In the weekend just gone, we had a very early wake up to watch the third round of the season in Melbourne.
We start, as we always do, in Q1, which saw a collision between the two Canadian drivers of Stroll and Latifi, following Stroll passing the Williams, then trying to move over to allow Bottas to get past. To Latifi, it looked as though he would have been letting him back past, so he went to get back ahead, but instead, Stroll moved to the right to cut him off, ending in Latifi running into the back of him and bringing out the Red Flag with just two minutes of the session remaining. This crash meant that Stroll was unable to set a time, leaving him P20. Latifi had set a time by the crash, however he was only able to achieve P19. Following the restart, Vettel was able to emerge from the pits after his crash in FP3, and setting a time only good enough for P18. A surprise knockout from Kevin Magnussen, who was only able to manage P17, with the final position being taken by Albon (P16).
Moving into Q2, we saw Tsunoda being eliminated, only able to manage P15, behind Schumacher (P14), following his return to action after his huge crash in Saudi Arabia. P12 and P13 were taken by both the Alpha Romero pairing of Bottas and Zhou (in P12 and P13 respectively). This result for Bottas ended his run of 103 consecutive Q3 appearances. Gasly was the final man to miss out on the Top 10 shootout, missing out by less than a tenth of a second.
Q3 was interrupted by a Red Flag brought about by Alonso crashing at Turn 11. The Alpine driver complained about a hydraulics issue which stopped him from changing gear which caused the crash that left him in P10, and without a time. P9 was taken by Sainz, who was badly impacted by the stoppage, as he was about to improve to put him amongst the Red Bulls, but he was unable to cross the line before the Red Flag was brought out. This left him with too much time to pick up on his final run. Ocon claimed P8 by four tenths, and Ricciardo, in his home venue qualified P7, less than half a tenth of a second behind Russell in P6. Hamilton claimed P5, over a tenth behind Norris in P4. Perez claimed a strong P3, around a tenth behind Verstappen in P2, leaving Leclerc to claim his 11th Pole Position of his career.
Ahead of the race, Albon was disqualified from qualifying following a fuel infringement, with the car being unable to make it back to the pits after Q1, and stopping on track. This put him right to the back of the grid, meaning that Stroll, despite not setting a time, was promoted to P19.
Lining up on the grid, we can see that everyone has put on the Mediums, except Alonso, Sainz, Magnusson, Albon and both the Aston Martins who put on the Hards.
As the five lights go out and the race begins, Leclerc gets off the line well and is able to hold off Verstappen, maintaining the lead. In trying to stay ahead of Perez, Verstappen cuts across his teammate, which allows Hamilton to take P3. Sainz was a massive loser off the line, dropping to P14, with Norris also dropping to P6, behind Russell.
It takes until just Lap Two for the first incident to occur, that being Sainz passing Schumacher on the straight going down to Turn Nine, but he breaks too late and ends up going onto the grass and going into a spin which took him across the next straight and into the gravel trap, putting a swift end to his poor weekend. This brought out the Safety Car, which Stroll used to pit on Lap 4 for a set of Mediums, before pitting again on the next lap for another set of Hards, allowing him to go until the end of the race without needing to pit again.
As the race restarts on Lap Seven, the Top 10 remain as they are, and it takes until Lap 10 for Perez to retake P3, going down the inside at Turn Three. On Lap 14, Latifi comes into the pits, putting on the Hards, and Schumacher does the same on the following lap.
On Lap 18 Ocon pits from P8, putting on Hards, and Verstappen does the same on the next lap, returning in P7, between Ricciardo and Alonso. Perez enters the pits on Lap 21, as does Norris, both putting on the Hards, with the Red Bull returning in P9 and the Mclaren in P12. Ricciardo pits the following lap, returning just behind Norris.
Both Leclerc and Hamilton pit on Lap 23, putting on the Hards, with the race leader returning to the track in P1, and the Mercedes returning ahead of Perez. This does not stay the case for long, as Perez is able to go round the outside of Hamilton on the long left hander towards Turn Nine. Further back, Vettel mounts the curb at Turn 4 which puts him into a spin, and into the wall, breaking his front wing as he pulls of to the side to retire, bringing out another Safety Car.
Russell uses this opportunity to pit onto the Hards and return ahead of Hamilton. This leaves the Top 10 as follows, Leclerc, Verstappen, Russell, Alonso, Perez, Hamilton, Magnussen, Norris, Ricciardo and Albon, with Alonso, Magnussen and Albon all yet to pit.
On Lap 27, the race resumes and Verstappen tries to go round the outside of Leclerc going into Turn One, but is unable to take the lead. Perez is able to pass Alonso on Lap 30 as Leclerc puts a gap of almost three seconds between himself and Verstappen. Hamilton is able to pass Alonso on the next lap.
On Lap 34, Norris is able to pass Magnussen going into Turn One, and Ricciardo is able to do the same on Lap 36. Ahead, Perez is able to pass Russell using DRS going down into Turn 11. On Lap 38, Verstappen pulls off to the side of the track at Turn Two to retire, reporting a strange smell from the car. This brings out the VSC, allowing Magnussen and Alonso to pit for the Mediums, returning to the track in P13 and P17 respectively.
The VSC ends on Lap 41, with Leclerc leading by 12 seconds to Perez, and on Lap 43, Bottas gets squeezed onto the gravel by Stroll at Turn Three. Another contentious moment for the Canadian after receiving a five second penalty for weaving on the straight. This penalty would result in him dropping out of the points, sitting in P9 with both Gasly and Bottas close behind.
By Lap 45, Albon remains the only driver yet to pit as he cruises in P7, around four seconds behind the McLaren pair of Norris and Ricciardo. On Lap 50, Gasly is able to finally make his way past Stroll by going around the outside of Turn One, and Bottas is able to do the same on the following lap.
On Lap 53, Alonso had gone from chasing the points in P11 to P15 as he complains about his tyres, leading him to pit on Lap 55 for Mediums. Between Alonso’s rapid drop-off and him pitting, Bottas picks off Gasly for P9. Getting onto Lap 57/58, Zhou is able to make his way past Stroll for P11.
Onto the final lap, and Albon finally enters the pits from P7, and puts on a set of the Softs and comes out in P10, almost side by side with Zhou, but is able to remain ahead.
By the chequered flag, Leclerc comes home taking the extra point for Fastest Lap, with Perez claiming his first podium of the season in P2, with George Russell on the final step in P3. Close behind was Hamilton in P4, with the McLaren duo of Norris (P5) and Ricciardo (P6) around 25 seconds further back. Ocon took a strong P7, with Bottas completing another strong weekend for the Fin with P8, and Gasly bringing it home in P9. The points paying positions were completed by Albon following a truly exceptional strategy which capitalised on the chaos caused by the Safety Cars.
My Driver of the Day goes to Albon for that very reason, keeping himself out of trouble and taking full advantage of what came his way. Granted, Stroll holding up the pack to give Albon the gap played a huge roll in allowing the Williams a chance at points, but given that Albon has just been reintroduced to the sport, and has been able to go from P20 to P10, that must be commended, and appreciated.
The loser of the weekend must be Verstappen, as he falls further away from his Championship rival, dropping to P6 in the standings after finishing just one race from the first three, meaning there is already 46 points between himself and Leclerc. This is a bigger gap, already, than the gap between Hamilton and Verstappen was at any point during the 2021 season.
Featured Image Credit: Formula1.com