A sport or a show? F1 keeps finding itself on the wrong side of the line

First things first, sport is meant to be entertaining. The unpredictability, the drama, and the displays of skill and athleticism are all reasons why we watch it. 

The third standing start of the day caused chaos in the first corner. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Sometimes Formula One falls short on the first two, hence the introduction of the budget cap, sprint races and many other rule changes brought in over the years in an attempt to ‘spice up the racing’. How ironic it is that on the weekend where Michael Masi returned to the F1 paddock for the first time since Abu Dhabi 2021, the talk is once again about how the rules have been applied in ways they weren’t intended – and the debate on how far Formula One should go to supply entertainment reignited once again.

It looked like the race was heading to a very predictable conclusion, with Max Verstappen cruising to victory, as Lewis Hamilton looked to be doing just enough to hold on to second from Fernando Alonso. That predictability was shattered, however, when Kevin Magnussen lost a tyre after hitting the wall. The Dane pulled off-track, but with his left rear stricken on the racing line, people’s thoughts understandably turned to a virtual, or even a full, safety car. This was initially the case before the decision was made to red flag the race, as the amount of debris on the circuit would have led to the race finishing under the safety car.

Many drivers voiced their astoundment at this decision, both during and after the race. There had already been one red flag, after Alex Albon had crashed out, in another situation where it seemed like a safety car would be sufficient. This second stoppage meant there would only be two laps of racing action left, effectively giving fans a super short sprint race. Which turned out to last less than a sector, with three accidents before turn three leading to a final stoppage, and the race finishing under the safety car – exactly the scenario that the race directors were trying to avoid.

The red flag led to what could be known as ‘Schrodinger’s lap 56’. On the one hand, the lap never happened, as the final restart was carried out using the positions from the end of lap 55. On the other hand, both Alpines, Nyck de Vries and Logan Sargeant had been eliminated from the race in the chaos, with Carlos Sainz receiving a 5-second penalty for spinning Alonso, even though the Aston Martin had now technically lost nothing in the spin. In normal situations, a 5-second penalty is annoying, but this penalty effectively equalled a disqualification, dropping Sainz to the back of the field with no chance of recovery.

Of course, safety has to come first in Formula One, and the safest way of clearing up debris after an accident is ensuring that no cars can come near the marshals, hence the need for safety cars and red flags. But the amount of red flags and safety cars in recent seasons has led to rumblings that they are used as a tool to close up the pack and inject excitement into races which seems a foregone conclusion. This alone isn’t a bad thing, as long as it is clear when this is going to happen, so viewers, drivers and teams aren’t left guessing what decision the FIA will make today. Team bosses made comments in a similar vein, with Christian Horner and Toto Wolff being in rare disagreement that they want to see races finish under a green flag, but it should be clear what the procedure is with late-race incidents.

Fans want to be left on the edge of their seats by what they are seeing out on track. If it feels necessary to stop a race to add to that excitement, then perhaps the sport has bigger problems that no amount of flag-waving will solve.

 

 

Chaos in Australia

Verstappen wins a chaotic Australian Grand Prix under very confusing circumstances. Hamilton finished P2 in a mixed day for the team while Alonso finished in P3 for the third time this season despite nearly being taken out of the race by Sainz in a dramatic restart towards the end of the race.

The race start. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Lights out and Verstappen came straight across to cover off the advances of Russell, but his attempt was not successful. The reigning world champion did appear to exercise some caution with a slower exit from turn two. He seemed to be struggling.

Behind them, Leclerc had made a good start but Stroll was coming up close behind him. Leclerc turned into turn three but Stroll had taken the apex of the corner and tapped his rear right-hand side. Leclerc went for a spin and ended up in the gravel, ending his race prematurely. 

At the same time, Verstappen leaves enough gap for Hamilton to be alongside him into turn three. It was a brave move from the seven-time world champion but he makes it through the inside of Verstappen. There were a few complaints on the radio but everything was deemed a lap one racing incident.

The safety car was deployed with a Mercedes one-two. On the restart, Russell made sure he pulled a gap to his teammate and the now-frustrated Verstappen. Everyone got a clean lap with Hamilton and Verstappen closing gradually on Russell. The driver from Kingslynn was on the radio asking if he is to defend against his teammate or preserve his tyres but he was answered when they called him into the pits for a new set of hard tyres. Russell came out in P7 on lap 6, but just one lap later it would prove to be the wrong decision. 

Albon lit up the rear tyres into turns six and seven and spun straight into the barrier, projecting gravel all over the track. Albon was out and initially, the safety car was deployed. But the FIA needed time to get rid of the gravel on the track and brought out the red flag. 

