2022 Australian Grand Prix Race Report
You heard it here first!
There was action aplenty as a new era in Formula 1 kicked off with the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on the streets of Albert Park, where not even the departure of 8-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton, could stop Mercedes’ winning form.
Max Verstappen took victory in his first outing for the Brackley based team, taking the championship lead for the first time in his F1 career. However, this success didn’t come easy for the Dutchman, as his former Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was on his tail for much of the race. With the McLaren-Mercedes package at his disposal, Ricciardo scored a podium at his home race for the first time, having been denied a podium post-race back in 2014. Behind them, their respective team-mates George Russell and Lando Norris enjoyed a spectacular battle for the final podium position, with Russell eventually prevailing in the second Mercedes. It was a battle that left Russell and Norris reminiscing about their F2 days post-race, with both drivers using the new aero regulations too good effect, as their battle continued for corner after corner, lap after lap.
Behind them was a tightly fought battle between drivers from Renault, Ferrari, Aston Martin and Alpha Tauri, from 5th down to 10th. Despite not having the overall pace, the Renault drivers went in a different direction on strategy, giving them the upper hand. The rule change mandating use of all 3 tyre compounds in 2021 gave Renault the opportunity to start the race on the harder tyres and switch to the softs late on after Nico Hulkenberg stopped on the circuit, bringing out the safety car. This gave track position to the Renault drivers with Fernando Alonso in 5th and home race debutant (and Renault academy graduate) Oscar Piastri in 8th.
Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel was running in 5th for much of the race ahead of the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz, who appeared to be faster in race trim. That was until Vettel made a mistake on the final turn on lap 26, giving Sainz the run into turn 1. Both Sainz and Vettel were faster than Alonso ahead after the safety car restart, but were unable to make any advances on the Spaniard despite their best efforts. Behind the two works’ Renault cars, the Renault power units paid dividends for Alpha Tauri as reigning double Formula E champion Antonio Felix Da Costa and Formula 2 championship challenger Juri Vips rounded out the top 10.
The battle from 11th to 16th was a battle not for points, but for honour. This battle was headed by 2016 World champion Nico Rosberg returning for the works’ Volkswagen team. Volkswagen’s debut outing became increasingly disastrous throughout the weekend, with Rosberg as their only finisher during the race. But their power unit proved to be powerful, albeit unreliable, as Rosberg challenged the likes of Alonso and Da Costa early on before an MGU-K failure compromised his performance and put him into the clutches of Williams, Haas and Alfa Romeo.
Valtteri Bottas had a strong outing on his return to Williams, finishing just behind the man he replaced at Mercedes, Rosberg, in 12th place. In his second season in Formula 1, Mick Schumacher had a solid race for Alfa Romeo; finishing 13th despite starting from the pit lane after mechanical issues prevented him from taking part in qualifying. Behind Schumacher was his old F2 championship rival and Haas driver Callum Ilott, also in his second season, closely followed by team mate Theo Pourchaire, the Frenchman impressing on his debut. Robert Shwartzman showed flashes of pace in the other Alfa Romeo, out-qualifying both Haas’ and Bottas in the Williams, but a lock-up in his first stint and pushing his tyres too hard in his third stint left him languishing in 16th. Williams’ Nicholas Latifi was last across the line in 17th, but his race pace matched that of Alpha Tauri and he would likely have finished higher if he hadn’t received a puncture after Leclerc and Stroll’s collision on the first lap.
Red Bull endured an awful weekend plagued with reliability woes as customers of the new Volkswagen outfit which, as already stated, was powerful yet unreliable. Pierre Gasly achieved a mere 12 laps of the race before the turbo cried enough, while Alex Albon failed to even start the race, with a total PU failure before lights-out. The only light at the end of the tunnel was Red Bull’s chassis, which appeared to perform well against the McLarens and Ferraris with regards to tyre life and mechanical grip.
Nico Hulkenberg also struggled with unreliability all weekend in the other Volkswagen car, although he too was encouraged by the power out-put of the Volkswagen power unit as well as the stability of the VW chassis, despite retiring on lap 40. Although he qualified 4th ahead of Lando Norris, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc retired on lap 1 after a collision with Lance Stroll of Aston Martin. After a bad start, Leclerc made a move down the inside of turn 1 on Stroll, however with multiple cars on the outside of Stroll, contact was inevitable.
Formula 1’s new era has managed to hit the ground running with an amazing Australian Grand Prix, but can this level of action and unpredictability span across the course of a season?
…ok I might be reaching a bit with some of these predictions, but I’d certainly love to see it!