon’s performance at the 2022 Australian GP was nothing short of mind-blowing. He started the race on the hard tires, and started in dead last. That’s because he had a 3-place grid penalty after his incident with Stroll in the Saudi GP. Alex Albon kept gaining positions as drivers made pitstops. He didn’t come in during any of the Safety Car periods. He just kept going! In the last 10 laps of the race, his lap times on hard tires that 50+ laps old were less than a second slower than the McLarens’ lap times! At one point in the last 10 laps, his lap time was less than a tenth slower than Norris’s!
Albon came into the pits on Lap 57 of 58 for a set of softs. He fell from P7 to P10, meaning he still finished in the points. That was simply unbelievable. That’s tire management at its finest. Albon brought a new meaning to extracting the most out of your tires. Compare this performance to some of Williams’ rivals. Haas scored points in both Bahrain and Saudi but finished 13th and 14th in Australia.
Aston Martin were already doing bad in the first 2 races, but in Australia, their weekend was riddled with crashes. Stroll crashed in FP3 and Qualifying, and Vettel just couldn’t get to grips with the car at all. That Aston doesn’t look like a treat to drive. But then there’s Alex Albon. He scored his first points since returning to F1, and Williams don’t know how he pulled it off! Albon is the new George Russell at Williams – he’s carrying the team! Thanks for reading the post! I hope you enjoyed this review of an exciting Australian GP. I can’t wait for Round 4 of the 2022 F1 Season, which is the Emilia-Romagna GP. Stay safe, stay on the lookout for new posts and enjoy F1ntastic.