ANALYSIS: Formula 1 Australian GP
By Mat Coch
Wednesday 5th April, 2023 - 10:30am
Speedcafe Formula 1 Editor Mat Coch offers his analysis on an eventful third round of 2023 and the key storylines out of the Australian GP.
Max Verstappen winning the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix was almost lost in the noise on Sunday evening in Melbourne.
It was a chaotic race with a lot to unpack, both on track and off, leaving officials with some very serious questions to answer.
Before sticking the boot into the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC), we first need to acknowledge they have a difficult job.
Across four days they hosted 444,000 fans – a record for the event. Friday to Sunday was effectively a sell-out.
While that volume of people enjoying the event is great, there is always going to be a small subset of them who look to take the piss.
Those who opted to breach the barriers in the closing stages of Sunday’s race deserve to be pursued to the full extent of the law.
Their callous acts have cast a shadow over the event and generated negative headlines at a time when we should be celebrating a weekend that was otherwise a runaway success.
By entering a live racing arena they endangered themselves, the marshals who volunteer to work the event, and the drivers.
They are no different to those who sat on the track at last year’s British Grand Prix.
It is wholly inexcusable and indefensible and it is unfair to hold the AGPC accountable for the free will of idiots.
Action needs to be taken, though, if only to protect people from themselves, and safeguard the event’s liability.
How spectators (those willing to be so stupid are not fans) got there, and how easily, are significant questions that have to be answered.
There is footage around which offers some insight but the Australian GP must complete a full published analysis.
What is available on social media is, for the most part, after the fact. The issue occurred before they entered the racing arena or scaled the catch fencing.
The FIA has been increasingly transparent in recent times and so we can only hope that remains true in this instance as I’ve heard some concerning accusations.
It’s embarrassing for organisers who otherwise ran a good event.
Even allowing for the weather, it was well attended with plenty of activations around to keep fans engaged.
Organisers cannot be blamed for the debris from Kevin Magnussen’s car finding its way into the crowd.
Motorsport is dangerous and when incidents happen it is impossible to predict what will happen.
In that instance, a shard of Magnussen’s wheel was launched skyward, coming down on the other side of the catch fencing.
It is not ideal but is it really any different to a cricket ball landing in the stands every so often?
A fan was injured, and that’s never ideal. Was it preventable or predictable? I’d argue no to both of those.
It was one of those things; it’s not great, but motorsport is dangerous. It says so on the ticket.
There have been comparisons to the 2001 incident which claimed the life of Graham Beveridge at Turn 3, but that incident was on a whole different level and not analogous to what happened on Sunday.
That’s not to say it isn’t serious and shouldn’t be looked at, it absolutely should.
By its nature as a street circuit, fans can get close to the action in Albert Park. That comes with risks.
The obvious solution is to push the spectator area back, but is that the best solution or a knee-jerk reaction? I’ll leave that to the experts.
Magnussen’s crash drew the second red flag of the day in an encounter that put race control under the microscope.
Safety is paramount when it comes to managing the race; the safety of the drivers, officials, and fans.
Following Magnussen’s crash, debris littered the circuit and needed to be cleaned – sharp remnants of the Haas wheel were scattered across the track, as was the tyre itself.
With marshals having to go on track, a red flag was the only option.
We have seen and criticised the FIA before for the way it handled situations; think back to last year’s Japanese Grand Prix.
Analysis took place of that incident and the lessons applied to the Australian GP on Sunday.
Race control adopted a low-risk approach: whenever marshals needed to be on the racing surface for any significant time, the cars were stopped.
While it’s not ideal to interrupt the flow of a race, it is only a race. The red flag was the right call for the Magnussen incident, without question.
Was it also the case for Albon? I’d argue yes as well.
While drivers have debated the need to clean the circuit at Turn 6, the simple fact that Albon went off there highlights that others could have, too.
Sweeping the circuit was a reasonable response and, again, with marshals on track, the only appropriate way to do that is under a red flag.
Obviously, with four cars stranded at the Turn 1-2 complex following the Lap 57 restart, the red flag there was undeniably the right call.
Red Bull, then the rest
As far as the racing itself went, there were no real surprises.
Max Verstappen was beaten off the line but such is the pace advantage he was able to race his way back to the front.
The first red flag hurt Russell though his ultimate retirement meant it mattered little in the grand scheme of things.
It was promising from Mercedes however; perhaps the W14 isn’t as bad as first thought but there remains a deficit to Red Bull.
Aston Martin again showed well just to underscore the potential in that car.
Fernando Alonso will be a contender throughout the season and don’t be surprised if he does chalk up his 33rd win at some point.
But that seems to rely on misfortune for Red Bull.
Sergio Perez proved the team is not infallible over the weekend and that offers a glimmer of hope.
But in reality, the championship looks set to go to Milton Keynes, with Aston Martin, Mercedes, and perhaps Ferrari scrapping over the runner-up spot.
Special mention for Piastri
Points in Melbourne might have come as a result of misfortune for others, but the simple fact was Oscar Piastri was there at the end.
To finish first, first you have to finish. You don’t (usually) score points if you’re buried in the fence.
Piastri again built his weekend through practice and into qualifying before a mature race allowed him to capitalise.
And given how tight the midfield is this season, those points could be critical – they’re certainly more valuable this year than last.
So again, Piastri did well. He wasn’t rattled by the local attention and again showed he has the foundations of an extremely solid Formula 1 racing driver in him.
On balance, it was a near-perfect weekend for the Aussie.
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