Melbourne Takeaways: Red Flags, Carnage, and Mercedes' flash in the pan

Melbourne Takeaways: Red Flags, Carnage, Mercedes’ flash in the pan

Melbourne Takeaways: Red Flags, Carnage, and Mercedes' flash in the pan
Melbourne’s 2023 Australian Grand Prix delivered a dramatic Formula 1 race that featured a little bit of everything, with high-tension, carnage, and Red Flags in abundance.

Realistically, Max Verstappen and Red Bull were expected to dominate Down Under, but in qualifying he was only 0.236s ahead of second-placed George Russell, on a day when Mercedes suddenly woke up for some reason.

Nevertheless, the Dutchman’s 22nd career pole was somehow an easy one, and in the race he seemed to be holding back just cruising around to the chequered flag, his lucky escape from his grass trip at one point probably due to him falling asleep behind the wheel.

Thankfully, the drama behind him made sure there were Red Flags, Safety Cars, re-starts, you name it, making sure he was fully attentive towards the end, nailing the second restart, unlike his sluggish first one, and of course the race start when he was caught napping by the rampant George Russell.

Honestly, no one was worried Verstappen wouldn’t catch Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, in his trusty steed, the RB19, and while a blown power unit sorted Russell out, the Red Bull man made quick work of the seven-time Formula 1 Champion on track.

As for the Red Flags, race re-starts, and Safety Cars, I will hold my judgement here and keep that to Sean Steven’s Parc Ferme. However, the FIA will have a reserved takeaway, but for other reasons.

So let’s start with our third Takeaways this season, from the 2023 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

Mercedes should be smart, the W14 is still crap

For some reason, be it Albert Park’s layout, car setup, or Pirelli black magic, Mercedes found the sweet spot with their W14, and as such they were second and third in qualifying as George Russell took the fight to Max Verstappen on the day.

But despite Mercedes’ awakening, Lewis Hamilton was almost four tenths off Verstappen’s pole time, and with Red Bull claiming they set the #1 RB19 up for race conditions, one could venture a guess the W14 would’ve been over half a second off the pace. Russell came closer, but honestly he has been flattering the machinery Mercedes are putting at his disposal more so than Hamilton these days, a statement I never imagined I would be writing.

But what’s more important is that Mercedes should not be thrown off by their performance in Melbourne, as was the case in 2022 when some of their one-off strong performances, mainly their win in Sao Paulo, made them soldier on with their slim-sidepod car concept, hence their predicament in 2023.

The team revealed a major overhaul of their W14 will be ready by the time they race at Imola in May, which would represent a major departure from their current failed aero concept, and hopefully their form won’t deter them from seeing this through.

Speaking to the media in Melbourne, Toto Wolff was asked about Mercedes’ improved form; he said: “I think we made a good step forward this weekend on single lap and on race pace.

“Is this where our baseline needs to be? I’m not sure. I think we maximized in what we have,” he added.

And that’s the main point here, The W14 is still a piece of crap, but Mercedes maximized it, while Aston Martin and Ferrari did not.

So better not have any funny ideas, and get the B-Spec car ready as soon as possible, and while they’re at it, sort out that reliability…

Is the FIA Race Director managing the easy??

Over the course of the Australian Grand Prix weekend, FIA race director Niels Wittich warned F1 teams that their crews are not allowed to celebrate their drivers at the pit wall fences, a tradition that has become endearing in the sport, basing his judgment on an existing rule.

Well first of the all, the rule, like many other rules in F1, is stupid. Second of all, doesn’t Wittich have anything else better to do that dig out old rules and implement them? Or is it a case of “managing the easy”?

As a quick explanation, “managing the easy” is a phrase I learned from my time of working in factories as a production line manager, and it means that you focus on trivial things rather than the important issues, like worrying how many gloves your staff consume while your whole production process is messed up or your machines are on fire!!

And that is the case exactly with the FIA and their race director. In a time when they have been making one wrong decision after the other in officiating races, Wittich is worried about crews climbing fences to celebrate, ripping out another part of F1’s identity being a team sport with actual humans driving the cars that other humans have designed and built for them.

Instead, they decide to give Carlos Sainz a penalty after punting Fernando Alonso on the second race re-start, on what they admitted was a first lap incident, but refrained from doing the same when Pierre Gasly took himself and his teammate Esteban Ocon out, not to mention Logan Sargeant crashing into Nyck de Vries.

In their decision regarding Sainz, the FIA said: “Car 14 was significantly ahead of Car 55 at the first corner and nevertheless Car 55 drove into Car 14, causing it to spin and leave the track. We accordingly imposed a 5-second penalty on Car 55.

“For avoidance of doubt, we took into account the fact that this collision took place at the first lap of the restart, when, by convention, the Stewards would typically take a more lenient view of incidents.

“However, in this particular case, notwithstanding the fact that it was the equivalent of a first lap incident, we considered that there was sufficient gap for Car 55 to take steps to avoid the collision and failed to do so.”

Granted Car 55 could’ve taken steps to avoid hitting Car 14, shouldn’t the same apply to Car 10 (Gasly) and Car 2 (Sargeant)?

But hey, let’s focus on killing the soul of F1 and deprive F1 team crews from celebrating their hard work that usually gets overshadowed by the drivers in the spotlight (not to take anything away from the drivers), and let’s keep on questionably managing F1 races, and like I mentioned earlier, there are many other aspects from the racing directing in Melbourne which I didn’t detail here, leaving it to GrandPrix247’s Sean Stevens.

Quick Hits

  • After all the hype around him in Jeddah, Sergio Perez wasn’t convincing in Melbourne, and despite the car trouble he suffered, the Mexican just wasn’t on it this time, especially as his advance up the grid in the race was unworthy of the rocket ship he is driving.
  • Good for Oscar Piastri to score points in his first race in front of his Melbourne home crowd, but that was simply down to him benefitting from the race’s many incidents. Worth noting though is that the Australian rookie is starting to show his ability behind the wheel of an F1 car.
  • A dismal weekend for Ferrari, nowhere to be seen in qualifying, and Charles Leclerc ending up in the gravel at the start of the race, with only himself to blame. I have a sad feeling that Leclerc is starting to crack, another talent being burned by Ferrari.
  • Aston Martin have now showed enough to prove that they have the second-best car this season, the AMR23 being a decent all-rounder, despite the big gap to Red Bull. Fernando Alonso’s 33rd win happening is just a matter of time, and maybe some help by an occasional Red Bull implosion.