Will Red Bull unleash their one-second advantage? Six Australian GP talking points

2023 Australian Grand Prix

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The final race to start the 2023 season before an unintended month-long break to the next round in Baku, Formula 1 returns to the fast, flowing parkland circuit in Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix.

One of the most popular rounds of the year for fans, teams and drivers alike, Albert Park received a major facelift in 2022. The first race on the revised track saw Max Verstappen’s race end in retirement as Charles Leclerc and Ferrari took to win to consolidate their early championship advantage.

How times have changed. This season, Verstappen will be eager to hold onto his slim lead in the drivers’ championship by beating his team mate to win in Australia for the first time in his Formula 1 career. But whether he and Sergio Perez will even need to stretch their legs in the race is the question.

How hard will Red Bull push?

Two rounds, two pole positions, two one-two finishes, first and second in the championship. Reigning champions Red Bull are enjoying one of the best starts to a championship in Formula 1’s history, with little to suggest that they are likely to be stopped any time soon.

Heading into the third round of the season, Verstappen heads Perez by a single championship point, the pair sharing wins across the opening two races. And it’s hard to imagine Red Bull’s rivals will be able to suddenly bridge the performance gap between them and the champions this weekend.

Red Bull’s true performance advantage was seen in Jeddah
Red Bull controlled proceedings in Bahrain, Verstappen keeping well within his potential pace to take an easy victory as Perez followed 12 seconds behind after having to pass Leclerc’s Ferrari in the middle phase of the race. In Jeddah, Perez pulled away out front while Verstappen made his way through the field. In the end, the only time the two team mates had to push was when they were fighting each other for the fastest lap point, something Verstappen eventually took from Perez at the final attempt.

At this stage the RB19’s true advantage over the chasing pack – in excess of a second per lap – was glimpsed. But Red Bull may not need to unleash the full scale of their advantage over their rivals to keep on winning.

The last race gave their rivals one sign the RB19 is not unbeatable. Verstappen’s driveshaft failure in qualifying showed Red Bull are not bulletproof in their reliability when they are pushing, giving their rivals an incentive to put them under pressure whenever they can.

Aston Martin, Ferrari and Mercedes know it will be tough to keep up with the Red Bulls in the race, however, with Melbourne being another high speed street circuit that should produce a similar showing to Jeddah, the last round. If that is the case, then it’s possible that the only thing Verstappen and Perez will need to worry about will be each other.

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A home race – literally – for Piastri

Oscar Piastri, McLaren, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2023
Expect Piastri to be popular this weekend
For the first time since 2011, Daniel Ricciardo will not be part of the Australian Grand Prix grid – assuming nothing happens to Perez or Verstappen. Having lost his race seat at McLaren at the end of 2022, Ricciardo has to settle for third driver duties at Red Bull. Although he will be a highly visible figure this weekend, he won’t be competing himself. But that does not mean Australia will be without a home-grown hero to cheer on this weekend.

The local fans have rookie Oscar Piastri representing them, taking the seat vacated by compatriot Ricciardo. In what will be just his third grand prix start, Piastri will be especially eager to enjoy a decent result after two frustrating rounds to begin his F1 career with the McLaren team.

After being eliminated in Q1 on debut in Bahrain, Piastri’s race barely got started before he was pulled in to the garage to retire due to an electrical problem. Saudi Arabia was far more promising as he reached Q3 for the first time at the second attempt, but opening lap contact with Esteban Ocon led to damage that ended all hopes of a possible first points finish, but he still ended up beating team mate Lando Norris after running 49 of the final 50 laps on the same set of tyres.

Piastri will be especially determined to put on a good show in front of his home crowd – being from Melbourne himself – but while points could be hard to come by, simply having a clean, trouble-free race will likely be enough.

A better weekend for Aston Martin?

Aston Martin endured a horror Australian round in ’22
It’s easy to forget, given how well Aston Martin’s season has begun, just how poor their start to 2022 was. Having missed Sebastian Vettel due to Covid over the first two rounds, he returned in Melbourne only to endure one of the worst weekends of his career, crashing multiple times.

