(L to R): George Russell, Mercedes; Max Verstappen, Red Bull; Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes; Albert Park, 2023

Mercedes have “got to go for a win” but drivers are wary of Red Bull’s strengths

2023 Australian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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In what could be one of the most sensation turnarounds in Formula 1 history after their dominant start to the 2023 season, all nine rival teams successfully out-qualified a Red Bull for the Australian Grand Prix.

Naturally, this was a result achieved through circumstances rather than speed. Whether it was a genuine car problem or plain driver error, the result was the same – Sergio Perez’s Red Bull was left stranded in the gravel and, as a result, stranded at the back of Sunday’s grid.

Formula 1’s fastest car therefore tops and tails the field heading at round three. Max Verstappen secured pole position to give himself an excellent chance of making it two wins from three to begin his title defence, but now has an open goal opportunity to establish himself as the clear leader in the championship over his team mate.

With no Perez on the front row of the grid for the first time in 2023, Verstappen will head into the race free of the biggest threat to his chances of victory. Red Bull dominated the opening two rounds, winning by a combined total margin of 58 seconds over their closest rivals in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia (and the latter was interrupted by a Safety Car). Although his team’s rivals appeared to be closer in qualifying than ever before in 2023, Verstappen knows he has every reason to feel confident of claiming his first victory in Australia.

“I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” said the pole winner. “It’s going to be an interesting race that’s for sure.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Albert Park, 2023
Victory beckons for Verstappen at last in Melbourne
“We need a clean start, and after that, hopefully we can do a good job. I’ve been on the podium here before, but this time I want to be on a different step.”

Unsurprisingly, Red Bull look like the strongest package at Albert Park. The high average lap speed suits the low-drag properties of their RB19, while the car also gets good traction out of the slow corners of turns three, 11 and 13.

The cooler temperatures this weekend have given Verstappen headaches with trying to bring his tyres into the right operating window, but that is more a concern for single-lap performance and likely to be of lesser concern during the race – unless there’s a Safety Car restart or two to prepare for.

Verstappen will have two Mercedes in his mirrors when he leaves his (now 20 centimetre wider) pole position grid slot at the start. George Russell sits alongside the world champion with Lewis Hamilton directly behind. Although, on paper, Mercedes’ hopes of beating Verstappen on raw pace over 58 laps seem ambitious to say the least, that is not going to stop Russell from trying to make the most of the team’s best starting position of the season.

“We’ve got to go for it, haven’t we?,” Russell said. “We’ve got to go for a win.

“Max is going to be extremely fast. I think it’s difficult to overtake around this circuit, so the start, lap one, is going to be vital – but the Red Bull has extraordinary top speed. So, it’s going to be very difficult to fight with Max. If the opportunity is there, we will go for it.”

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Hamilton sounded pleased to be starting a race in 2023 from somewhere other than seventh on the grid and thrilled that it was as high as third. But even he had to admit Verstappen “might pull away into the distance” in the race, as he has so many times from this position over the last two seasons.

George Russell, Mercedes, Albert Park, 2023
Mercedes, led by Russell, were the surprise of Saturday
But while Mercedes may feel they’re sitting pretty, their rivals are confident they can take the fight to them. Once more, Fernando Alonso is the best-placed Aston Martin – the only team and driver to share in the podium places with the Red Bulls this season. Although he starts behind Mercedes, Alonso points out he’s technically closer to Red Bull this weekend than he was over the first two Saturdays.

“Probably the best qualifying of the three for us,” Alonso said. “I think we were 0.6s in Bahrain, 0.5s in Jeddah and, here, 0.4s from pole position.”

With Alonso usually going stronger in the race, and Aston Martin looking promising on long runs in final practice, he says he feels “positive” about his chances of moving forward on Sunday. “

“We start on the first two rows of the grid and our strengths are on Sundays,” he said. “Let’s use it.”

Behind Alonso, even Ferrari feel quietly confident about putting in a strong showing in the race. After going far better on Saturdays than Sundays so far in 2023, Ferrari have looked to address that this weekend by setting up their cars to sacrifice qualifying performance for the race. Fifth-placed Carlos Sainz Jnr could well have split the Mercedes had his final qualifying lap not been compromised by yet more poor communication from the Ferrari pit wall.

“I am a lot happier with the car this weekend,” he said. “I’ve done some strong laps, I’ve been pushing quite hard and I feel like also the changes that we’ve done should go in the right direction for tomorrow.

“I’m not going to anticipate, but the changes that we’ve done are focussed on tomorrow. So that’s why maybe today doesn’t look particularly good.”

