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Australian GP Takeaways: A glimmer of hope?

Australian GP Takeaways: A glimmer of hope?

Australian GP Takeaways: A glimmer of hope?

The Australian GP delivered a refreshing turn of events in the still young 2024 Formula 1 season, as Ferrari’s one-two led by Carlos Sainz gives us a glimmer of hope that the Championship will not be a Max Verstappen runaway.

Now it is obviously too soon to judge whether Ferrari can deliver more performances like that in Melbourne last weekend, but we have the right to dream, right?

It was an entertaining F1 weekend down under in general, even practice sessions were somehow eventful, drivers going off trying to get to grips with the Albert Park Circuit, and while it would’ve been more entertaining to see Max Verstappen battle it out with Sainz during the race, the fact that we had a different winner after two races of Red Bull dominance was simply invigorating.

Sainz’s comeback, Verstappen’s brake failure, Mercedes’ struggles, Fernando Alonso’s antics, Williams’ embarrassment, and some more topics, all delivered enough on-track-attractions that eclipsed the never-ending Christian Horner Saga, and the Susie and Toto Wolff fracas with the FIA and its President Mohammed Ben Sulayem, also keeping in mind the latter’s investigation woes.

But let’s put the politics aside for now and head on to some racing takeaways from the 2024 Australian Grand Prix.

The Smooth Operator is on a mission

Ever since he was informed that his Ferrari career would be over by the end of the 2024 season, Sainz was on a mission to prove his worth for other teams, and simultaneously prove to his team that they made a mistake by dropping him.

Over the course of his tenure at Maranello, Sainz has proven to be more consistent and less error prone than his bindingly fast teammate, the homegrown Charles Leclerc.

This pattern has continued in 2024, with a podium for the Spaniard in the season opener in Bahrain, and while Saudi Arabia was a write off due to his surgery for having appendicitis, his comeback in Australia was impressive.

It was an achievement just to be back in the cockpit of an F1 car without being fully recovered, but to outqualify Leclerc – who had car balance issues in Q3… yeah right – and then win the race was a monumental feat by Sainz.

Yes, Verstappen’s DNF helped, but all the signs showed that the SF-24 was rapid around Albert Park and the Spaniard would’ve been a serious contender for the win.

Editor in Chief Paul Velasco penned an Outside Line questioning whether Ferrari have fired the wrong driver. The race in Melbourne showed that was the case and if Sainz continues this form throughout 2024, John Elkann and Frederic Vasseur are risking looking like a bunch of amateurs.

Nothing lasts forever

Verstappen’s DNF in Melbourne last Sunday ended an impressive run of reliability for the Dutchman since he retired from the 2022 Australian GP, not to mention the dominance.

Red Bull weren’t in the groove in Melbourne and the RB20 did not seem to be the dominant machine we saw in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in the opening two races of the season, and while Verstappen stuck it on pole, it was he who made the difference while Leclerc messed up – the latter was the one tipped for pole following practice.

Red Bull struggled in Singapore in 2023, the only race they showed a hint of vulnerability, but they have shown that early on in 2024. Will that be the case more often as the season progresses?

Have Ferrari sorted out their tyre degradation woes during races? It seems so, and Haas who use Ferrari suspension also appear to be better during races, they scored points with both cars in Melbourne.

Nothing against Red Bull, they dominated and deserve their success, but we really hope Ferrari’s performance in the Australian GP is genuine and that they take the fight to the reigning F1 Champions more often than not in 2024.

Except for Mercedes’ woes perhaps

Hamilton: These things happen, we will bounce back

What a sad situation Mercedes find themselves in. The W15, their 2024 car with a new design philosophy is apparently a Silver and Black nightmare.

After all the positivity they showed in pre-season testing – I mean their soundbites – their new car seems to be mediocre at best.

In Melbourne that car was so twitchy that Lewis Hamilton couldn’t get Turn 1 right, but luckily for him his power unit failed early on and he was spared from enduring the agony of the full 58 laps of the Australian GP – how ironic.

While George Russell was faring a bit better in the other W15, his crash in the end chasing down meant Mercedes leave Australia pointless, an unacceptable result for a team of their stature.

And while Russell admitted he shouldered some blame for crashing behind Alonso, the latter was naughty to say the least, but that incident has uncovered another issue for Mercedes.

Russell, whom they have been looking at to lead the team after Hamilton’s departure to Ferrari in 2025, doesn’t look to be suitable for that role as he has been crash prone in close racing situations, Singapore 2023 a most recent example, and let’s not forget Silverstone in 2022 and the huge pileup the Briton caused sending Sauber’s Zhou Guanyu into the grand stands upside down.

Toto Wolff needs to think hard before deciding who he signs to replace Hamilton.

Alonso and Russell

One of the talking points from the Australian GP was the last-lap incident between Alonso and Russell, and as hard as the former tried to explain his innocence, it was simply a case where he applied the Dark Arts of racing he so perfects, an action which may have gone unpunished years ago.

The stewards slapping Alonso with a penalty post race was always going to generate debate, but if the wording of the rules was to be followed, a punishment was inevitable.

And while many might disagree with Alonso’s penalty, and while admitting this subject is not my forte, I have read and heard several pundits whose opinions I highly respect, including GrandPrix247’s Sean Stevens, a veteran clerk of the course, who insisted Alonso deserved the penalty.

So there you have it, Alonso was no angel, but that doesn’t mean Russell doesn’t have to sort out his weaknesses in close racing situations.

Australian GP Quick Hits

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  • Williams not having a spare chassis in Australian was an embarrassment for the team and F1, the pinnacle of motorsport that insists Andretti Cadillac won’t add value to it.
    I respect Williams’ heritage, but are they doing F1 any favors now? James Vowles’ decision to prioritize upgrades over a spare tub was wrong, plain and simple, irrespective of the team’s production issues or outdated processes. It is Vowles’ second year as team principal and we should start seeing changes, and although I know from personal experience how challenging it may be to turn a struggling production process around, there is no excuse for mixing up your priorities.
    All the justifications he gave following the chassis blunder simply sounded like a public appeal to his bosses not to fire him.
  • Another miserable weekend for Daniel Ricciardo at his home race. Yuki Tsunoda is hardly a benchmark, but has beaten the Australian so far in their time together as teammates. Such a shame when a driver like Liam Lawson is having to watch the action from the sidelines after his impressive debut in 2023.
    But the pressure (Dr. Helmut Marko) is starting to mount on Ricciardo. Will we see a midseason driver swap at RB?
  • Sauber don’t seem to be able to get a pitstop right, with another botched stop in Melbourne. Audi have so much work to do…