Drama Down Under: Your Recap of the 2023 Australian Grand Prix

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It’s down under to Melbourne we go, and the early start for those on the other side of the world hasn’t dissuaded F1 fans.

Starting at 3pm local time, the Australian Grand Prix was on at the bright and early time of 6am BST.

And what a dramatic and chaotic Grand Prix it was.

58 laps around the Albert Park Circuit with track temperatures reaching 34.7°C drew in a sell-out crowd across the whole weekend. Jensen Button, the 2009 F1 World Champion and a current senior advisor at Williams, commentated as part of Sky Sports’ coverage, alongside some regular pundits such as David ‘Crofty’ Croft, Martin Brundle and the well-loved Ted Kravitz.

“I’ve raced here for 17 years and we never had attendance like that. So obviously Formula 1 is in a great place… the fans here are amazing!’

Jensen Button
Image Credit: F1

The race started fast-paced and chaotic, with Charles Leclerc immediately out of the race. The Ferrari’s car was clipped by Aston Martin driver, Lance Stroll, and the Monégasque driver spun out in Turn 2. The ending of his Australian drive is worlds apart from last year when he was racing in pole position. The accident led to a yellow flag, and an investigation by the FIA who declared it to be a simple racing incident with no further investigation.

Another spin came from Thai driver, Alex Albon, who is in his second year at Williams. The incident was originally a yellow flag, calling out the safety car for a 2nd time, but after the crash threw debris and gravel onto the track, the FIA flew a red flag and called all drivers back into the pit, as well as giving a free pit stop to all drivers who hadn’t already pitted. Confusion ensued and many teams were frustrated at the disruption to their strategies.

‘The debate will, I’m sure, reopen on whether this is right or fair, or just the luck of the draw, and that’s racing.’

David ‘Crofty’ Croft

Next came a standing start procedure from the current grid places. Lewis Hamilton led the pack, but there was some controversy with his driving, and Max Verstappen claimed Hamilton was driving too slow behind the safety car, ending up more than 10 car lengths behind. However, the FIA clarified that the first car behind the safety car may set the pace under a restart procedure.

Red Bull continued their domination and their DRS (Drag Reduction System) gave Verstappen a much-needed edge to overtake Hamilton just before turn 9 on Lap 12. By Lap 15, the Dutch driver seemed to have secured his win, keeping a healthy lead way out in front. The 2021 and 2022 World Champion seems calm, cool and collect. It’s worlds apart from the calculated and aggressive driver fans have come to know and love but demonstrates the talent and dedication of Verstappen.

Unlike Verstappen, everyone else was battling and fighting for every inch of the track. Another safety car was deployed on Lap 18 after George Russel’s Mercedes almost became engulfed in flames. It ended what had been a promising race for the British driver, who had started in 2nd and was the first teammate to out qualify Lewis Hamilton since Jensen Button in 2010.

Image Credit: F1

The battle for 2nd and 3rd was tense, and the top 10 order couldn’t be called to the very end. The chaos continued but it was still exciting, and the atmosphere was felt by viewers everywhere. All drivers were concerned about looking after their types because of the rapidly changing temperature of the track. DRS always adds a fun element, and Red Bull excelled on the straights. Sergio Perez had started in the pit lanes after adding new engine components but swiftly made his way up the track.

Another red flag was deployed right at the cusp of the race with Kevin Magnussen losing his right rear tyre on lap 54. It was originally a yellow flag but the debris from the Haas’ loss of suspension was deemed too dangerous for drivers. The Grand Prix was going to go right to the end, and everything would be decided in the final laps. The fight was on and would all be decided in a super sprint to the end. Max Verstappen was in dangerous waters and had previously lost 4 seconds after his front tyres locked up. It’s an issue consistent with the Red Bulls but their car is still strong and only time will tell how long they can hold their domination

Chaotic starts seemed to be the theme of this year’s Grand Prix after a 3rd flag was called almost immediately after the restart yet again. 4 drivers were involved in incidents and it was all under investigation by the FIA. Nothing more was done about Alpine teammates Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly crashing into each other but it spelled nothing but disappointment for Gasly who had been racing brilliantly, well on the way to some much needed points.

No one seemed to know exactly what was going to happen or how the order was going to be decided. After all, there was only one more lap to go. The FIA decided on a formation lap with no overtaking based on the last known grid order. This meant Max Verstappen would be 1st, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso would secure his 3rd consecutive 3rd place. However, the true controversy of the race came while teams were setting up. Alonso and Ferrari’s Carlos Saint Jr were involved in a collision at the same time as the Alpine’s. It sent Alonso spinning to the back but the FIA deemed Sainz to be at fault. Unfortunately, the punishment was a 5-second penalty which meant the Spanish driver would have to fight tooth and nail to claim a points finish.

As to be expected, it did not go down well with Carlos proclaiming that the penalty was ‘too severe.’ It could also be dangerous as all the drivers would be bunching up to the Ferrari in order to get within 5 seconds of him and claim any points they could.

‘The penalty maybe is correct, but I don’t think we should’ve mentioned the penalty until after the race because now it puts into a position where you have five cars who are going to be pushing him across the finish line and it could be unsafe.’

Jensen Button

Thankfully, there were no further incidents (At least no further racing incidents though Kevin Magnussen did grind to a halt not long after the checkered flag) and for the first time ever, Red Bull won the 1st three races in a season. It was also their first win in Australia since Sebastian Vettel’s in 2011 and the first-ever Australian win for Max Verstappen.

Image Credit: F1

“It’s great to win here, my first win as well… It’s been a while for the team as well but very, very happy but also, it’s still great to see that the fans are having a good time even now. They had a long wait for the whole day, so I’ll say a big thank you to them as well for sticking around.

“We had a very poor start and then Lap 1, I was careful because I had a lot to lose, and they had a lot to win. After that, I think the pace of the car was quick, you could see that straight away, we were always there waiting for the DRS to open up, to have a chance to pass.

“But with these red flags, the first one maybe you can do it but I think that second one I don’t really understand. Was a bit of mess but we survived everything, we had good pace on the car today again, and we won, which of course is the most important.”

Three world champions occupying the top 3 was a great way to end what had been a dramatic race. Here are the current standings and catch the next race in Azerbaijan from 28th-30th April.

Image Credit: F1
Image Credit: F1
Image Credit: F1

Featured Image Credit: Formula1.com

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