Team mate Lance Stroll fared little better. He also crashed in qualifying, earning a penalty for contact with Nicholas Latifi, then was lucky to avoid a penalty in the race for rudely shoving Valtteri Bottas at turn three.

At the end of a miserable weekend, Aston Martin left Australia as the only team to have failed to score a point. In a sign of just how much the team has turned its fortunes around, this year they will be disappointed if they are not in sole possession of second in the constructors’ championship at the least.

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Backmarkers no more?

While the battle at the front of the field looks to be fairly one-sided in 2023 with Red Bull looking untouchable, it’s hard to think of a time when the midfield was as competitive as it is now.

Alexander Albon, Williams, Albert Park, 2022
Albon claimed a memorable point last year
Only two drivers, Nyck de Vries and Logan Sargeant, have failed to escape Q1 in both races this season, with Sargeant only missing out in Jeddah after having his time deleted for crossing a white line on the final straight, invalidating a lap that would have been good enough to progress. Only two teams have not yet scored a point either, with AlphaTauri just missing out in 11th with Yuki Tsunoda in both races and McLaren suffering terrible luck with both drivers having heavily compromised races both times.

With such a long season, the development over the year will become crucial. But that actually only makes these opening races all the more crucial for midfield teams, as every point will matter for those final constructors’ championship positions – just ask Alfa Romeo and Aston Martin after last season.

Last year, Williams snatched a point in Melbourne with perhaps the boldest strategy call of the season, Alexander Albon pitting on the penultimate lap after running the longest first stint in the entire Pirelli era to beat Zhou Guanyu home to tenth. But while 12 months ago, Williams were the slowest team on the grid, it’s next to impossible to point to any of the lower six teams as being the clear backmarker in 2023.

Junior series join the undercard Down Under

Jack Doohan, Alpine, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test
Doohan will enjoy the support of fans in F2
For the first time, Australian fans will get to enjoy watching Formula 2 and FIA F3 cars in action as F1’s main junior series join this event’s packed support series bill alongside the Australian Supercars and others. The event has held junior single-seater series before – Australian F4 ran here in 2019 – but this weekend sees the full field of F2 and F3 drivers racing at a circuit where none of them have ever raced around.

There will be plenty of local interest this weekend with Jack Doohan flying the flag for Australia as well as Alpine during this weekend’s two races, while in F3, Tommy Smith – another Melbourne man – and Hugh Barter will also be looking forward to racing in front of a home crowd.

With its high speeds, low natural grip levels and lack of familiarity among its drivers, the fans could be in for four highly eventful races this weekend.

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First ever fourth DRS zone

Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Albert Park, 2022
A fourth DRS zone will run along the back straight
Albert Park was where the first race using the DRS overtaking aid took place in 2011 and it also became the first venue to have a second zone added to it the year after in 2012.

By 2018, the circuit had developed a third zone, stretching down Lakeside Drive at the start of the third sector to complement the two along the pit straight and the run to turn three. But after two years off the calendar due to Covid, teams returned to a very different Albert Park circuit in 2022, with several corners modified and a long back straight along the lake with a fourth DRS zone place upon it.

Over the course of last year’s race weekend, however, race director Niels Wittich decided to deactivate the fourth DRS zone on safety grounds. TQhat zone is due to be reactivated this year, making this weekend’s grand prix the first to ever feature four active DRS zones and potentially offering easier overtaking opportunities into the very fast turns nine and ten chicane.

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Are you going to the Australian Grand Prix?

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Who do you think will be the team to beat in the Australian Grand Prix? Have your say below.

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    Will Wood
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    36 comments on “Will Red Bull unleash their one-second advantage? Six Australian GP talking points”

    1. RB traction is either very good and they make that second very easy or the Rest is within 0.1-0.3 seconds. We will see as we don’t have much info on this circuit with these new cars.

      1. @macleod

        We will see as we don’t have much info on this circuit with these new cars.

        F1 raced last year in Melbourne.

