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A Refresher of the Opening Rounds Before the Austrian Grand Prix

Written by Meghana Sree, Edited by Sharifah Zaqreeztrina


The Formula 1 2023 season is shaping up to be quite the entertainer this year, with multiple gripping storylines across the grid. The mid-season rounds have officially commenced with the Canadian Grand Prix, but before we move ahead with this stage of the championship, it’s worth looking back at the opening rounds to catch up with the events so far.

Credit: Gongora/Getty Images

This F1 season kicked off with the Bahrain Grand Prix on 5th March, and in many ways, the race proved to be a taste of what we could expect throughout the season. Similar to Ferrari’s 1-2 win with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in the previous season, Red Bull clinched the top two positions at this season opener with Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez. On the other hand, Ferrari failed to replicate their success from 2022, as things quickly went sideways for the team when Leclerc suffered an engine failure and Sainz missed out on the podium after Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso overtook him. Alonso finished P3, giving the team its second ever podium since Sebastian Vettel’s P2 at Baku in 2021.


The race finished with Verstappen and his Red Bull ahead by nearly 12 seconds, a gap which became an indicator of his further dominance to come. Crucially, this race showed that the other teams had a lot of catching up to do if they ever wanted to take the fight to the Red Bulls. This race also marked the F1 debut of Oscar Piastri, Nyck de Vries, and Logan Sargeant who are driving for McLaren, AlphaTauri, and Williams respectively. In addition, this track sees Nico Hulkenberg making a return to F1, having a full-time seat in Haas.


The second round of the championship took us to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit in Saudi Arabia. After an exciting qualifying which saw Verstappen out in Q2, Sargeant breaking the 107% rule, Leclerc taking a ten-place grid penalty, and Pérez securing his career’s second pole position, the race once again finished with Red Bull at the top. Pérez decisively won the race and Verstappen charged ahead from P15 to finish second. However, the real highlight of the week was Alonso’s 100th F1 podium, which came after a series of penalties that were given then rescinded.


This race placed Pérez just one point behind Verstappen in the Drivers’ Championship standings, fueling talk of a championship fight between the two Red Bull drivers. At this point, it was evident that the Austrian team had the fastest car, with Aston Martin and Mercedes tied for second place in the Constructors’ Championship at 38 points each.


At the Australian Grand Prix, Mercedes attempted to close their gap to the Red Bulls with George Russell qualifying second and Lewis Hamilton third; just behind Verstappen who was on pole. In a race that recorded the most number of red flags in history, three, the podium saw three World Champions on it– Verstappen, Hamilton, and Alonso. After three standing restarts, multiple collisions, and retirements, the chaotic race closed with Mercedes’ first podium of the year. McLaren and AlphaTauri scored their first points of the season, and notably, Piastri picked up his first F1 points at his home race, along with Hülkenberg and Zhou Guanyu who picked up their first points of the season. This was also Ferrari’s first race of the season with no points due to Leclerc’s early retirement after an incident with Lance Stroll and Sainz’s five-second penalty for causing Alonso to spin on the second restart.


Credits - Quinn Rooney

The fourth round saw the first sprint weekend of the year at Azerbaijan’s Baku City Circuit. This year introduced a slight change to the format, with only a single free practice session and a new ‘Sprint Shootout’ to determine the qualifying order for the Sprint Race. This new format will be followed for all upcoming Sprint weekends this season.


At Baku, Leclerc was the fastest in both the race qualifying and Sprint Shootout, therefore claiming back-to-back poles at this street track. However, Ferrari’s race pace weakness was exploited by the much faster Red Bulls who swiftly overtook Leclerc both during the Sprint and actual race on Sunday. The podium was complete with Pérez on the top step, followed by Verstappen in second and Leclerc in third place. This was Leclerc’s best finish of the season till date, as well as the first time Alonso missed out on the podium in 2023. Nevertheless, both Aston Martins finished with points, as did the Mercedes.


May took us to Miami, for the first of the three American Grands Prix this year. At this high tyre degradation track, Pérez started the weekend off with a pole. This was after Leclerc crashed his Ferrari into the walls, which led to Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas failing to set times when Q3 was ended prematurely. Sunday saw an all-Spanish front row with Alonso and Sainz taking P2 and P3 respectively. Again, Red Bull’s dominance was proved with their clean 1-2 finish as Verstappen took his second win at this circuit.


This race marked the second time both the Alpines of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon finished in the points together this season. Across the grid, the gap between other teams was finally closing up with the likes of Alpine, AlphaTauri, McLaren, and Haas competing for the upperhand in the mid-field.


The iconic Monaco Grand Prix came in with a splash of rain, making it the first official wet race of the year. This was after the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix was cancelled due to unprecedented flooding in the region. Updates set for this Grand Prix were brought to Monaco instead, the most significant of those being Mercedes’ new sidepods. During the dry qualifying session, Pérez crashed out in Q1, placing him 20th for the race. Max set the fastest lap with Alonso and Leclerc behind him. However, Leclerc received a penalty for impeding Lando Norris in the tunnel section, therefore promoting Ocon to P3.