This gave everyone a free choice of tyres before the restart but was unfortunate timing for Russell. They rolled out on the formation lap before lining up on the grid for the restart. Russell was down in P7 with work to do while Hamilton was in P1 with Verstappen alongside. 

Most drivers were on hard tyres so at the restart it was obvious they couldn’t get the immediate grip they wanted. Verstappen struggled again with the standing start but Alonso backed out of a move on the outside of turn one due to the lack of temperature in his tyres. 

Hamilton in front before Verstappen powered through. Image courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

The lead for Hamilton wouldn’t last long though. On lap 12 Verstappen had DRS and a superior pace around the outside of Hamilton to take the lead of the race. Meanwhile, behind them, the other Mercedes made his way up into P4, past Gasly.

Sainz and Perez were also making their way through the pack. Sainz made turn three his new favourite overtaking spot but getting past Norris and then Tsunoda in consecutive laps. Perez used his extra pace to make it up to P13 before the next major incident.

Without warning, on lap 19, flames began to spit out the back of Russell’s car. Mercedes later suggested it was a power unit failure. However, Russell was able to safely stop at the end of the pitlane and get out of the car. This brought out a Virtual Safety Car and closed the pitlane. Therefore there were no changes of tyres for anyone and the race got back underway once the flames had been put out.

Perez continued his good form by making it into the points with a fantastic double move on Piastri and Tsunoda on lap 23. Piastri and Tsunoda had been battling for the majority of the race at this point, so when Piastri finally made the move on the Alpha Tauri on lap 29, the home crowd roared.

By lap 32 the race had settled into business as usual. Verstappen was setting consistent fastest laps, but Perez was able to make the most of DRS zones and get his name on the fastest lap board. Hamilton and Alonso then entered the fastest lap chat as they closed the gap to Verstappen.

At this point, the teams were considering a second stop due to potentially being on the hard tyres for 49 laps by the end of the race. The battle was mostly between Aston Martin and Mercedes trying to work out who would jump first. 

However, their questions were answered when, in a strange incident, Magnussen lost his rear right tyre. It appeared that on the exit of turn two, he just went too wide and hit the wall, losing his tyre and bringing out another safety car, and eventually the red flag two laps later. 

The third standing start of the day. Image courtesy of Red Bull content pool

It was all set up then for a two-lap sprint to the finish with everyone changing to soft tyres. It would be another standing start as stipulated in the rules. As the cars lined up on the grid it looked as though Verstappen was very far forward in his box. He was however his wheels were still on the line and therefore in the box.

Absolute chaos ensued at the restart. Verstappen got away well with Hamilton hanging on the P2. Behind the Sainz had made a good start but he hit the rear of Alonso in front causing the Aston to spin on the exit of turn two.

Behind them, Gasly locked up into turn one and ended up across the grass before getting back on the track. As he arrived on the track he didn’t see the car of his teammate on the outside of turn two. Gasly veered back to the racing line but collided with Ocon pushing both into the wall and out of the race. 

Perez also took a trip across the gravel but made it out safely, while at the back Sargent locked up into the back of De Vries. Both got stuck in the gravel and were out of the race. Unsurprisingly the red flag was deployed again but this led to some confusion about restarting for a fourth time.

With everyone back in the pitlane the clock was on lap 58 of 58, meaning only one racing lap left. Any laps behind the safety car count as racing laps so it appeared the race would finish behind the safety car, but the question was what order would the cars be in. 

At the British Grand Prix in 2022, the red flag came out before the cars had made it through sector one so they went back to the last known order of the cars, the grid. This was a similar situation. The red flag came out before Verstappen made it to turn five, meaning they didn’t have any timings for drivers after the restart and would have to go back to the order from the grid on lap 57. 

Once the crashed cars had been taken out of this grid order, it meant that Alonso was back up in P3 with Sainz in P4, Piastri in the points and Hulkenberg down in P8. This frustrated Haas as Hulkenberg was up in P4 after the carnage at the start. To rub salt in the wound for them, Sainz was given a five-second time penalty for causing a collision with Alonso. 

After a re-shuffle of the cars in the pitlane, they headed out on the final lap. At the end, the safety car peeled off and Verstappen took the chequered flag with Hamilton in P2 and Alonso in P3. Sainz attempted to create a small gap but with the cars bunched up he dropped to the back of the pack and out of the points. 