        1. Their traction is very good. Bahrain is all about good traction and RB have it.

          On a side note, with four DRS zones, why dont they just allow DRS all over the circuit? Its becoming a bit like the Polo Ralph Lauren logos getting bigger and bigger and taking over the entire shirt.

          1. @JackL Allowing DRS all-around the lap would be unnecessarily risky, which is why this approach got dropped after the system’s first two seasons in the first place, so going back would be unworthy.

        2. But the floors are 15mm higher that makes a big difference….

          I think Ferrari will do also very well here.

    2. I doubt. It will be closer to 1.5s or even 2s

      1. Single lap or race? Neither have been that much better in the previous races, so I doubt it should be the case on a track that has never really suited their car traditionally…

        1. Race pace. Qualifying will be close

      2. I doubt we will see it, though. They will only push as hard as they need to. It will take something fairly serious for them to show their hand.

      3. It’s worrying that it was actually over 2 seconds a lap to anyone other than Alonso who was still around 1.2-1.5 off per lap himself. RedBull have nailed their straight line speed and high speed corners this year.

        Apparently they’ve managed to get their DRS to be super effective with the diffuser to create a triple DRS effect. Gary Anderson wrote a great piece on it last week.

        No one’s catching them this year. I’m just glad I don’t have to set an early alarm this year as there’s zero point in watching.

    3. How hard will Red Bull push? – As hard as necessary for another win & or 1-2.
      A home race – literally – for Piastri – If he gets an issue & trouble-free weekend, I think he could finish in the lower points. BTW, his opening-lap contact happened with Gasly & Ricciardo didn’t participate in the 2011 Australian GP as he debuted in Silverstone.
      A better weekend for Aston Martin? – Probably more or less the same, at least for Alonso.
      Backmarkers no more? – Yes for Williams, & otherwise, no clear order below the upper midfield.
      Concerning Sargeant, he shouldn’t be without a Q2 appearance alongside De Vries as he never ‘crossed’ the white line on the S/F straight by a full car width, so technically, didn’t breach the ‘at least two wheels on track’ requirement, making the lap time invalidation entirely unjustified.
      Junior series join the undercard Down Under – Racing could be good & or unpredictable.
      First ever fourth DRS zone – The likely reinstatement is wrong, as high-speed corners & DRS never mix well, so unnecessarily risky as Abbey proved in 2018.
      Besides, I doubt overtaking into the high-speed combination would/will become any easier.

      1. I believe the instructions about the ‘track limits’ on the S/F straight in Jeddah were that going over the line with a wheel was also deemed illegal as they didn’t want drivers taking risks and getting that close to the pit entry barrier. I don’t know where it was said but it might have been race directors notes or something like that. IMO it seemed like a smart move.

      2. If RB has the car dominance that is stated in the press, they can race it like an FE car, with a push to pass button. Everyone else has the finger on the button the whole, while RB can turn the engine down and save it, make it last longer and more reliable but can crank it up if ever needed. That’s a very good place to be in F1

    4. Four DRS zones. Great. If Red Bull has an issue in qualifying or makes a mistake in the race they’ll be able to blast by the rest of the pack again with minimum effort. Yawn.

    5. First ever fourth DRS zone

      OMG really?!?! If they are having to add DRS zones, that doesn’t really speak well of the changed regulations.

      IMHO the new regs have been a success, though not as much as we hoped. DRS is still needed, but nowhere near as much as previously. For me, they need to be reducing the number and length of them, preferably along with a reduction in the activation interval (from 1s down to somewhere between 0.5 and 0.7, I’d suggest).

      1. @drmouse The Albert Park circuit has never been great for overtaking, so a fourth zone probably won’t make a huge difference.
        This particular circuit definitely doesn’t need shorter zones either nor other generally & historically difficult circuits for overtaking.

    6. Hahaha, who says they have an advantage. These headlines… Trump era

      1. Have you watched any F1 this or last year? Their race pace is closer to being in a different series over the competition!

