On the back of Charles LeClerc’s win there are other stories that really need to be paid attention to. Here’s what I’m paying attention to:
Ferrari Has More To Gain
If Carlos Sainz didn’t have bad luck this weekend he’d have no luck at all. He caught the red flag in qualifying just before he crossed the finish line giving him an awful start position, but then in the race opening he pushed too hard and ended up beaching his car.
But, Carlos can take solace in what his car is capable of. LeClerc didn’t look challenged all weekend long and indeed took a Grand Slam (pole position, race win, fastest race lap). He can also look forward to gaining even more performance because it was very clear that the Ferrari was still suffering from porpoising on the straights at Albert Park. (See Formula1.com for an explanation.) As Ferrari sorts out the porpoising, their car will be even quicker. This is something that both Red Bull and Mercedes should be quite worried about.
Consistency is key
Mercedes has shown us the reason they win Constructor’s Championships: consistency over a season. While their car is clearly not the fastest around the track they leave Albert Park second in the Constructor’s championship due to their ability to keep an eye on the strategy and maximize the available points to them. You can have the fastest car on the grid but if it is unreliable (as a Red Bull), you go home empty handed.
Today we saw the team play their strategy to perfection and as a result we saw Russell on the podium and Hamilton in P4. They didn’t find much more race pace but the car did look a bit more planted and the drivers could put it where they wanted. With Verstappen experiencing further unreliability and a DNF, Mercedes is 10 points ahead of Red Bull even though their car is nowhere near the Bulls with respect to performance. Granted, we are early in the season but just ask Kimi Räikönnen about how important reliability is. I think he’d be triple (if not four times) World Champion had he had more reliability early in his career at McLaren. He was blisteringly fast in the car during those years but their engines grenaded themselves as if it were their job.
Speaking of reliability…
Red Bull have got to get their issues ironed out. Can’t win if you can’t finish. You might say, ”Hey wait a minute, aren’t Red Bull really screwed here because the engine changes have been frozen until 2026?” The short answer is, ”no.”
Rest assured that there are many people in Milton Keynes pouring over how to improve the reliability of the Power Unit. Remember, Red Bull took over from Honda in the creation of their Power Unit from 2022 through to where we see engine regulation changes for 2026. The main reason they were willing to take this on was with the freezing of the engine regulations so that Red Bull could stand up an operation capable of supplying themselves (and AlphaTauri) of engines.
Red Bull Power Trains (RBPT) will be able to apply to the FIA to make changes to the engine that increase reliability and safety so long as they do not change the power output of the engine. There are also parts of the engine that are not under the homologation order that they can change at will. What we’re seeing are kinks but what we don’t know is how long it will take to work those kinks out. In the meantime Mercedes will keep taking points away from Red Bull if DNF is the name of their game.
Driver of the day
When it came to the vote, Driver of the Day went to Charles LeClerc. But to me, without a doubt the driver of the day has to be Alex Albon. Recall that he went 57 laps on a set of hard tires and then switched on the last lap to a set of softs. Pirelli stated the hard tire was good for 40 laps around Albert Park. So, not only did Albon have to manage his tires to nurse them for another 17 laps beyond what Pirelli thought they’d do, but he had to do so while battling for position and pace and he was able to do so. And this is all off the back of being disqualified from qualifying where he placed P16 because his car didn’t have enough fuel in it to provide a sample to the scrutineers.
So, in 57 laps came from stone last to make his way to P7 without killing his tires, pitted on the last lap and managed to hold P10 and finish with a point! Absolutely great drive.
In 2 weeks’ time we head to Italy for the Emilia Romanga Grand Prix at Imola. We’ve seen some cracking races there since F1 returned there mid-pandemic and with these 2022 cars able to follow much closer and what appears to be some great scraps in the midfield, I can’t wait.