Only 12 cars finished the race and McLaren managed to capitalise on this with both cars getting points. Piastri was extremely happy to get his first points in F1 in his first home race and he gave plenty for the home fans to cheer about after a long race day.

We now wait until the end of April for the next race, but I imagine this won’t be the last we hear of the restart procedure for that time.

2023 Australian GP Qualifying.

Max Verstappen will once again start from pole position in tomorrow’s Grand Prix but, for the first time in his career, he was the fastest in qualifying in Australia. He will be joined on the front row by Mercedes’ George Russell with World Champions Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso on the second row. Once again, the reigning World Champion came out on top after an exciting session. Thanks to cooler temps and weather, every driver stayed out for the full session setting times throughout the session to maintain tyre temperatures.

Q1 began with rain in the air so most drivers opted to go out onto the track straight away. Alex Albon briefly led the time charts but, when on an even quicker lap he put a wheel onto the grass at the second to last corner and lost the red end of his Williams, he managed to recover to the pitlane.

Just after that Sergio Perez locked up and beached his Red Bull in the gravel and mud turn 4. The Mexican was the first driver out of qualifying. The session restarted with 12 minutes remaining.

The session ended with Max Verstappen once again quickest, The five drivers who didn’t make it through to Q2 were Perez in his stranded RedBull, Bottas in the Alfa Romeo, Sergeant in the Williams, the second Alfa of Zhou and then home favourite Oscar Piastri in the McLaren.

Piastri was not able to push his car out of Q1 at home. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Area

Q2 again started with the whole field trying to get some laps in, the tyres were taking longer to warm up here so each driver was choosing to do longer runs and get some temp into the tyres.

Lando Norris took a quick trip through the gravel trap that Perez succumbed to, but the Brit managed to drive through the gravel and back to the pits for some new rubber.

It was another session where everyone seemed to fuel up for the whole session and keep doing laps to keep the tyre temps up and get some consistently quick lap times in. Once again Verstappen led the field by just 0.227 from Alonso in the Aston Martin. Out of Q2 were De Vries, Magnussen, Norris, Tsunoda and Ocon.

De Vries is down in P15 for tomorrow’s GP. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Area

The threat of rain was still in the air so everyone came out early for Q3. Verstappen was first across the line setting a time of 1.17.578 but was unusually scruffy from the 2-time World Champion. He was beaten by Hamilton, Alonso, Russell, Sainz and Leclerc but went on a second run and moved ahead of the field again. He then went quicker again on his final run with a time 0.236 quicker than second-placed George Russell.

Third was Lewis Hamilton, alongside him was Alonso in the Aston Martin, then Sainz, Stroll, Leclerc, and Albon with Gasly and Hulkenberg rounding out the top ten.

A grid is set up nicely for the race on Sunday, with the same conditions forecast the first few laps will be very interesting as people struggle to generate heat on the tyres and get a grip. Will Verstappen again pull away in the Red Bull or can Mercedes fight against them with Fernando Alonso in the mix as well?

Hamilton is happy with qualifying. Image courtesy of Pirelli Press Area

 

F1 Race Weekend Preview: Australia

We are back down under for round three of the Formula 1 World Championship. This time the story seems slightly more predictable with the Red Bulls dominating the first two races. Australia has a new home driver to follow but his team has been all change in the last few weeks. 

A Team Battle at the Front

Red Bull celebrating another good weekend. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

It seems that Red Bull are in a league of their own when it comes to winning races. They dominated the first two rounds, and if it wasn’t for a driveshaft failure in qualifying in Jeddah, both could have been Verstappen wins.

However, starting from P15 most fans thought he was still on for the win. Perez had an answer for everything the double world champion had to throw at him. It is looking like this championship battle may come down to these teammates. 

The question now is if Perez has what it takes to beat Verstappen or will Red Bull continue their form of having an obvious number-one driver. Alternatively, will they get in each other’s way and leave a gap for an on-form Alonso to claim his third title?

McLaren Changes Things Up

Oscar Piastri pushing the limit in Jeddah. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Area

Unfortunately, the season has started the way that McLaren would have liked. As a result, the team have decided to make a few infrastructure changes internally. James Key, their executive technical director, exits and in his place will be three new technical heads.

Peter Prodromou, Neil Houldey, and significantly David Sanchez, who has come from Ferrari, will be taking their positions under the team principal Andrea Stella. They will be hoping they can turn the fortunes of the woking-based team around.

For McLaren fans from Australia, they will want their new home favourite to have a strong performance, similar to his qualifying pace in Jeddah. Pisatri replaces Ricciardo as their driver for his first home race in Formula 1, so he wants to put on a good show for the crowd.

