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Australia Friday Report: Who Looks Quick in the Land Down Under?

Written by Traber Burns

The Australian Grand Prix weekend kicked off today with a pair of dramatic practice sessions, each of which contained moments that could affect the rest of the weekend. One of the biggest stories coming into the weekend was Carlos Sainz. The Ferrari driver had to miss the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix just two weeks ago due to appendicitis. While Sainz underwent surgery, F2 driver Oliver Bearman qualified and raced the car to a 7th place finish - a result which brought the British driver lots of praise throughout the paddock. Since Sainz’s surgery was only around 12 days ago, the possibility of Bearman’s return was certainly on the cards. So far, Fred Vasseur says he’s confident that Sainz will take the grid on Sunday, but keep an eye on any updates on this story. 

Image Credits: Scuderia Ferrari

Without any radio chatter in regards to Sainz, the focus quickly shifted to the on track action. The Albert Park circuit is one that is prone to high track evolution, and even with lots of support series sessions preceding F1’s practices, the surface wasn’t as grippy as what it usually is come Sunday. Combine that with the track’s high speed nature and some occasional wind gusts, and Albert Park is a recipe for some dramatic Friday moments. 

Williams would eventually steal the spotlight from Ferrari and for all the wrong reasons. With about 20 minutes left in FP1 and after multiple instances of drivers going off track at various parts of the circuit, Alex Albon would have a costly mistake. In turn six, Albon ran wide over the curb and slid into the right side wall, which careened him into the left side wall. All four corners of the car received significant damage, including the gearbox. The Thai driver wouldn’t be able to return for FP2, and it would later be revealed that Williams hadn’t brought a spare chassis for this weekend. The latest update is that Williams is trying to figure out if the current tub is still usable for this weekend. This has also sparked the hypothetical possibility that - if the chassis is indeed beyond repair - Williams could withdraw Logan Sargeant from the race and enter Albon in Sargeant’s car. From a competition standpoint, this makes sense, as Albon has clearly been the better driver since Logan started last year. Even with this inarguable fact, this would be devastating for Sargeant. Keep an eye on the updates for Williams racing. Logan didn’t help his case in FP2 either, as he had a spin which probably had each and every Williams mechanic holding their breath. Thankfully for them, he didn’t hit anything and carried on, but it wasn’t the best look for the American. 

Image Credits: Kym Illman/Getty Images

So who looked the fastest today? The stopwatch tells us that Ferrari has the upper hand right now. Both qualifying and race pace looked very strong. The drivers weren’t complaining about the balance too much either. As much hope as this gives to so many fans, it’s unfortunate to note that the Red Bull was about two-tenths slower on the straight, which means engine modes had something to do with Ferrari's advantage. With that said, it was not a smooth day for Red Bull. Max Verstappen ran wide in turn 10 during FP1 which forced a floor change before FP2. Verstappen didn’t go on track until 23 minutes had passed in FP2, and most of his time was spent in qualifying runs, which didn’t leave him too many laps for race runs. Even with these hiccups, Red Bull is still the car to beat on Sunday. With Ferrari’s muscles flexed this Friday, they’ve shown that they might have a chance to challenge them on Saturday, but Sunday still belongs to Red Bull.

McLaren had a promising day today as Lando Norris topped the board in FP1. The high speed circuit suits their cars strengths very well, so don’t be too surprised to see them play spoiler for a podium. 

Aston Martin also occasionally showed pace, but their setups looked to be a handful. Both Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll had multiple off-tracks throughout the day. The most costly one came in FP1, when Fernando lost 20 minutes of practice due to damaging the floor during a run through the gravel on the exit of turn 10. However, when the green cars stayed on track, they showed some top three qualifying speed at times. Aston will look to FP3 to iron out some balance issues within the setup.

Keep in mind that this is the first day race of the season, and FP2 isn’t the only representative session. In fact, FP3 could be more important than FP2 because the track will be more rubbered in with help from the support series. Keep an eye on how much faster the track gets come qualifying and who has the right qualifying strategy. Often times at Albert Park, the last driver to start their lap ends up being the pole sitter.


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