The Australian Grand Prix is one of Formula 1‘s highlights every year but there is a sense of predictability heading into this weekend in Melbourne, such is Red Bull‘s frightening start to the new season.
Max Verstappen leads Sergio Perez by one point in the drivers’ as they have made the most of an exceptional job by the Red Bull technical team, who have built a car which currently appears to have no weaknesses.
One of the RB19‘s best strengths is its top end speed, particularly when the drivers flick the switch to open up the DRS. With four DRS zones around Albert Park, it’s hard to see how Red Bull won’t have a significant advantage this weekend.
They haven’t won the Australian GP since Sebastian Vettel in 2011, something that will surely change given their pace advantage over the rest of the field.
Perez can prove a point against Verstappen
After Perez‘s win in Jeddah, attention naturally turned to whether he could really take it to Verstappen over the course of the season.
It feels unlikely, given Perez is still yet to beat Verstappen on pure pace when the pair have not been hit be reliability issues or misfortune during the weekend.
Let’s take a look at Perez‘s wins with Red Bull. At the 2021 Azerbaijan GP, Verstappen was set for victory until his tyre blew up with seven laps to go.
In Monaco last year, what is now seen as a controversial incident, saw Perez cause a red flag in Q3 which stopped anyone from improving their lap time, so he started ahead of his teammate and went on to win the race. You could make the argument though that Verstappen should have gone faster on his first run.
Then, there is the Singapore GP when Verstappen surely would have taken pole position if his team didn’t make the wrong strategy calls when it came to track position in Q3.
Instead, he qualified eighth whilst Perez took a stunning win in wet conditions from Charles Leclerc.
Last time out in Saudi Arabia, a drivetrain failure for Verstappen meant Perez was able to convert pole position into a win, although he did very well to match whatever the Dutchman threw at him – apart form the fastest lap.
What Perez needs to do it beat Verstappen, who hasn’t won or taken pole position in Melbourne, where team errors and bad luck doesn’t play a part. Then we can begin to talk about an inter-team title fight.
“We have a very strong car, a very strong package, a car I feel comfortable with, a car I am working well with and a car I believe,” said Perez. “With the direction we are taking in development, I can get the most out of.
“I think that is important to be able to stay in the fight throughout the season – to have a car that you can be competitive whatever conditions you are in.
“When you are in the fight for the championship you have got to take your A-game into every single race, you have to try everything you possibly can.”
Aston Martin looking over their shoulder
Twelve months ago, Aston Martin had a shocking time at the Australian GP with collisions, mistakes and fines marring their weekend. However, it couldn’t be much more different now.
Fernando Alonso is looking for a hat-trick of podiums for the first time in 10 years and he generally goes very well around Albert Park.
Aston Martin will come under big pressure from Ferrari and Mercedes, both of whom now need to get their minds into gear about battling for third place.
Ferrari have focused so much on long run pace so far, not showing their hand at all until qualifying, so it will be interesting to see if that trend continues.
As for Mercedes, Saudi Arabia was more encouraging than Bahrain and the characteristics of Melbourne should mean a tight battle between themselves, the not so quick in a straight line Aston Martin and the big unknown of Ferrari.
“We are here to win, we are here to fight for victories and for the championship and clearly we’re not in a position to do that at the moment,” said George Russell.
“But big changes are incoming. There’s nothing that you’ll see on the car this weekend, because naturally you can’t get things brought that quickly to the car. I think in due course, we’ll see some big changes and hopefully the lap times represent that.”
McLaren need points
Big changes have been made at McLaren over the last two weeks with James Key leaving the team and a restructure in their technical hierarchy.
Reliability woes and misfortune have plagued their season so far, equating to no points for Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.
Piastri showed his quality in Jeddah by getting into Q3 and would likely have been fighting for a top 10 in the race, had he not suffered front wing damage on the opening lap.
Australians have typically not done well on home soil since Mark Webber‘s extraordinary fifth place at the 2002 race for Minardi.
If Piastri can repeat, or improve, his good pace from two weeks ago, then he and Norris should be able to get some points on the board.
The McLaren is not as bad as things look and simply a clean weekend would do them a world of good at the moment.
“We’ll try our best obviously,” commented Piastri. “I think compared to the previous two tracks here should be more like Saudi, I hope.
“Tarmac’s quite similar. The layout is a bit more similar to Saudi compared to Bahrain. So, hopefully, that is good for us.
“Saudi we showed we can get into Q3 and fight for the back-end of points on our good days. So hopefully, we can just have a clean race and my front wing doesn’t wipe out Lando, this time and we’ll see what we can do.”
Tough task for the others to score points
A clear pecking order of Red Bull, Aston Martin, Ferrari and Mercedes means the top eight positions are filled out.
Alpine appear to be in no man’s land as the fifth best team, so every other team has a mammoth task to score points.
Alfa Romeo will be an interesting team to keep an eye on because they impressed in Bahrain, where Bottas finished a brilliant eighth. However, they didn’t show any signs of that pace in Jeddah.
Bottas thinks he had damage during the Saudi Arabian GP, which contributed to his 18th place whilst Zhou Guanyu didn’t have enough to fight for a top 10 spot.
There is very little between Alfa Romeo and Haas, with Williams‘ excellent straight line speed making them a threat this weekend too.
Nyck de Vries is yet to light it up at AlphaTauri, with Yuki Tsunoda clearly having the upper hand.
“The vibe in the team is really good,” said De Vries. “But we are competitive and we want to be further up the grid.
“We obviously would have hoped and liked that we were a bit more ahead and in the fight for points, but hopefully during the course of the season we can get ourselves in that place.”