 

Qualifying starts at 6am BST on Saturday and the Race is at 6am on Sunday.

Saudi Arabia GP: Perez takes a convincing win as Redbull finish 1-2, again

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 19: Race winner Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 19, 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA – MARCH 19: Race winner Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 19, 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Sergio Perez took yet another street circuit win at Jeddah on Sunday night as Redbull reigned supreme yet again, much like their first outing in Bahrain earlier this season. The Mexican driver faltered at the start and lost the lead to Alonso by turn 1, but the unmatchable pace of the Redbull meant that there was no one stopping him from taking the win tonight, not even his teammate.

It was an eventful beginning to the race as Alonso in the Aston Martin got the better of Perez at turn 1 while there was a lot of action between the Mercedes, Aston Martin and Ferrari cars behind. The joy was short lived for Alonso after Perez passed him again, which was then followed by a 5-second time penalty as the Spaniard was out of position at the start. Things got worse for Alonso after the national anthems of Mexico and Austria on the podium as he was hit with a further 10-second time penalty for serving his 5-second time penalty incorrectly. The post-race penalty for Alonso meant that Geroge Russell and Mercedes had their first podium of the season, which looked like a far off possibility based on the mood around the Mercedes paddock.

Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari had a great start as he was able to gain three places in no time after starting from P12 thanks to a penalty pertaining to the control electronics while Verstappen further behind from P15 had a steady opening to his race. A dummy call from the Ferrari pit-wall meant that Stroll of Aston Martin was the first of the front runners to come in to the pits for a change of tyres and it proved costly for him. Both Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc overcut the Canadian and were well ahead of him after the first round of stops and things got even worse for him as a mechanical issue forced him to retire which brought the safety car out.

It looked like there was no need for a safety car as Stroll seemed to park well of the track but an incorrect GPS indication from Stroll’s car meant that the inevitable has happened. Mercedes and Verstappen were one of the few to take advantage of the safety car and Ferrari were the ones to come out of it with a lot of bad luck. The race was pretty much decided at this point as Max’s pace proved to  be too fast for anyone else on the track apart from his teammate, who ultimately won the grandprix.

It was a good result for Alpine as both Ocon and Gasly finished in the points scoring positions at P8 and P9 respectively, with Kevin Magnussen in the Haas scoring the last available point after a feisty battle with Tsunoda towards the end of the race. His teammate Hulkenberg in the other Haas only managed a P12 just outside the points. Alfa Romeo have had a mixed race with Zhou Guanyu finishing in P13 while his teammate Bottas finished P18 and last of the running cars in the race.

McLaren might have thought that their fortunes have changed a little with Piastri starting P8 in the race but an tussle in the opening lap meant that the rookie driver needed a front wing change. It got worse for them when Norris came in the next lap as well with the same issue. This meant that the pair were running at the back of the grid for the large parts of the race and McLaren were forced to issue team orders when Piastri was faster than Norris. He then made it count by making a pass on fellow rookie driver Logan Sargeant in the Williams for P15, while Norris finished P17. Alex Albon in the other Williams had to retire with a break issue, making him the second driver to not be classified in the race. It was a decent outing for Alpha Tauri albeit it was without points as Tsunoda was P11 at the end and his teammate De Vries finished the race at P14.

With yet another Redbull 1-2 unfolding at Jeddah, it is going to take a mighty effort from the remaining frontrunners in Aston Martin, Mercedes and Ferrari to cause any damage to the bulls. It is still early in the season to think that Redbull could end up winning both the championships but the tone that has been set by them in the first two races certainly fits the thinking. The Australian Grandprix arrives in about two weeks time before F1 goes for almost a month’s break in April.

 

RedBull on Pole but no Front Row Lock Out

Perez took pole while his teammate suffered a driveshaft issue in Q2 meaning he will start P15. Alonso was unable to capitalise on his speed in practice, managing P3 with Leclerc getting P2 before his penalty is applied. This is how it happened during Qualifying.

Q1 began like normal, with the faster teams choosing to stay back while everyone else took to the track. It wasn’t long before the incidents started to bring out the yellow flags.

De Vries nearly caused the first red flag of Qualifying by locking up and spinning into turn 1. However, he was able to use the run-off and get his car going again.

With 10 minutes to go, Norris made contact with the wall on the way into turn 27. The team worked hard to get his car back out, hoping for a red flag but unfortunately, they couldn’t make it work. Norris will start in P19 and was forced to watch as his teammate went front strength to strength.