Credits - Jakub Porzycki

The race began with a penalty handed out to Hülkenberg for making contact with Sargeant’s Williams, a series of Ferrari’s strategy mishaps, and quick pit stops for hard tyres. The rain came in mid-race and the teams switched to the intermediate tyres, with Pirelli’s new wet compound also available. These new wet tyres which did not need tyre blankets were first used by Kevin Magnussen in this race, before he crashed later on.


Verstappen took home his second win at Monaco, and Alonso finished second. But the real surprise of the race was Ocon, who held on to his starting position and finished third. This was his best result with Alpine since his P1 finish at Hungary in 2021.


Round seven was held at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain. The track was slightly different this year, as it was decided to remove the final chicane in sector three– much to the joy of drivers and fans alike. More upgrades were brought to this location as well, with Ferrari running one car with upgrades and the other without them during practice sessions to maximise data collection.


This round’s qualifying proved to be Leclerc’s worst since Monaco 2019. His weekend didn’t get any better as he reported an uncomfortable feeling with the car throughout all three days. He had a pit-lane start and finally finished P11– missing out on points to Gasly. At the top of the field, Verstappen finished the race after leading from start to finish and won his third Grand Chelem. He was joined by Hamilton and Russell on the podium who earned Mercedes’ first double podium of the season.

Credit: Javier Soriano

Alonso settled for P7 after letting Stroll take P6. Guanyu finished at P9 for the second time this season after Australia in one of his best races of his career. At the end of this round, Mercedes claimed second place in the Constructors’ standings and Aston Martin dropped to third, ahead of Ferrari who were at fourth.


The Canadian Grand Prix was up next and heavy rain was forecast for the weekend. Sure enough, the rain started falling during the second qualifying round, in which Leclerc and Pérez were eliminated again. Alex Albon set the fastest time in Q2 with his Williams, after he decided to take a gamble and pit for slicks, when it became clear that certain portions of the track were still dry. Come Q3, Verstappen took the fastest lap from Albon, who secured tenth position, as he was unable to outdo. Following Piastri's crash, the red flag was brought out just as Hülkenberg had set a lap time which landed him in P2. No one was able to improve even after the green flag due to heavier rain. However, a penalty pushed him back to P5, and Alonso moved up to P2 instead with Hamilton just behind him.


This order remained when the race concluded, with Verstappen celebrating Red Bull’s 100th win and his tie with Ayrton Senna’s 41 F1 wins atop the podium. Ferrari were content with one of their smoother races this season as Leclerc and Sainz finished P4 and P5 respectively, owing to an efficient one-stop strategy. A podium was on the cards, however, a bad qualifying result could not guarantee that for the Italian team. The Driver of the Day was Albon, who delivered an impressive performance and finished P7 after defending this position from the train of cars behind him.

Credit: Timothy A. Clary

Currently, Verstappen is leading the championship by 69 points and Red Bull is at the top with 321 points. The next race takes us to their home Grand Prix at Austria’s scenic Red Bull Ring. This round will be the second Sprint weekend of the season, and the high-speed track is bound to provide ample racing action. Verstappen looks like the favourite for a win here, who’ll be itching for P1 after missing out to Leclerc last year.


On that topic, this being a Sprint weekend could be advantageous to the Ferraris who have thus far shown good pace on a single lap. It wouldn’t be bold to predict Leclerc taking a pole during the Sprint Shootout, Qualifying, or both; as he did at Baku. However, converting that potential pole to a win will be challenging due to Red Bull’s superior race pace.


That being said, Helmut Marko, Red Bull’s chief advisor, thinks that Ferrari has a good chance at keeping the pressure on Verstappen, after their performance in Canada. Recently, he remarked: “The Red Bull Ring suits Ferrari well. If Leclerc comes from the first or second row of the grid, it won't be a great race for Max.”


The Aston Martins and Mercedes will also be battling it out for second place in the Constructors’ Championship. With Alonso in formidable form this year, he could very well take second place from Pérez in the Drivers’ standings; the two being separated by just nine points.


Williams could score points again at this round as the Sprint race offers points down till P8, and the car has great straight-line speed which could be a benefit at this track.

Credits - Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

It looks tight between Mercedes, Aston Martin, and Ferrari going into the mid-season period, and the race for the next best car after Red Bull is getting heated with every race. With more points up for grabs at Austria, teams will have to maximise their packages to come out on top. As for upgrades, McLaren, Mercedes, and Alpine will be some of the teams bringing noticeable changes to their cars for this race with the hopes of improving specific areas of performance.


What are your predictions for the Austrian Grand Prix? Let us know in the comments below!


1 comment

1 Comment


Guest
Jun 29, 2023

Prediction is...


Max to be on Pole or very near to it. Ferrari to have a hectic practice period and then qualify chaotically somewhere in the top 10. Mercedes will look good, but ultimately be 0.5 off the pace. Aston will fluctuate between strong pace on mediums but have high deg on softs which dampens their ability to undercut anyone (like RB... who don't need to due to their inherent pace... but soft tyres are a big no no for both cars.... on account of being almost identical designs). The midfield will be a mess..... Bottas will mess up Qualy and be near the back, Albon (the little star... only a few of us recall his Dad Nigel....good BTCC privateer)…


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