F1 – Australian GP – Race
Howdy, MiniFans! The sun shone brilliantly over Albert Park since early morning, welcoming everyone to a new Sunday of racing. Both Pérez and Bottas took “advantage” of their positions at the back of the grid to change some elements in their cars, taking the penalty of being demoted to a pitlane start. Beside this, eyes focused at the front to see clearly what Mercedes can and cannot do when faced with the possibility of a double podium, and whether Alonso and Ferrari could disrupt their happiness.
Mercedes took advantage of their great starts to get past Verstappen, but the story was completely different for Ferrari. In his try to overtake Stroll, Leclerc and the Canadian had a small collision that ended up without an investigation and with the Monegasque driver out of the race as he got stuck in the gravel. A brief safety car intermission to allow the marshals to retrieve Leclerc’s car allowed un to have a good look at the standings, with Sainz having squeezed past Alonso right before safety car was deployed. Racing was soon resumed, and Russell started complaining about being asked to conserve tyres while being attacked by his teammate. However, what could have been a very entertaining battle for the win was halted by another safety car.
An accident involving Albon going wide and crashing into the barriers, sending gravel onto the track, and narrowly missing a couple of cars that were coming, prompted a second safety car, which made Russell and Sainz pit for fresh tyres, hoping to take advantage of the situation, as Hamilton complained he was at a disadvantage. But Formula 1 is never quite predictable and race direction showed a red flag, in order to clean up the track and do any fence mending necessary. The rulebook allows tyre changes under red flag conditions, so those who hadn’t pitted yet did so and waited for the race to be resumed via a standing start.
One small hiccup later due to a couple cars slowing down too much during the trek back to the grid, the race restarted. The first couple corners were a bit troublesome at the back, but the front soon saw a change of leader, as Verstappen took advantage of the DRS to easily overtake Hamilton and start opening up a gap to the Mercedes. Further back, both Russell and Sainz started their climb up the timing tower. In a turn of events, Russell’s car caught on fire due to an engine problem, forcing race direction to call for yet another stalling of the race, albeit this time with a virtual one, in order to retire yet another car.
As the cars went back to full speed, the position started to finally settle, with the great exception of Pérez, who kept slowly but surely overtaking cars, and Tsunoda, dropping the positions instead. With almost the full grid sporting hard tyres, it soon became a game of who would keep their tyres in a better shape for the battle in the last laps. Verstappen kept pulling away from Hamilton, who couldn’t shake Alonso off, even if managing to keep the distance to the Spaniard in over a second.
The hard tyres that were to last for almost fifty laps for everyone had no problem living up to the teams’ expectations. One small mistake by Verstappen allowed Hamilton to get three seconds closer, but the Red Bull’s superiority was clear and the gap was still more than enough. The drivers behind them were slowly spreading out, ready to cruise to the end, but with only a handful of laps to go, one last red flag put everyone on high alert. Magnussen had kissed the wall and his right rear tyre’s rubber had gone flying, leaving the track scattered with debris, and race direction decided on a standing start for a two-lap race filled with soft tyres.
The third and last start from the grid was witness to a disastrous first few corners, with many cars ending up outside of the track, including Alonso after a collision with Sainz which would end up in a five-second penalty for the Ferrari driver. Further back, both Alpines collided with each other, sending debris everywhere and forcing yet another red flag. The procedure after this occurrence became muddy, without a clear result or decision taken regarding one more start or the final standings, with an investigation on the start procedure being the only communication from race direction.
Eventually, one final restart to complete the only lap left was mandated with the order being the same as the one in the previous restart, minus the cars that couldn’t go on due to damages. However, with only one lap to go, the start became a rolling one behind the safety car, not allowing for any extra overtaking, due to the race finishing just as the cars passed through the finish line after seeing the safety car going to the pitlane.
After their great performance in qualifying, Mercedes was hoping for the perfect Sunday. It started off as such, with the silver arrows overtaking Verstappen, but it all took a turn for the worse among the chaos with Russell’s retirement and Verstappen’s easy overtake on Hamilton. A single podium could have been a great result looking at the season so far, but their magnificent qualifying requested something that wasn’t possible for them to achieve. Verstappen came out victorious, over Hamilton and yet another Alonso podium in an accident filled race defined by three red flags and four starts.