The 2023 Australian GP made it into the history books. It was a bizarre race that no one could have predicted. I had high expectations for the Australian GP after seeing multiple drivers making trips off-track during the Practice Sessions. The drivers were pushing to the limit, and in some cases beyond. But what we witnessed during the race was uncalled for. 3 RED FLAGS?! That’s a new record!! We’ve had races that had 2 red flags in recent history, such as the 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix and the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. But the 2023 Australian GP has surpassed all.
The race started with a Safety Car, and ended under the Safety Car too! Due to the Red Flag at the end of the race, the race was restarted under the Safety Car, with the Safety Car pulling into the pits to let the drivers cross the finish line and finish the race. Later in the post, we’ll analyze how so many Red Flags/SCs took place, and why they took place. We’ll also look into the controversial procedures that took place. On top of that, we’re going to analyze how Max Verstappen won.
After dropping to 3rd behind both of the Mercs, I thought it was game over for Max. The hope was crushed the same way he crushed his opponents. After analyzing Verstappen’s race and the multitude of SCs and Red Flags, we’ll look at the final laps of the race. We’ll look at the incidents that took place, their causes and their significance. And to end this race review, we’ll look at the incidents that the Ferrari drivers got involved in. Sainz’s incident caused a controversial penalty, and Leclerc’s incident saw him failing to finish for the 2nd time in 3 races!
2 Safety Cars, then a Red Flag… then more SCs and Red Flags?
The 2023 Australian GP had more red flags than a discord mod. At this point, we need a parody of Sebastian Vettel’s blue flag song to describe this race. The race has a Safety Car in the first lap itself, and went on to have 2 more Safety Cars, a Virtual Safety Car, and 3 Red Flags! The longest uninterrupted run of racing was around 30 laps long, and even during those laps there were exciting battles and overtakes! This race was most definitely an unforgettable one.
The safety car at the beginning happened because of Charles Leclerc’s retirement. On the opening lap of the 2023 Australian GP, into Turn 3, Charles Leclerc turned into the corner and clipped Lance Stroll’s front-left tire. This sent the Ferrari spinning off into the gravel. Leclerc found himself beached and forced to retire. Since his car was beached, a Safety Car was needed to clear the car from the gravel trap before regular racing could resume. In the final section of this post, I will analyze both of the Ferrari cars’ incidents.
The Safety Car delayed the actual racing, and after that ended, we were hoping for the real action to begin. What happened next was indeed very entertaining. On Lap 6 at Turn 6, Alex Albon lost control of the rear end of his car, which sent him into the barrier. He spun in the gravel trap before hitting the barrier. Luckily, it wasn’t a heavy shunt, but the crash left a stranded car, along with debris and a lot of scattered gravel.
This was another Safety Car, until Race Control called a Red Flag. I’m actually surprised that the Red Flag was called after 3 whole laps under the Safety Car. During the Safety Car, drivers like Russell and Sainz pitted and lost many positions and gained no advantage. And more importantly, there was a huge amount of gravel and possibly debris on the track. That would clearly need a Red Flag to clean up. Race Control were probably hesitant to call a Red Flag because it is a time-consuming procedure that can ruin the fun of a race. However, safety comes first of course.
When racing resumed, it resumed with a standing start. The start was clean, and some real racing began. After their misfortunes with the Safety Car, Russell and Sainz embarked on comebacks. Both were only 2 or 3 places behind where they would be if they hadn’t pitted before the Red Flag was called. Russell could still have hope for a podium, since Verstappen was already flying away with the win (more on that later). Russell’s race then took a sad turn.
On Lap 17, going onto Lap 18, fire was blowing out of his engine. Behind Mercedes’ aggressive and innovative engine cover, you could see the flames escaping the exhaust. The 2023 Australian GP had just gone from bad to worse for George Russell. Thankfully, Russell pulled over at a place where the marshals could easily retrieve his car. This incident only required a Virtual Safety Car, which lasted only 2 laps.
After that came the longest uninterrupted stint. Things were smooth, and the battling only really took place from P7 and below and Sergio Perez made his comeback and drivers fought for the points positions. And then on Lap 53, ANOTHER SAFETY CAR. Kevin Magnussen hit the barrier at the exit of Turn 2. His rear-right tire flew off, along with small bits of debris. The Safety Car was justified. But a RED FLAG? YES. A Red Flag followed.
After that was the final standing restart, which is where pure chaos and carnage ensued. That’s when Race Control called THE THIRD Red Flag. What a mess! The race ended with the Safety Car pulling into the pits to let the cars take the finish. It was too late in the race for a standing restart. In the next section, I will analyze whether so many Red Flags were required and whether the FIA should review their Red Flag procedures.
The Frantic Final Laps – Did The FIA Mismanage Them?
The Australian GP turned into an open lobby during the final laps of the race. After the 2023 Australian GP, there’s no way that Codemasters are bringing Red Flags into the F1 game. The long procedures will ruin the fun for players, just like that last Red Flag ruined the finish to the race.