Alonso warming up for his spin. Image courtesy of Aston Martin F1 Media

Alonso went for a quick spin on his first fast-lap run. He managed to keep the car out of the wall by completing a full 360. He appeared to get on the power early out of turn 10, he overwhelmed the rears and went around.

There were plenty more mistakes in Q1 than in any of the practice sessions. The drivers were complaining about the track, saying it was not where they wanted it but had to stick to the strategy. The grip just wasn’t with them in the session after the Formula 2 race.

After having a lap time deleted for track limits at turn 27, Sargent spun, bringing out only a yellow flag as he got going again. He lit up the rears heading through turns 22 and 23 which he had been having problems with all weekend. 

Alpha Tauri tried to recover from De Vries’ incident but they seemed to be having poor luck in Jeddah. Both drivers were out in Q1 with Tsunoda in P16 and De Vries in P18.

Williams joined them with Albon couldn’t make it out of Q1 but qualified P17 while Sargent still had issues getting a lap together and damaged the car on his final run meaning he goes away in P20.

De Vries making his way around Jeddah. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Area

Q2 has most people out on soft tyres, apart from RedBull, who at this point could potentially come out on the wet tyres and still go fastest.

9 minutes left and Verstappen came over the radio with what he thought was an engine issue. He managed to limp home for the team to have a look at the car and potentially solve the problem. However, within seconds of being back in the garage, the double-world champion was out of the car and out of qualifying. RedBull have since reported it as a driveshaft issue. Cue an angry Verstappen making his way through the pack on Sunday.

Meanwhile, his teammate set a lap time good enough for P2, just behind Alonso. Behind them, Sainz had a big moment narrowly missing the wall and being able to carry on. In P11 with only 2 minutes to go, it was very important for the Spaniard to put in a good lap.

Alfa Romeo and Haas went about qualifying very quietly but had strong sessions each. They made up the remainder of the eliminated cars from Q2, joining Verstappen. 

Out in Q2, Hulkenburg, Zhou, Magnussen, Bottas, and Verstappen.

Q3 seemed to be wide open now that Verstappen was out. However, we were looking at a potential pole for Alonso for the first time since 2012. Perez was out to stop that and pick up the pieces of his teammate’s problems.

The First runs were done, and Perez was half a second in front of Leclerc in P2 with Russell in P3. Alonso wasn’t far behind but it appeared there was more pace to come out from the only RedBull in the session. 

Both Alpines made it into the top 10 for a strong qualifying for both drivers after a not-so-great weekend in Bahrain. Ocon starts in P6 while Gasly starts in P9. Piastri joined them for his first Q3 session and made a good effort against his more experienced rivals, but starts P8 with Leclerc’s penalty.

Hamilton was not able to get the most out of the car. Image courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

Hamilton will not be pleased with starting P7. Still unable to adapt to the car properly while Russell starts in P3 after Leclerc’s penalty is applied. This was the story for the Silver Arrows during qualifying who had a generally mixed session. However, in a race that has a 100% chance of a safety car, they will be looking to use their reliability to gain points tomorrow. 

Ferrari had a decent qualifying for them, but none of that matters with Leclerc’s penalty. He will start P11 while Sainz will start P4, alongside Russell. If they want to mount a challenge on Verstappen and RedBull this season they will need to take advantage of having the reigning world champion behind them suffering from reliability issues.

Tomorrow will be an extremely interesting race to watch with Verstappen and Leclerc starting out of position and Alonso hunting down the remaining RedBull at the front of the pack. Can Russell take advantage of his good starting position or will Sainz get ahead? Will there be a safety car or red flag which changes the race, probably, but it’s worth watching to find out.

F1 Race Weekend Preview: Under the Lights for Race 2

2023 has officially begun with RedBull dominance in the desert. We move to the updated streets of Jeddah for race two. Most F1 fans will be hoping that this isn’t a continuing trend throughout the season, especially Ferrari and McLaren fans. However, Leclerc already has reason to potentially write off 2023 as a championship year. Aston Martin could be the surprise challenger for the season. 

Ferrari are on the back foot… already.

Leclerc before being forced to retire in Bahrain. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Area

If you haven’t heard by now, Charles Leclerc heads into the weekend with a 10-place grid penalty for taking a third Control Electronics power unit, taking him over the allocation for the season. The collective pain of the long-suffering Ferrari fans could be heard across the globe as the penalty was announced.

This comes after he was running in P3 before retiring at the side of the track in Bahrain having replaced his Energy Store and Control Electronics on his engine before the race began. 

