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Melbourne Takeaways: A welcome return

Melbourne Takeaways: A welcome return
Formula 1‘s Australian Grand Prix was back in 2022, after a two-year hiatus, and it was great to welcome this event back on the calendar, despite its lack of thrills.

It wasn’t the greatest of races, in terms of track action, but it was a great event that showed the passion Aussie’s have for F1, as record attendances were registered with over 400,000 people attending over the course of the whole weekend.

As for the lack of track suspense, maybe it is a relative judgement, since we have simply become so spoilt by the shows Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen put on for us in the first two races of the season, that we have come to expect them at every race which wasn’t the case in Melbourne with Verstappen’s race retirement, not to forget Red Bull’s pace problems that meant the reigning World Champion was never in a position to launch a proper attack on the #16 Ferrari.

Leclerc on the other hand was on a level of his own, superior in qualifying, untouchable during the race, and bagging the fastest lap of the race meant he achieved the perfect race weekend. Nothing more to say honestly.

There was some dueling in the midfield, but not to the extent that was promised by the changes to the track ahead of its return this season. The lap times were down, but there wasn’t much overtaking done, and the effect of the fourth DRS zone that was removed in the last minute (between Turns 6 and 9) on the grounds of safety, will remain as a case of what could have been.

However, enough happened at F1’s weekend down under, to help us come up with a few takeaways, our Takeaways from the 2022 Australian Grand Prix.

Carlos Sainz: Where do we go now?

It was a character building weekend for Sainz in Melbourne, to put it nicely. He showed some promise of being on par with Leclerc at a few moments of the weekend, but when things became serious, the Spaniard fell short, and miserably.

Now we cannot blame him fully for what has happened, as part of his misery came from Ferrari being “Ferrari”, with the qualifying troubles when his car wouldn’t start, then his steering problem at the start of the race, causing him to bungle his start… He didn’t even budge off the line.

However, beaching his F1-75 in the gravel was not caused by the team, as he was clearly frustrated and over-driving on cold tyres. Okay, the team might have caused the tough situation he found himself in, but being the “Smooth Operator” we know he is, one would have expected him to be a bit calmer under pressure.

How Sainz moves on from his Australian experience will be a sign of his true character, and he has impressed in that department over the course of his career. He may not be blindingly fast like Leclerc or Verstappen, but he is an extremely smart, hard working driver, whilst we shouldn’t forget that he held his own against the latter during their Toro Rosso partnership days quite admirably.

But the 27-year-old has to recover fast, and get on top of the handling of his F1-75, a car that has proven to be the class of the field in the hands of his teammate. Otherwise, he will be risking becoming a “Wingman” to Leclerc if his slump goes on.

Also let’s not forget, that if his rough patch carries on any longer, all the leverage he has in his ongoing contract-extension negotiations with Ferrari – something he gained after his impressive debut 2021 season with the team – will be lost.

Interesting, yet risky times for the Spaniard.

Red Bull: A lot to ponder after Melbourne

By their own admission, Red Bull were in for a nasty surprise in Melbourne, which was Ferrari’s superior pace and the F1-75’s kindness to its tyres.

Max Verstappen drove the wheels off his RB18 in qualifying but was almost three tenths too slow to take pole from Leclerc, and things weren’t any better during the race, as he and Sergio Perez both suffered from graining, while Leclerc was so comfortable up front, never even at risk of getting under-cut by the Bulls.

A team may lose their way on the car’s setup every now and then, but what should be a great worry for the energy drinks outfit, is the lack of reliability they are experiencing with this year’s car, which is proving to be fragile, as much as it is fast. And as they say, in order to finish first, you must first finish, and Verstappen has failed to finish two out of this season’s three races so far. That’s concerning.

Also don’t forget that the RB18 is one heavy machine, and trimming it down may have a knock-on effect on reliability even further, so Red Bull have to tread a fine line here.

Verstappen is already 46 points behind Leclerc in the Drivers’ Standings, and even with 20 races remaining this season, that is not a position a defending Champion should ideally be in on the third race of his defense campaign.

Mercedes: God help everyone if they sort out the W13

Mercedes took third and fourth at Albert Park with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton respectively, and that should have been fifth and sixth under normal conditions where Verstappen and Sainz finish their races.

That was another display of damage limitation from the World Champions, and it was especially important after the lows of Jeddah for Hamilton in particular, who was knocked out of Q1’s qualifying there.

Russell might have been lucky with the Safety Car timing, but what was admirable about the Silver arrows in Melbourne was their race pace which was strong enough as Russell finished almost 5.5s behind Perez, the Briton giving the Mexican a tough time defending from him earlier in the race and releasing the #11 RB18 for the sake of preserving the tyres only.

Mercedes are compromising their setup and performance to tone down the “porpoising” of the W13, which makes one wonder, how fast that car would be when it is run with a setup optimizing performance.

I still feel their is a beast of a car in the 2022 Silver Arrow, and once or if Mercedes sort the bouncing, that beast will be unleashed.

It is “when” Mercedes sort out the car that will decide whether they still have a chance to impact this year’s Championship, and that is the biggest uncertainty they face.

Quick hits

  • You have got to feel for Fernando Alonso finishing last after so much promise early on in the weekend in Melbourne. His qualifying crash, which wasn’t his fault, meant his race was always going to be compromised, while the safety car and the traffic he got stuck in after his pit stop put the final nail in his race’s coffin.
  • A sobering experience for Haas at Albert Park – after the highs of Bahrain and Jeddah – slow in qualifying, and out of the points in the race.
  • Aston Martin’s troubles continued, and their Australian nightmare was particularly calamitous as the multiple crashes by both drivers will have a high repair bill, which would definitely impact the team’s development plans, that is if they know how to develop their woeful AMR22.
  • A strong showing by McLaren in front of Daniel Ricciardo’s home fans, and the Aussie needed this, but are they on their road to recovery? Or is it just a case of “circuit-suiting-the-car “as Lando Norris implied after the race?