I strongly feel that a Red Flag for Kevin Magnussen’s incident was unnecessary. One car hitting the barrier shouldn’t result in the entire race being ground to a halt. Calling the Red Flag led to the chaotic restart, which saw multiple drivers struggle to deal with the cold tires and cold brakes after finally having experienced some full-fledged racing after the disrupted start to the race. When you compare this to how other motorsports are governed, it’s clear that 3 Red Flags in one race, especially under these circumstances, are far too many.
Look at IndyCar. Images have been seen of the race continuing under the Safety Car when there are rescue vehicles on the track in a narrow street circuit. In F1, a driver hit the wall and Race Control stopped the whole race. Given the dramatic increase in the frequency of Red Flags in the past couple of years, it’s clear that the FIA need to re-evaluate their Red Flag procedures. A Red Flag should only preside over a Safety Car if an incident is hugely severe. The Red Flag that followed after the chaotic multi-car crash at the last restart may be the only one that made the most sense at the 2023 Australian GP.
As I was saying earlier, the Red Flag that Race Control deployed after Magnussen’s crash was unnecessary. And so was the crazy restart. But that restart was also very dangerous. The Alpine cars crashed into each other. Logan Sergeant rammed into the back of Nyck De Vries’s car (more on that later). Alonso and Sainz made contact. Stroll had to go off track to avoid contact. It was a hot mess that luckily ended with no drivers sustaining any injuries. I do agree that using a Safety Car rather than a Red Flag in that situation was better for the spectacle. But safety should be of the highest priority at all times. And in this case, it showed that safety could end up being compromised, whether it’s intentional or not.
Apart from the Red Flags themselves, the reversal of the order at the end of the race was another controversial topic. The order was reversed to what it was before the final Red Flag when determining the order of the restart for the last lap of the race. Hulkenberg lost out on a podium and Sainz fell to 12th due to his penalty. Haas tried to appeal the reversal of the order, but were unsuccessful. The reversal was probably done due to not all cars crossing the line of the first sector when the Red Flag was called.
Max Verstappen Wins…Again!
At the 2023 Australian GP, among all of the carnage rose one victor; Max Verstappen. It’s quite incredible how Verstappen’s managed to finish on the podium for the first 3 races of the season. He won the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix, the season opener that I had the pleasure to watch from the grandstands. Despite a mechanical issue in qualifying leaving him starting 15th, Verstappen recovered to 2nd place in the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
And now in Australia, despite having a horrific start, he won. This year, it’s like he’s racing on F1 22 with 0% AI! When watching him race in Bahrain, you could see how calm and collected he was, continuously extending his lead. Verstappen did the same in Australia. As I mentioned earlier, Verstappen’s start to the race was far from ideal. Russell got Verstappen at the race start, and Hamilton passed his 2021 championship rival down into Turn 3. Both Verstappen and Leclerc struggled at Turn 3. Verstappen fell to P3. Leclerc fell into the gravel trap and out of the race. Leclerc’s issues were clearly far worse.
That’s especially because Verstappen, unlike Leclerc, got the chance to redeem himself. Until Lap 3 there was a Safety Car in order to recover Leclerc’s car from the gravel trap at Turn 3. The race resumed, albeit only for another 3 laps. That’s because the Safety Car came out once again on Lap 6 due to Alex Albon’s crash. Russell and Sainz jumped the gun and pitted for fresh tires when the SC came out. Unfortunately for them, the Red Flag came out due to the car itself and a large amount of debris and gravel being spread by the crash. That meant everyone got a fresh change of tires, and Sainz and Russell lost many positions and gained no advantage.
Russell’s misfortune saw Verstappen getting back into 2nd place, with Hamilton leading. The restart was a standing start this time, with Verstappen’s start not being ideal again. However, this time, he covered off Alonso and didn’t lose P2. Since all the drivers had a fresh set of hard tires on, it was Verstappen’s skill level and the Red Bull’s dominant car that came through once again. On Lap 12, just 3 laps after the restart, Verstappen stormed past Hamilton down the back straight. The Red Bull Car had unbeatable straight-line speed, proven by Sergio Perez’s many overtakes down that straight into Turn 9.
With a superior top speed combined with DRS, Hamilton couldn’t compete with Verstappen. Verstappen was over 30 km/h faster down that straight, which is incredible. After that, he retained the lead for the rest of the race. It’s funny how the lead changed 3 times in the first 12 laps of the race, and then didn’t change after that. Verstappen came close to losing the lead twice – once towards the end of the race when he locked up and nearly spun at the penultimate corner. He reported that he was having issues with repeatedly locking up there. And then at the finish, when Hamilton took the race to the line and tried to beat Verstappen to it. Fortunately for Red Bull, Verstappen crossed the line first. It rubbed salt in the wound, however, for Ferrari.
The Ferrari Drivers’ On-Track Incidents – Who Were At Fault?