While we will be hoping that Ferrari’s can sort out their reliability issues quickly this season, fans can take some solace from the curse of the first race winner. Since 2017, the driver who won the opening round has not gone on to win the championship, and last season Verstappen retired from the race before becoming a double world champion. So maybe Ferrari’s fortune will change?

Can Aston Martin be the 2023 underdogs?

Alonso coming home in P3 in Bahrain. Image courtesy of Aston Martin F1 Media

In a surprise to everyone who watched last season, Aston Martin have stepped up their game and look like real challengers for the 2022 top three. Alonso finished on the podium and pulled off some great moves, while a recovering Stroll managed to get P6, just behind Lewis Hamilton.

Mercedes had originally thought they would be fighting for wins or at least challenging for more podiums against Ferrari and RedBull, but now they are looking at a battle for third in the constructor’s championship with Aston Martin. 

As we visit different circuits throughout the year this will show off the different strengths of the teams so it will be interesting to see how the Mercedes factory team measures up to a Mercedes engine customer team during the season. 

Track changes. 

Saudi Arabia has provided us with an extremely fast circuit since 2021 and that is not about to change. They have, however, taken on some feedback from the drivers and adapted some of the corners to help with the visibility of the racing line. 

They have moved the walls at turns 8, 10, 14 and 20, with rumble strips added to the latter two to help the drivers know when they are outside track limits. 

They have also tweaked a few of the kerbs to deal with the newer cars while the chicane at turns 22 and 23 has been tightened to reduce speeds.

The clam before the storm in Jeddah. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Area

Qualifying on Saturday starts at 5pm GMT and the Race is at 5pm GMT on Sunday.

2023 Bahrain GP

The opening race of the 2023 F1 season was dominated by the RedBull team and the defending world champion Max Verstappen. His teammate Sergio Perez and the resurgent Fernando Alonso in the Aston Martin followed him home.

The race start. Image courtesy of RedBull Content Pool

From the start Verstappen led away Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari, into turn 4 the Aston Martins came together but avoided damage after Stroll out-braked himself and clipped Alonso. This incident let the Mercedes drivers through to settle into P5 and 6.

Once the field had settled down Alonso started to close on Russell in the Mercedes, by lap 13 he had closed it completely and had a great battle with the British driver and eventually came out on top.

Further behind the McLarens weren’t having the greatest start to the season, Piastri retiring on lap 15 and Norris having issues meaning he had to pit numerous times and leaving him at the back of the field.

By lap 20 the first stops were completed and the field settled down. During the stops Ocon served a time penalty for a start-line procedure breach, unfortunately, he then gained another penalty for not serving the penalty correctly.

Verstappen was now leading by over 10 seconds but carrying on with soft tyres whereas every other team had moved to the hard compound.

Perez was now catching Leclerc and by lap 26 he was ahead of the Ferrari and moving to P2. Sainz in the second Ferrari was 4th but had fallen further behind and didn’t seem in the fight all weekend.

Mercedes tried to pit early to try and keep Alonso at bay but once the stops were over Alonso quickly caught Hamilton and after a great 2-lap battle the Spaniard pulled ahead and started to pull away in search of Sainz in the Ferrari.

Ferraris reliability issues then struck again with Leclerc stopping on track causing a brief VSC.

Once that was cleared Alonso set after Sainz and overtook him shortly after to move up to P3 and into the podium positions.

After 57 laps Max Verstappen crossed the line to take win 36 of his career, Perez second ahead of Alonso completing the podium. Behind them came Sainz, Hamilton, an impressive Stroll racing with two fractured wrists and a broken toe finished sixth.

Seventh was Russell in the second Mercedes, then Bottas, Gasly and Albon an impressive tenth in the Williams.

Eleventh was Tsunoda ahead of Sergeant, Magnussen, De Vries and Hulkenberg. The last two finishers were Zhou and Norris.

The only retirees were Ocon, Leclerc and Piastri.

After such a dominant performance RedBull will be confident they can once again dominate the season but with Aston Martin making big gains and Mercedes planning a big upgrade already, we will have to wait and see how the season progresses.

Round 2 is in Saudi Arabia in 2 weeks, Can they start to catch up already, we will have the answers in 14 days’ time.

Verstappen takes Bahrain GP pole

Max Verstappen will start the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on pole.

The Dutchman beat team-mate Sergio Perez by just over a tenth of a second, with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz taking out the second row for Ferrari.

Fernando Alonso’s exquisite pace in practice only translated to fifth after Ferrari and Red Bull opened their toolboxes, while Mercedes endured a disappointing evening; George Russell will start sixth ahead of Sir Lewis Hamilton.

