F1 returns Down Under as Red Bull struggles once again
Matthew Henderson recaps all the action from the Australian Grand Prix, as the F1 circus returned to the Land Down Under for the first time since 2019.
After seeing the 2020 Australian Grand Prix cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic,, Formula One finally returned to the Albert Park Circuit. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc claimed another pole position, while the Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez lined up immediately behind the Monegasque. Early season strugglers McLaren looked to have turned a corner in qualifying, as Lando Norris started in fourth, while hometown hero Daniel Ricciardo lined up in seventh. As for Mercedes, they continued to perform below their lofty standards, with Lewis Hamilton and George Russell locking out the third row.
Despite not having the best performance in qualifying, the Silver Arrows were quick off the line, as both Hamilton and Russell passed Norris into Turn One. Pérez also dropped places at the start, as he was forced to back out in order to avoid colliding with his teammate on the apex of the first corner – this allowed Hamilton to slip into P3 before Turn Two.
Over at Ferrari, things were going well for the current WDC leader, as Verstappen was unable to successfully challenge Leclerc off the line. However, the same could not be said for Leclerc’s teammate, as Carlos Sainz started the race in P9 due to a subpar qualifying performance. The Spaniard got off to a poor start, with numerous cars easily passing by and leaving Sainz in P14, and things went from bad to worse as Sainz beached his car in the gravel on the exit of Turn 10, prematurely ending his afternoon.
Pérez was able to put himself back ahead of Hamilton just moments before the first Safety Car of the race was deployed. The yellow flags came out in response to Sebastian Vettel, as the German spun his Aston Martin into the barrier at the exit of Turn Four in what was the climax of a massively disappointing weekend for the four-time World Champion.
Leclerc and Verstappen were side by side going into Turn One following the restart, with the Ferrari ultimately prevailing to keep hold of first place. Behind the leading duo, Pérez showcased what he could get out of a fairly problematic Red Bull (thus far) by moving up into third, passing Russell to do so.
However, things did not go as smoothly for Verstappen, as the Dutchman was forced to pull over on Lap 39, ultimately withdrawing from the race. This was the second time in three races that Verstappen has been forced to retire, with many calling the newly-formed Red Bull powertrains into question, as both stoppages seem to have been engine-related.
Before this season, Red Bull used Honda engines but after they left F1, they agreed on a deal that would see Red Bull continue to use the same engines but under their own brand.
Red Bull were naturally quite tight-lipped, with team principle Christian Horner not giving much away. Whatever the cause of the issue is, Red Bull need to get on top of it if they are to be in with a chance of the Constructor’s title. So far, Ferrari seems to have a car that is both reliable and fast. Red Bull, on the other hand, seem to have a fast car but not one that is reliable. Their 2021 championship rivals, Mercedes, seem to have a reliable car but one that is not as quick as their rivals.
Mercedes are aware of what is causing their lack of pace – it’s aerodynamic issues causing airflow under the car to stall, resulting in porpoising (the car bouncing). In order to stop this, they must run a higher ride height than their rivals, causing them to lose time. Red Bull face a tougher challenge though, as their issue is still unknown.
The risk for both teams is that while they are scratching their heads trying to fix their cars, Ferrari will be racking up the points, widening the gap further. It’s a situation we’ve seen before. A perfect example is the situation in the 2009 season. Brawn had such an innovative concept with their double defuser that McLaren and Ferrari were unable to keep up for the first part of the season. Once they did catch up, it was too late – Brawn had such a lead that they couldn’t be caught. The same situation could well happen to both Red Bull and Mercedes if they don’t find a solution to their issues quickly.
The rest of the race was a relatively relaxed affair, with Leclerc able to guide his Ferrari to his second win of the season, finishing comfortably ahead of Pérez in second, while Russell rounded out the podium with only his second top-three finish in the sport. This wasn’t any ordinary win for Leclerc, though – it was a Formula One Grand Slam. The Monegasque ran fastest in every practice session, qualified on pole, lead every lap of the race and put in the fastest lap as well. This was the first time Leclerc had achieved the feat, and Ferrari’s first Grand Slam since Fernando Alonso did the same back in 2010.
Although the 2022 season has only run for three races, signs seem to be pointing towards a true return to form from Ferrari. Over the course of the next few rounds of action – the next being at Imola in just over a week’s time – the Scuderia will need to hope their early season success can continue, while Red Bull and Mercedes are still contending with their respective reliability and speed issues.