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No one will be as eager to move forward in the early stages of the race than Perez, however. Red Bull drivers have turned recovering from poor grid positions to the front of the field into an art form over the last year, but Perez feels it’s going to be “tough” for him to making his way through from the back of the grid on a track that is “hard to overtake”.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Albert Park, 2023
Perez faces a long climb back to the front
That may have been true in the pre-Covid years, but the new, leaner evolution of Albert Park offers longer straights, wider corners and, crucially, a fourth active DRS zone along the Lakeside Drive straight. All this, coupled with the RB19’s impressive top speed, suggests Perez will have as many opportunities to get around cars in the early phase of the race and gradually make his way up the order as he could ask for. With a relatively high risk of Safety Cars outside of the opening lap here, Perez’s progress could be aided by the field being bunched up a couple of times on his way.

But, as ever, the most crucial element to Perez’s recovery remains tyres. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was quick to point out that Perez has the luxury of two unused sets of hard tyres, but it’s likely that second set will not come into play with a one stop strategy the fastest theoretical approach to take.

“A one-stopper remains the optimal strategy,” explained Pirelli’s head of motorsport Mario Isola, “with medium-hard being theoretically fastest and soft-hard slightly slower.”

Last year, none of the teams touched the soft tyre in the race. However, as this is a harder compound his year – the C4 instead of the C5 – drivers may be tempted to try it.

In the cooler conditions, graining is likely to be the greater concern when it comes to tyre management. “Tyre degradation is not really a thing here,” said Nyck de Vries. “Although if you pick up front graining or rear graining, then it can go very quickly. So I’m excited to find out tomorrow.”

No matter how the tyres behave in the race, it’s hard to expect that Red Bull will not find a way to make them work for both their drivers sat on opposite sides of the grid. Perez may have an uphill battle to work his way up the order, but has the best possible car to do so underneath him. Meanwhile, Verstappen is well positioned to dominate again, if he gets into turn one with his lead intact.

The hundreds of thousands of fans who will pack out Albert Park are likely in for an eventful grand prix with plenty of close racing through the field. Just do not be surprised if all the action takes place behind Verstappen.

Qualifying times in full

Position Number Driver Team Q1 time Q2 time (vs Q1) Q3 time (vs Q2)
1 1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1’17.384 1’17.056 (-0.328s) 1’16.732 (-0.324s)
2 63 George Russell Mercedes 1’17.871 1’17.513 (-0.358s) 1’16.968 (-0.545s)
3 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’17.689 1’17.551 (-0.138s) 1’17.104 (-0.447s)
4 14 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin-Mercedes 1’17.832 1’17.283 (-0.549s) 1’17.139 (-0.144s)
5 55 Carlos Sainz Jnr Ferrari 1’17.928 1’17.349 (-0.579s) 1’17.270 (-0.079s)
6 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1’18.060 1’17.616 (-0.444s) 1’17.308 (-0.308s)
7 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1’18.218 1’17.390 (-0.828s) 1’17.369 (-0.021s)
8 23 Alexander Albon Williams-Mercedes 1’17.962 1’17.761 (-0.201s) 1’17.609 (-0.152s)
9 10 Pierre Gasly Alpine-Renault 1’18.312 1’17.574 (-0.738s) 1’17.675 (+0.101s)
10 27 Nico Hulkenberg Haas-Ferrari 1’18.029 1’17.412 (-0.617s) 1’17.735 (+0.323s)
11 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1’17.770 1’17.768 (-0.002s) Missed by 0.007s
12 22 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Red Bull 1’18.471 1’18.099 (-0.372s) Missed by 0.338s
13 4 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1’18.308 1’18.119 (-0.189s) Missed by 0.358s
14 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1’18.159 1’18.129 (-0.030s) Missed by 0.368s
15 21 Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri-Red Bull 1’18.450 1’18.335 (-0.115s) Missed by 0.574s
16 81 Oscar Piastri McLaren-Mercedes 1’18.517 Missed by 0.046s
17 24 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1’18.540 Missed by 0.069s
18 2 Logan Sargeant Williams-Mercedes 1’18.557 Missed by 0.086s
19 77 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1’18.714 Missed by 0.243s
20 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull

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Sector times

Position Number Driver Sector one Sector two Sector three Ultimate lap Deficit to ultimate lap
1 1 Max Verstappen 26.574 (1) 17.456 (2) 32.702 (1) 1’16.732
2 63 George Russell 26.638 (2) 17.463 (3) 32.867 (7) 1’16.968
3 55 Carlos Sainz Jnr 26.728 (4) 17.553 (8) 32.758 (2) 1’17.039 0.231
4 14 Fernando Alonso 26.648 (3) 17.563 (9) 32.887 (8) 1’17.098 0.041
5 44 Lewis Hamilton 26.748 (5) 17.519 (5) 32.837 (4) 1’17.104
6 27 Nico Hulkenberg 26.785 (6) 17.563 (9) 32.832 (3) 1’17.180 0.232
7 16 Charles Leclerc 26.851 (9) 17.549 (6) 32.859 (5) 1’17.259 0.110
8 18 Lance Stroll 26.846 (7) 17.591 (12) 32.861 (6) 1’17.298 0.010
9 10 Pierre Gasly 26.846 (7) 17.471 (4) 33.14 (11) 1’17.457 0.117
10 23 Alexander Albon 26.879 (10) 17.415 (1) 33.191 (12) 1’17.485 0.124
11 31 Esteban Ocon 26.987 (13) 17.566 (11) 33.043 (9) 1’17.596 0.172
12 4 Lando Norris 26.982 (12) 17.716 (14) 33.137 (10) 1’17.835 0.284
13 20 Kevin Magnussen 26.959 (11) 17.713 (13) 33.346 (15) 1’18.018 0.111
14 22 Yuki Tsunoda 26.996 (14) 17.86 (17) 33.243 (13) 1’18.099
15 21 Nyck de Vries 27.215 (17) 17.841 (16) 33.277 (14) 1’18.333 0.002
16 2 Logan Sargeant 27.172 (16) 17.552 (7) 33.676 (19) 1’18.400 0.157
17 24 Zhou Guanyu 27.323 (19) 17.828 (15) 33.364 (17) 1’18.515 0.025
18 81 Oscar Piastri 27.289 (18) 17.865 (18) 33.363 (16) 1’18.517
19 77 Valtteri Bottas 27.133 (15) 17.896 (19) 33.62 (18) 1’18.649 0.065

Speed trap

Position Number Driver Car Engine Model Max kph (mph)
1 1 Max Verstappen Red Bull Red Bull RB19 328.8 (204.3)
2 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull Red Bull RB19 326.7 (203.0)
3 23 Alexander Albon Williams Mercedes FW45 325.6 (202.3)
4 2 Logan Sargeant Williams Mercedes FW45 325.3 (202.1)
5 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Mercedes W14 324.3 (201.5)
6 63 George Russell Mercedes Mercedes W14 324.2 (201.4)
7 4 Lando Norris McLaren Mercedes MCL60 324 (201.3)
8 27 Nico Hulkenberg Haas Ferrari VF-23 323.9 (201.3)
9 10 Pierre Gasly Alpine Renault A523 323.8 (201.2)
10 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas Ferrari VF-23 323.7 (201.1)
11 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari Ferrari SF-23 323.4 (201.0)
12 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin Mercedes AMR23 322.5 (200.4)
13 14 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin Mercedes AMR23 322.2 (200.2)
14 55 Carlos Sainz Jnr Ferrari Ferrari SF-23 322 (200.1)
15 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine Renault A523 321.9 (200.0)
16 22 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri Red Bull AT04 321.2 (199.6)
17 81 Oscar Piastri McLaren Mercedes MCL60 321.1 (199.5)
18 21 Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri Red Bull AT04 320.8 (199.3)
19 24 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo Ferrari C43 319.1 (198.3)
20 77 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo Ferrari C43 319 (198.2)

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Over to you

Is anyone likely to prevent Verstappen ending his win drought in Australia? Where will Perez finish from the back of the grid?

Share your views on the Australian Grand Prix in the comments.

2023 Australian Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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5 comments on “Mercedes have “got to go for a win” but drivers are wary of Red Bull’s strengths”

  1. Unexpectedly looking forward to the race start at least. Should be a genuine battle with Russell upfront and Hamilton and Alonso there to take advantage if George and Max get a bit feisty.
    Perez will be off again at some point.

  2. Brazil 2022 cooler conditions Merc good. Aus cooler conditions, this time though Red Bull on pole. Quali was 5pm , race is 3 pm and clocks changed so same as 2 pm yesterday. Red Bull will comfortably deal with Merc today.

  3. Is anyone likely to prevent Verstappen ending his win drought in Australia? – No except unreliability.
    Where will Perez finish from the back of the grid? – I’ve predicted P2, but at least top 5.

  4. Tiaki Porangi
    2nd April 2023, 3:10

    Hamilton leads into turn 3!

  5. It will be interesting to see if any Mercedes can get past Max at the start.

Comments are closed.