Lance Stroll will start eighth – his injured wrist appeared to show during qualifying – before Esteban Ocon and the returning Nico Hulkenberg rounded off the top 10.

It took less than five minutes of the opening session for the red flag to be deployed when some debris flew off the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc and ended up on the racetrack.

After things got back underway, the lead swapped hands a number of times, with just over three tenths of a second separating the top five.

Further down though, it was not looking so good for McLaren. Oscar Piastri were eliminated in the first session, joining Pierre Gasly, Nyck de Vries, Kevin Magnussen and Logan Sargeant.

Gasly’s deleted lap time at the end of Q1 sent him down to last, while Sargeant set the same time as Lando Norris, but set it later. That meant the American agonisingly missed out on a Q2 appearance to the lead McLaren.

Sargeant’s team-mate Alex Albon did exceptionally well to make it into Q2, but could not put a lap time on the board after suffering with understeer.

Norris almost made it into the top 10, but was pipped by Lance Stroll, as Valtteri Bottas, Zhou Guanyu and Yuki Tsunoda also missed out on the top 10 shootout.

Verstappen’s pole in Bahrain was his 21st in Formula 1.

2023 F1 Testing Report/2023 Season Preview

Just a few months after the 2022 season finished with a victory for Max Verstappen and his RedBull team in both championships in what was their most dominant season ever, the F1 family arrived in Bahrain ready for just 3 days of testing before the new season would begin at the same circuit.

It was a very busy 3 days with the teams trying to get a grip on their new cars and hoping to see improvements from last year.

Testing times are always difficult to read with differing fuel loads, not knowing which engine modes are being used and teams even hiding their hands to not give too much away. However, you can always tell which teams are happy with their winter’s work and which ones are confused and wondering where they have gone wrong.

With no big rule changes this year, most cars would just be an evolution of last year’s car. The main rule change was the floor being lifted by 15mm, this would mean a loss of downforce but most teams would have recovered this already by the time the test ended. In fact, during the first morning of testing the cars were already beating last year’s times.

The quickest times from each day were ;

Day 1 – Max Verstappen – 1.32.837

Day 2 – Zhou Guanyu – 1.31.610

Day 3 – Sergio Perez – 1.30.305

Obviously, this time next week, times will be critical but as this is testing they are not the most important thing to look for. How many laps the teams do, reliability issues, how easily they switch each compound of tyre on, and how easily the balance can be changed are among the things teams will be looking at. With that in mind a summary of each team shows the following.

RedBull – 413 laps (Verstappen – 1.31.650  – Perez – 1.30.305)

Max Verstappen testing the RB19 on day one. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

The World Champions may not have completed the most laps but they had seemingly no problems during the three days, in fact, the biggest drama seemed to be when the car fell off the jack in the pitlane during one of the sessions. For the rest of the field, it looks ominous as they ran through 3 days of programmes without any issues and were quick on each compound of the tyre. It was very reminiscent of the early Hybrid era days when Mercedes used to pound round tracks for fun and be fastest even without trying for performance. In fact, Verstappen only used the C3 tyre for the whole test not feeling the need to use any of the softer compounds, yet looking quick at all times and having what looked the easiest car to control. 2023 could be yet another year of domination for the reigning champions.

Ferrari – 416 laps (Leclerc – 1.31.024 – Sainz – 1.31.036)

Last year’s runners-up started testing with the hope that stopping the development of last year’s car early to concentrate on this year would bring big rewards. To be fair Ferrari are one of the hardest teams to judge following testing. It seemed as if they didn’t go for performance runs at all but it also looked as if they took a few wrong directions with different setups during their race runs. There are no real reliability issues over the three days and no stand-out moments during the runs. The car looks fast but have they done enough to catch RedBull up or are they even further away at the start of the new season?

Both drivers seemed happy after the test so only time will tell.

Mercedes – 398 laps (Hamilton – 1.30.664 – Russell – 1.31.442)

Russell taking the W14 for a spin. Image courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

The 8 times World Champions had by their standards a shocking season in 2022 with their striking zero sidepod cars failing to live up to expectations. Going into this test the team have stuck with this concept hoping they have all the data to make the concept work. although the team did set some very competitive times the car looked very much on the edge and it seemed they were pushing harder than any other of the top teams. The test was by no means a disaster for them and they are definitely looking better than at this time last year but from this test, it looks as though they are further behind than at the end of last season when they looked to have clawed a lot of the deficit to RedBull and Ferrari back. If they are not in the top three next week they will be pinning all their hopes on a big upgrade already which is not how they would have wanted to start this season.

