The 2023 Australian Grand Prix was anything but boring, featuring a record-breaking three red flags, just 12 finishers and plenty of controversy.
Max Verstappen claimed his second win of the season (though even that was in question for a few minutes) and 6 different drivers looked in contention for a podium just in the last two laps.
With such a polarising finale, there were always going to plenty of winners and losers from the grand prix and with maybe one exception, this list pretty much picked itself.
Loser: Safety Cars
Normally it’s best to start these lists on a positive, but the Australian GP was anything but normal. Of the three red flag incidents, only the last definitely needed to halt the proceedings, and that was as a direct result of the second red flag.
The Albon incident did kick a fair amount of gravel onto the track but at face value it didn’t seem anything that a couple of brooms couldn’t have fixed in five minutes.
The second red flag, for Magnussen‘s detached tyre, felt a textbook safety car incident and it felt like the desire to avoid a finish under the safety car – like at the 2022 Italian GP – was as big a motivating factor as the severity of the incident itself.
If the stewards are consistent on similar moments earlier in future grand prix then at least that’s something, but if this level of stoppages is to become the norm in Formula 1 then it will become very tiring, very quickly.
Winner: Sergio Perez
It’s hard to imagine how Perez‘s Saturday could’ve gone any worse. He failed to gel with the adjustments Red Bull made to his car ahead of free practice, then apparently wasn’t allowed to change them back before immediately beaching himself in qualifying without a time on the board and consigning himself to a pitlane start.
But this isn’t the winners and losers of qualifying, and Perez was a man on a mission come raceday.
The car responded much better to him and he looked so purposeful scything through the grid.
Yes, he has a car that’s clearly faster than anything else out there, but he still pulled a couple of nifty moves – most notably on Esteban Ocon and Oscar Piastri.
He passed both on the run to turn 11 and could’ve easily waited for the second straight to make the move, but every time he got behind a car he was itching to pass, and was deservedly named Driver of the Day.
The fastest lap he earned also means he only drops 14 points to Max Verstappen – it could’ve been much much worse.
Loser: George Russell
At the other end of the spectrum, Russell had such undeservedly bad luck in Melbourne.
He was so sharp off the line and refused to be cowed by Verstappen as he took the lead at the first corner. He looked like he might have a genuine shot at the race win especially when he took advantage of Albon‘s early safety car to net a cheap pit stop, but all that hard work was undone moments later when the red flag was flown.
That dropped him to eighth and out of the contention, but he still would’ve had a shot at the podium, especially with the late craziness.
That is, he would’ve if his power unit didn’t fail on lap 17.
Winner: Aston Martin
A third podium in three races for Aston Martin and Fernando Alonso, they’re just the feelgood team in F1 right now.
For context, it took the Silverstone outfit 46 races to net their last three podiums. However, it didn’t look so rosy when Alonso was tagged at the second restart before Lance Stroll ploughed straight on at turn four, leaving them vulnerable to being jumped by Mercedes in the constructors’ championship.
As it was, they were the biggest winners of the last red flag, and who’d begrudge Alonso his 100th podium? We even got some vintage Alonso team radio as he got straight onto the pitwall stating the case for the red flag.
The polar opposite at the end, oh Alpine… it was all going so well. They’d raced tidily after a decent qualifying session and looked on course for a second double-points finish in two races.
However, it all went wrong at the second red flag restart when lead Alpine Pierre Gasly ploughed straight on at the first corner, and then collected Esteban Ocon when he rejoined the track.
It was just a brainfade for Gasly, who compounded his unforced error in running off by just abandoning his spatial awareness, with seemingly no thought the cars may be moving to overtake him on the outside.
It comes after Esteban Ocon blew a chance at points in Bahrain by doubling and tripling down on his mistakes.
At least Gasly escaped a penalty for the incident that would’ve pushed him over 10 penalty points and earned him a race ban for Baku.
0 points, their first pointless finish since the dog days of 2020, and 26 points less than they left Melbourne with 12 months ago. Enough said.
Winner: Oscar Piastri
Somehow McLaren are fifth in the constructors’ championship, despite results of DNF, 17th, 17th and 15th in the opening two races of the season.
Australians had a poor history in Melbourne ever since Mark Webber scored an impressive fifth place on his debut in 2002 – the wait for a home podium still goes on.
However, on a weekend where McLaren finally got a clean couple of days to show their pace and didn’t look too bad, Piastri finally got some luck and managed an eighth-place finish, two behind teammate Lando Norris to net McLaren 12 points.
Winner: Australian GP
Continuing in that vein, the Albert Park Circuit delivered an exciting, engrossing, action-packed Australian Grand Prix for the first time in at least five years.
Fan opinion was beginning to turn against Melbourne after two snoozefests and two cancellations since 2019 and it desperately needed a memorable race to show it still has a place in modern F1.
The attritional nature of the circuit was on full display aided by genuine jeopardy through the gravel traps, the DRS zones worked and though fans were divided on Race Control’s decisions, the race provided more talking points than the opening two rounds combined.
Loser: Nico Hulkenberg
Is this harsh on Hulk? Maybe, but aged 35 in a Haas that’s ceiling is no higher than the fifth-fastest car on the grid, he won’t get too many more opportunities to grab that elusive podium.
It’s now 184 races and counting for the German but for a few seconds at the end of the race it looked like that wait might be over as he found himself in fourth behind Carlos Sainz who already looked certain to receive a penalty.
However, it wasn’t to be, and not only did he miss out on a podium, Hulkenberg found himself dropped back down to seventh as the order was reset.
Still, his first points of the season in what will surely be an ultra-competitive battle for fifth and sixth in the constructors’ championship isn’t a bad consolation prize.