      2. Are you seriously saying you don’t think the RBR is a significantly faster car than the competition?

      3. Indeed, cant remember this kind of articles when merc was taking pole by a second and then cruised home the next day.

        1. You are misremembering then… This is just the very first one I found from 2 minutes searching the archives.


        2. Yes there was. Even an end of year analysis usually highlighting the performance advantage over the season. Such as the one Keith did at the end of 2014 showing the W05 being on average 0.83% quicker over next-best car.

        3. cant remember this kind of articles when merc was taking pole by a second and then cruised home the next day.

          From 2014: Mercedes’ dominance outstripped Red Bull’s of 2010-3

          1. Thanks, @keithcollantine, I know there would be a better example!

      4. Even with the safety car bunching the cars up, RB still finished way ahead. The car is a rocket. Kudos to the engineers. And their pit crew is lightning fast as well.

        1. You mean kudos to CHEATING?! They breached the cost cap and as much they and their fans deny it, it gave them an advantage!
          Imagine what EVERYONE would be saying if it were the Mercs that breached the cost cap and are as dominant as the bulls are?
          Their engineers may be good but doesn’t or shouldn’t minimise the fact that they CHEATED!!!

    7. These headlines are getting more and more loaded and disgusting…

    8. If RB continues to have reliability issues, will they enforce team orders to keep the 1-2 drivers, 1 and 2? Or will one driver just happen to have unusually slow pit stops?

      1. if Max’s car breaks down, they will make Perez box and give the car to Max to finish the race to ensure he is ahead

        1. Itsmeagain (@)
          28th March 2023, 19:32

          …Valtteri, it’s James…. How many times did we hear that? And how many for RB?

    9. What’s really annoying about these regs is that it all started so well. RB and Ferrari were within a tenth or so of each other in both quali and race and the cars were following each other nicely. Then the Ferrari started falling apart and the Merc was bouncing like a kangaroo.
      It’s a shame Merc and Ferrari didn’t get it right because there is no reason why we shouldn’t be having the close racing we had at the start of last year.

    10. Backmarkers no more?
      But sadly most likely they will be racing for the 9th and 10th point scoring positions most often in this season, so the constructors table will look interestingly, or dauntingly for many. The 4 best team is seems too far ahead for them by now.

      But I think the backmarkers are closer to the top than in the Mercedes era. So is the field closer? To those who are saying it is not (because there is not so close at the sharp end): Why it is not closer if the backmarkers are closer, but there is a dominant team meanwhile? It is like we want to consider all permutations, but then discriminating a few of them. Then we are not looking at all permutations, possibilites or outcomes as if they were equal.

      The backmarkers are a bit closer, so imo the BOP like areo development handicap and cost cap works to some extent.
      And even if there is a dominant team momentarily, the fight in the 2nd 3rd and 4th in the constructors is quite amazing, and imo they have the pace to interfere with the RB cars race, at least occasionally, even by now.

      And as this BOP-like thing would act again and again it would contract the field, or it would act like a BOP in some seasons, so maybe it would demote a champion constructor in some seasons. Imo these BOP-like things are not easy to fine tune although, so there might be some sour experiences, even if there will be enough patience towards systems like that. At some other championships there was not, some teams and manufacturers just jumped ship.
      Additionally systems acting on so big and complex other systems are often live tested and fine tuned, as there is often no other option to assess their performance. Maybe for the engineers who came up with accepting this as a close to sole option was not really shocking, but more like something natural.

      One thing althogh I like about this system: that it acts off-track, unlike DRS. And I think a full BOP would not be good enough for F1, so it is good that it only affects some segments only.

      But on the other hand: I think not even this system can make a championship contender out of an out of reach indie team without the very established everything that the sharp end teams and their manufacturers have. Or at least most often not. But maybe it was in the mind of those at the top end during the negotiations, and they have not minded that, while the small teams have accepted that.

    11. For sure Red Bull are not much faster than they have already shown?

      Good for one two from any starting position.. But what suggests they have an extra second too spare?

      There is already almost same gap from P1-P3 as is P3-P20.

      Even more would be the greatest gap in history?

      Are we headding for All win season? Unlikeley, their reliability does not seem all there.

      But speed wise I do not see anyone close this year.

      1. Is there a new Verstappen? I might also be a fan.

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