Alpine – 353 laps (Gasly – 1.32.762 – Ocon – 1.33.257)

The French Alpine team came to the test boasting of an improved engine and a much-improved car. Although the car looked the most twitchy of all on track and seemed to still be suffering from the dreaded porpoising the team sounded confident and most observers seemed impressed with them and the fact they didn’t seem to show their hand too much. This season could see them jump free from the midfield and with two very hungry drivers could be a surprise package this year.

Mclaren – 311 laps (Norris – 1.32.160 – Piastri – 1.33.175)

Piastri trying to get to grips with the car. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

McLaren had another poor test which seems to be the norm for the once-great team. With Piastri joining Norris this season the team had hoped they could move forward after a slightly disappointing 2022. Things didn’t start well when the front wheel winglets came loose and the team had to strengthen them before any more running could be done. The team confirmed they hadn’t hit their targets in the test and look to be starting the season on the backfoot already. Could they already be hoping a big upgrade coming early in the season would save their blushes?

Alfa Romeo – 401 laps (Bottas – 1.30.827 – Zhou – 1.31.610)

This time last year Alfa Romeo was suffering from reliability issues and was not looking good. Fast forward a year and although they had one major issue causing Bottas to stop on track and cause a red flag they look to be in good shape. Consistent running on all three days and even setting the fastest time on day 2 means the team could be looking at a very impressive start to the season with points a definite possibility at the early races.

Aston Martin – 387 laps (Alonso – 1.31.450 – Drugovich – 1.32.075)

The new and improved Aston Martin at the hands of Alonso. Image courtesy of AMF1 Media

Possibly the biggest talking point of the test was Aston Martin, Just before the test it was announced Lance Stroll would not be taking part thanks to an injury caused by a cycling accident whilst training. The team haven’t announced his injuries, but he could miss not only the first race but also a few after that. This would leave the majority of testing to new driver Fernando Alonso with reserve driver Felipe Drugovich also taking part. The missing Stroll didn’t seem to stop the team as they look to have made a massive step forward with a revolutionary new car. Not only could they set quick one-off lap times but in fact on Alonso’s race run on the final day not only did he have little tyre degradation but his times made him the third-quickest driver over a race distance. The team look to be in a very good place and even with the doubts over Stroll, they must be looking forward to a very competitive start to the season.

Haas – 414 laps (Magnussen – 1.31.381 – Hulkenberg – 1.32.466)

In 2022 Haas made a very competitive start to the season and although they slipped back down the order through the season they moved away from the back end of the field that they had made their own in previous seasons. During this test, the team looked to have maintained their speed with a car performing well with Magnussen and the returning Nico Hulkenberg at the wheel. They will be hoping they can score some early points before teams on the back foot bring upgrades and NPC doubt overhaul them.

Alpha Tauri – 456 laps (De Vries – 1.32.222 – Tsunoda – 1.31.261)

The team that completed the most laps of the three days. Setting some decent times, they clearly used their 2 drivers to test different setups each day which was showed by the difference in their times each day. Obviously, they have a reliable car which was proven by the number of laps they completed. Another team with a new pairing this season but the fact they have 2 drivers who need to outshine each other to move their careers forwards should help the team have some very competitive outings this season. With rumours in the paddock that the team might be sold this season they will be looking to put on an impressive start to the season.

Williams – 439 laps (Albon – 1.32.793 – Sargeant – 1.32.549)

The last few years for Williams have seen them become the team at the back more often than not. This season could see them move forward, Probably not into the midfield but at the very least clinging to their coat tales. They ran reliably over the 3 days which is always a good starting point and Alex Albon has a proven quick driver who is more than capable of solid results. They will need Logan Sergeant to be up to speed immediately if they are to move forward. All in all, it looks like Williams could finally be moving away from the back of the grid this season.

Williams appeared to make the most gains from last season’s testing. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

With the first race of the season being held at the same track in a week’s time the paddock didn’t have the usual rush to pack everything away so will no doubt spend the next week going over all the data and looking where they can find more speed for next weekend and also where to start looking for development.

The longest season ever is ahead of them, so the teams will know they have time to work through developments and make sure they go in the right direction for the season.

With RedBull looking not only quick but reliable, they will be the happiest of all the teams. Ferrari will be hoping to keep them honest and Mercedes could still be in the hunt from the first race. 2023 promises more surprises and entertainment and in just a week’s time, we will know who has got it right and who needs to go back to the drawing board.

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