Along with the 2020 Tuscan and 2021 Saudi Arabian Grands Prix, we can now add Australia 2023 to the list of Formula 1 races with three standing starts. As a relatively straightforward win for Max Verstappen drew ever closer, the race exploded into life with four laps of the 58 to run when Kevin Magnussen tagged the Turn 2 wall, ripping the right rear Pirelli tyre straight off the hub. Owing to tyre and wheel debris, such as metal fragments, the race was red-flagged for a second time following Alexander Albon’s early shunt. The two-lap shootout proved costly for Alpine with both cars wrecked, and then there was subsequent confusion about what the order would be behind Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. Eventually, the order was taken as it was under the Magnussen red flag, as this was the last time the FIA could categorically create a running order – akin to Great Britain 2022 and the first lap pile-up there. There were some quietly impressive performances in Melbourne – and we start our Winners and Losers with a driver quietly rebuilding his reputation. Winner – Nico Hulkenberg Nico Hulkenberg was one of the drivers of the weekend at Albert Park, pulling off a seventh place finish in the Haas. That was not by fluke as he was consistently in the top 10 throughout the weekend, securing yet another Q3 and top 10 starting slot, and could perhaps be disappointed with only 10th on the grid. In the race, it was quintessential Hulkenberg: Keeping himself to himself, strong defending but knowing when the ghost was up and ceding position – which he did to Lando Norris – and banking a solid haul of points for the team. This impressive start to the season is exactly why Mick Schumacher was booted out and the ‘Hulk’ given another chance in Grand Prix racing. He might not be the driver with the star surname, but Hulkenberg is a welcome addition back to the grid. There were suggestions on social media that if Carlos Sainz did get a penalty (which he did) Hulkenberg would benefit and be promoted to the podium as he was running fourth at the time – after the Gasly/Ocon red flag. That didn’t come to pass, and it later turned out that Haas weren’t even aiming for the original P4 position , but would there be a more Nico Hulkenberg way of getting that podium than not even standing on it? What did he say? “I couldn’t quite fight Norris off, we had a little bit too much tyre degradation but still nevertheless a good effort and a lot of positives again.” Loser – Alpine Boss Otmar Szafnauer was rather sanguine about the fact his two cars were in the fence, smouldering and in more than one piece each. Gasly was set for at least fifth with Ocon languishing around 10th until the Lap 57 restart left the team facing an expensive repair bill. It was deemed as a racing incident by the stewards and so no further action was taken, but as rivals Aston Martin and McLaren all scored big points and Alpine none, it could prove a more costly weekend come the flag at the final race in Abu Dhabi. One of the big questions pre-season was: ‘How would Ocon and Gasly react when they come together’? Seeing as both took the incident well, it seems the relationship is still intact. What did Szafnauer say? “There are times where you can’t avoid it if things happen in front of you, where you have a decision of either run into this or run into that, because you can’t avoid that.” Winner – Lewis Hamilton After Friday practice, Lewis Hamilton said he expected Mercedes to be around P5 on the grid and that it would not get much better. Except the W14 finally showed a bit of pace in Australia, proving itself the second fastest car in race trim (no prizes for guessing the quickest). Hamilton was able to hold off Alonso’s attention for the whole race and, although the fact that George Russell now leads 3-0 in qualifying, that will not bother Hamilton when he looks at the Drivers’ table. 38 points plays Russell’s 18 with the prizes handed out on Sunday, so as far as Hamilton is probably concerned the ‘Mr Saturday’ tag for Russell can live on. What did he say? “If we continue to work together, we can definitely fight the Ferraris and the Red Bulls, and the battle’s really with Fernando right now.” Loser – Ferrari In a word, ouch. From the dominant car here in 2022, the 2023 Ferrari could not have looked further from the pace if it tried. Throughout practice the car did not show any flashes of what could be considered reasonable speed and then in Qualifying a fifth and seventh was all that could be mustered. The race went right for about 20 seconds until Leclerc beached himself at Turn 3 and then Carlos Sainz was caught out by the Albon-Safety Car and red flag having just pitted. After that, he put in an excellent comeback drive to run in fourth and salvage a very good result, until his race unravelled on the Lap 57 restart. He was deemed at fault, perhaps harshly, for tagging Alonso around in what he felt was clearly a racing incident, cue pleading over the radio for the stewards to hear his side of the story before dishing out punishment. It didn’t work. To add insult to injury, he fell from fourth to 12th and out of the points. Firmly a weekend to forget for the Scuderia. What did Sainz say? “It is the biggest disgrace I’ve seen in the sport for many years and whatever I’m going to say now, I’d rather not say it.” Winner – McLaren The fact that Sergio Perez blasted past Oscar Piastri with both cars having their DRS open showed McLaren’s problem in a nutshell: aerodynamic efficiency. AKA a ‘draggy’ car to you or me. Still, it was a solid weekend for the Woking concern who came away with 12 points through Norris’s sixth and Piastri’s eighth place. It’s never as bad as you think, with the team set to enjoy their much-vaunted upgrade next time out in Azerbaijan. On a day major rivals Alpine scored nil points, this represented McLaren’s best of the year and they have now leapfrogged the Enstone team in one race. Loser – Alex Albon For arguments’ sake, let’s assume Alex Albon did not crash on Lap 7 and ruined an excellent weekend. He was running in P6 when he crashed at Turn 6, using that Williams straight-line speed to keep faster cars behind – such as Lance Stroll. George Russell’s DNF would have him P5, but then let’s say both Stroll and the recovering Perez take race position. At worst, Albon would have been left with P7 or P8, but certainly a healthy haul of points. Instead, he walked away with nothing on a day of high attrition where teams like Williams simply need the points and must capitalise. It was put down to an off at Turn 5 and a spike in tyre temperatures, but when Williams are in such a position again, Albon must not repeat it.
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