Australian Grand Prix Preview
Written by Mario Rodríguez, edited by Sasha Macmillen
Formula 1 returns to Albert Park for the third round of the 2022 season and the first Australian Grand Prix since 2019 after a messy weekend in Saudi Arabia, where Max Verstappen took his first victory of the season ahead of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, while a disappointed Sergio Pérez lost an almost certain win after a badly timed safety car came out. The Melbourne circuit has been modified, which should produce more exciting racing after what we’ve seen in the first two rounds.
Leclerc leads the drivers’ championship with teammate Sainz in second place as the Ferrari-Red Bull duel is expected to continue. Albert Park should suit Red Bull’s car better, but Ferrari have the current advantage in both championships, so the Milton Keynes-based team must gain ground. They will bring some upgrades, while Ferrari will wait until Imola to do so. Whether or not they work is something we will only see come Saturday and Sunday.
Mercedes will expect to improve their results with new upgrades as well, as they find themselves in the situation of being a fallen (or perhaps sleeping) giant. The Silver Arrows, after winning almost everything since 2014, came into this season with a radical car concept with no sidepods, but they have encountered a lot of problems with porpoising and are currently the third fastest team on the grid. They will try to avoid another weekend like in Saudi Arabia, where seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton was knocked out in Q1, something that hadn’t happened to him on pure pace since the 2009 British Grand Prix.
Alpine will be looking to confirm their presence as the strongest midfield team after a race in Jeddah where both Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon had a thrilling battle while fighting for sixth position before the Spaniard was forced to retire with engine issues. Right now, reliability seems to be the main concern for the Renault-powered team, as the two-time World Champion will reportedly use his third engine of the season. Additionally, Alpine will finally return to its blue and pink livery, having used a full pink design (reminiscent of those used by Racing Point in recent years) in the opening races to celebrate their partnership with BWT.
Looking at Aston Martin, Sebastian Vettel will finally be able to start his season after missing the first two rounds. The four-time World Champion tested positive for COVID-19 before the Bahrain Grand Prix and was replaced by reserve driver Nico Hulkenberg. The team must certainly hope Vettel's return can translate into better results after a disappointing first couple of races where the car has been severely off the pace of the strongest cars in the midfield.
McLaren is another team disappointed with their results. After fighting for third place in the Constructors’ Championship in 2021, the Woking-based team only managed to score points thanks to Lando Norris’ 7th place finish in Jeddah. Their ascending results in the past seasons seemed to indicate they could finally fight at the top of the grid thanks to the new regulations, but for now, they are another of the teams to have fallen behind. They will certainly want to change their luck in Daniel Ricciardo's home race as the Australian is trying to regain the speed and confidence he seems to lack since moving to the team.
The opposite can be said about Alfa Romeo and Haas. They were among the slowest teams in 2021, with Haas being the clear backmarkers and unable to score any points. However, with the new regulations, they have been able to improve their results and consistently score points with Valtteri Bottas and Kevin Magnussen respectively. Young prospects Guanyu Zhou and Mick Schumacher will have a chance to start reducing the gap with their more experienced teammates.
The return of the Australian Grand Prix has been awaited by fans around the world since 2020. Despite rising concerns about the quickly spreading COVID-19 pandemic, the race was originally going to go ahead as scheduled, even after McLaren’s withdrawal with some positive cases among their staff before it was cancelled just hours before FP1. The race was then supposed to come back in 2021 before it was cancelled as well. This means it will be the first Australian Grand Prix for newer fans who discovered the sport after lockdown. And just by taking a quick look at the grid for the last race in Albert Park, we can understand how much F1 has changed since then: it was the race where Lando Norris, Alexander Albon and George Russell made their F1 debuts, while Leclerc, Ricciardo and Sainz made their first appearances for Ferrari, Renault and McLaren respectively. In addition to that, it will be the first Australian Grand Prix since 2010 to be held without being the season-opening race.
Albert Park has changed quite a bit since the last race held there as well. Having been on the F1 calendar since 1996, these two years of absence have transformed the circuit, which has a length of 5.303 km. With the cars becoming bigger in recent years, the track has been modified in order to provide better racing with more overtaking spots. The most notable change, along with the resurfacing of the track (the first one since 1995), is the removal of the old chicane in Turns 9-10, creating a new back “straight” which has become a new DRS zone. Turns 1, 3, 6 and 13 have been widened, while Turn 11 has been tightened in order to promote overtaking. Additionally, three new sausage kerbs have been added in Turns 3, 11 and 13. The pit lane has been widened as well, raising the speed limit and giving an opportunity for a greater variety of strategies. On top of that, the circuit will feature four DRS zones, but only two detection zones. Therefore, the detection zone at Turn 12 will allow drivers to use it in the first two straights, while the one at turn 6 will allow its use between turns 8-9 and 10-11. If it works as intended, the race should be filled with overtakes.
Even if no rain is expected, the Australian Grand Prix looks set to be an exciting race with intense battles across the whole field. Who do you think will finish on the podium? Let us know down below!