Written by Marcus Woodhouse, Edited by Yu Xin Wang
It’s that time of the year again: F1 is heading Down Under. The tricky streets of Melbourne are always a challenge for the drivers, and can lead to some exciting races. With Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez taking the first two wins of the season, we can only hope that Red Bull let them off their leashes this weekend, and we see a titanic duel between teammates.
Despite the departure of Daniel Ricciardo from the grid, the Australian fans will still have much cause to turn up en masse as they always do. New home hero Oscar Piastri will have hopes of scoring his first points, to rescue McLaren’s season.
The Albert Park circuit is a street circuit, but without the tight constraints of other street circuits such as Monaco, Marina Bay, or Jeddah. Overtaking is possible all around the track, but it requires confidence under braking and sheer audacity at times, which separates the best from the rest.
Despite its temporary nature, it is a relatively fast circuit with average speeds of over 235 km/h (146 mph) set in 2019. Bumpiness can be an issue for the teams, although track resurfacing may have helped to resolve it.
While we look forward to a battle between the two Red Bulls this weekend, it wouldn’t be a first here, as the Albert Park circuit has seen some truly memorable battles over the years. Most notably in 2002, the Australian fans were able to witness a proper back-and-forth affair between Juan Pablo Montoya and Michael Schumacher, with Schumacher eventually getting past and going on to take the chequered flag. During the circuit’s first race in 1996, Williams teammates Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve went toe-to-toe. Neither of them were willing to give the other any room to work with, before a mechanical issue for Villeneuve ultimately forced him to back out of the scrap. In the years that have followed, we’ve had some highly entertaining races, but we are certainly due for another epic battle.
In 2022, Australia was the setting of a victorious day for Ferrari before their season hurtled off a cliff, as Charles Leclerc managed to keep his ferocious Dutch rival behind him for most of the race before Verstappen’s car went up in flames and took him out of contention. The fortunes of Leclerc’s teammate, Carlos Sainz, were far inferior. The Spaniard’s poor qualifying was compounded by an early spin into the gravel that ruled him out of the race.
It was Perez therefore who followed Leclerc onto the podium, tailed by the two Mercedes, before Lando Norris headed the two McLarens in a strong day for the papaya team. Perhaps the most impressive performance was Alex Albon’s miraculous stint on hard tyres, earning him a very much deserved point.
The teams and drivers will be heading to Australia off the back of an intriguing Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, in which Perez emerged victorious ahead of the recovering Verstappen from P15 on the grid. Despite a post-race commotion as the FIA threatened to give Fernando Alonso an extra time penalty for supposedly serving one incorrectly during the race, the Spaniard’s third place was eventually reinstated, thus achieving his landmark 100th podium in F1.
The strategists also had to contend with a safety car period that threatened to shake the pack up after Lance Stroll’s unfortunate retirement. However, the top teams played it to perfection and the order remained much the same.
Ferrari’s troubles continued, as a grid penalty for Leclerc and shocking race pace for Sainz meant neither driver could crack into the top five. Nevertheless, their woes are still nothing compared to McLaren’s, as Piastri and Norris finished 15th and 17th respectively.
With such a thrilling start to the season, the F1 spectacle continues this Sunday with 58 laps of action at Albert Park. Can Perez fend off Verstappen and transform this season’s title fight? Can Mercedes, Ferrari or Aston Martin lay down a challenge to Red Bull, and make their mark on the 2023 season? And will McLaren’s recent organisational restructure pay off? We’ll find out soon.