Ferrari suffered their worst race result since the 2022 Azerbaijan GP. At the 2023 Australian GP Ferrari walked away with no points gained, leaving them nearly 100 points behind Red Bull. In Azerbaijan last year, mechanical failures forced Ferrari to face a double-retirement. In this race, both of their drivers were in costly on-track incidents where they both lost out. Ironically, in both cases they made contact with an Aston Martin, and the Aston Martin drivers gained an advantage. We’re going to analyze what happened, who was at fault, and whether the FIA’s decisions were fair for both incidents.
Charles Leclerc’s incident took place on Lap 1, and as mentioned earlier, caused a Safety Car. Leclerc started 7th behind Stroll, and held on to that position through Turns 1 and 2. But coming into Turn 3, Alonso was braking early to avoid hitting the 3-way battle between Hamilton, Verstappen and Sainz. That led to Stroll braking early, which allowed Leclerc to move next to Stroll around the outside. Stroll then had to brake even more to avoid crashing into Alonso, so Leclerc decided to swoop around the outside. However, when he turned into the corner, he turned into Stroll. Since Leclerc was the one turning in, he was the one that spun off into the gravel trap.
It was a small but costly incident. There was no investigation or action taken on the incident – neither of the drivers involved were penalized, and I agree with this decision. Stroll was not at fault here and was doing his best to avoid contact with any drivers. He couldn’t have anticipated that Leclerc would turn in to the corner while he was still there. At the same time, Leclerc couldn’t have seen whether Stroll was there or not. When Alonso and subsequently Stroll slowed down, Leclerc went ahead of Stroll but couldn’t see whether Stroll was behind Alonso or was still in between Leclerc and Alonso. Leclerc clearly thought that Stroll was behind Alonso, which is why he decided to turn in and try and pull alongside Alonso. It’s understandable to try and take the opportunity to gain 2 places early on. However, Leclerc should’ve been a bit more cautious.
While the incident wasn’t a major one, Leclerc’s car had to be cleared from the track, which caused the Safety Car. The incident was costly for Ferrari because they lost points, but it was worse for Leclerc as a driver, since he’s down in 10th in the standings with only 6 points to his name. His teammate, however, is in 5th in the standings, although he deserves to be higher. Carlos Sainz suffered a point-less race as well, despite being the 4th car to cross the finish line. After the 2nd Red Flag of the race was the crazy and chaotic restart that we’ve already analyzed. Cars going off the track, going into the barriers and making contact. And among the cars that made contact were the cars of Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso. Alonso was in 3rd place in the Aston Martin, and Sainz was in 4th.
At the restart, Sainz’s start was mediocre compared to Gasly’s fast start. Gasly pulled alongside Sainz on the outside, with both of the drivers trying to force each other into braking too late. Gasly braked too late and locked up and went off at Turn 1, but Sainz went in too deep as well. He went through Turn 1 too fast and clipped Alonso’s rear-right tire. Alonso spun and hit a barrier, but luckily it was a light hit and he carried on racing. He was the last of the running cars after that, until the order was reversed for the final Red Flag restart and the end of the race, which we’ve already gone into.
While Sainz did make a mistake with his braking, it was a very difficult situation to manage. The stewards themselves took into consideration that this restart incident was equivalent to a Lap 1 incident, which warrants more leniency and consideration from the stewards. However, they still penalized Sainz, which is far too harsh in my opinion. A 5-second penalty and 2 penalty points is not fair. The penalty relegated him to P12 because the race finished under a rolling restart. Even Alonso admitted that the penalty was too harsh. When a race starts or restarts with a standing start, all of the cars are very closely packed together. The tires are relatively cold, and the drivers are going at high speeds, making it difficult to judge how much grip or space you have.
In their decision on giving Sainz the penalty the stewards stated that “there was sufficient gap for Car 55 [Sainz] to take steps to avoid the collision and failed to do so.” The stewards deemed Sainz to be “wholly to blame” for the incident. I disagree with that statement because Sainz couldn’t have anticipated under those conditons that Alonso would turn in and try to switchback Hamilton. On top of that, to avoid contact, Sainz would have to brake harshly and potentially lock up, which would’ve seen him either colliding with Alonso anyways, colliding with Stroll, or spinning. At high speeds like that, especially on such a tight circuit, avoiding a collision when the cars are closely packed is very difficult.
To make matters worse, the stewards issued this harsh penalty very quickly. They didn’t even summon Sainz or have a hearing before issuing the penalty. With the incident between the Alpine cars, the steward summoned the drivers and heard their points of view before deeming the incident as a racing incident. With Sainz, they gave him a penalty before the race even restarted! And the worst of all is the fact that the stewards didn’t take any action against Logan Sergeant locking up and hitting Nyck De Vries from behind into Turn 1. Both of those drivers had to retire after that incident, and Sergeant didn’t get penalized. I don’t have anything against Sergeant, it’s just that the FIA mismanaged the situation and penalized Sainz straight away, which was unfair.
Ferrari have submitted a petition for the Right To Review the penalty. If Ferrari do get the Right To Review and present compelling evidence to the stewards to prove that they shouldn’t have given Sainz the penalty, then there’s a chance that Sainz gets his P4 finish back. However, we shouldn’t get our hopes up, because there’s no guarantee that the stewards will reverse their decision.