Australian GP talking points: Farcical ending taints record-breaking weekend
Another race of the F1 season is in the history books and it is a race that for sure could have its very own chapter.
And after the chaos that was the 2023 Australian Grand Prix, I’m back to bring you all the talking points and power rankings with plenty to cover in both. Let’s get to it.
A farcical ending worse than Abu Dhabi 2021
Yup. I said it.
The ending of this Grand Prix was handled worse than that infamous day in F1 history in December 2021.
Two red flags in the space of technically 1 lap. An ending that should not have happened. Penalties and accidents that should not have happened. And all for what? Entertainment? Sorry, but this is Formula 1. It’s not NASCAR. It’s not WWE.
The fact it was decided to red flag the race after Kevin Magnussen’s incident on lap 54 was part of the issue. Yes, debris was an issue on the track. Yes, it was a hazard for the drivers. But that’s what the safety car is for. There have been plenty of moments in the history of the sport where a race has finished behind the safety car after worse incidents like this.
If you need to red flag the race, then the race simply should’ve been called at that point. With only two laps remaining after countbacks and formation laps, what is the point of having that happen? Again, for entertainment? At what risk? The carnage which we saw with seven cars going off in some form after the restart was always going to happen. Always. And that’s not just at the risk of taking away results from drivers who had worked had to be in that position all race. It was at the risk of injury or worse to the drivers who were always going to go absolutely gung ho in the closing moments in order to try and make up better positions.
Just ask Alpine. After an incredible drive by Pierre Gasly in the race, his heroics were taken from him in the absolute blink of an eye after the crash between him and teammate Esteban Ocon. Let me post this question: what if either driver was severely injured or killed? There would be massive questions being asked over that and the poor decision making by the FIA.
It also serves as a complete injustice for Gasly, Ocon and Carlos Sainz given how the countback then worked to determine the race.
After the restart was then promptly red flagged, it was deemed that the results would be counted back a lap, minus the cars that had been eliminated. If that is the case, why was Carlos Sainz punished for his incident with Fernando Alonso on a lap that it turns out technically didn’t count?
As someone who was sitting at the grandstands, the situation was made worse by the track commentators essentially spurring the crowd to cheer for the chaos even more. And when you’re surrounded by a majority of implant fans who are there thanks to Netflix with no proper understanding of the sport, it makes for a frustrating situation that once again goes to ruin the integrity of a sport with more than 70 years worth of history.
After the farcical ending of Abu Dhabi in 2021, hasty decisions were made. Michael Masi (who coincidently returned to the F1 paddock in Melbourne for the first time since that weekend) lost his job. The FIA renewed race ending procedures. And this is the result.
Decision making that seems unclear, unorganised and bring race endings that are bordering on an absolute joke.
Another question that has to be asked is why do these decisions take so long for stewards to make after renewing rules and reviewing them constantly? Why are the rules put in place by the governing body so hard to interpret by those who implemented them in the first place?
(Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
It’s once again showing a bad precedent for the sport moving forward. Given the discussion over the removal of free practice, the addition of more sprint races and two separate qualifying sessions for each race on a weekend and other elements that just seem hasty to appeal to this new generation of fans, Formula 1 is on a dangerous path to turn into something it has spent nearly three quarters of a century forging into something else.
Record crowds don’t necessarily mean positives
Another big talking point needs to be the crowds and fan experience at a Formula 1 race in this post Netflix boom.
It’s fantastic to see such passion and excitement for a sport that has always been one of the biggest and most followed in the world.
But record numbers doesn’t equal a better experience for a fan. In fact, I’d argue it makes it worse.
Extra long queues for food, beverages, toilets and to even get into the track. Prices increased for tickets by more than 30%. Items at the track having prices increased. The removal of such loyalty programs as GP Advantage being replaced by programs that cost money to even be considered to buying a ticket. Areas such as the Melbourne Walk being over crowded and having the atmosphere completely removed from it from how it was even five years ago. I could go on.
For those of us who have been going to the Australian Grand Prix for more than 20 years, there have been lots of complaints issues in many channels. The experience of going to a Grand Prix is all of a sudden losing it’s appeal. Especially when us loyal, die hard fans who have loved and followed the sport our whole lives are slowly getting drowned out by a younger generation who see it as bright and flashy and will probably not even remember liking it in five years time when they move on to the next trend.
It is also a bit concerning that an increase in numbers of fans coming through the gates is not reflected by more adequate seating, facilities or access in a venue that has been hosting the event for 26 years.
And these are issues that aren’t just purely an Australian Grand Prix problem. Every single race around the world is currently facing similar issues.
A middle ground needs to be found to maintain the fan experience at a Grand Prix moving forward, otherwise the sport risks losing all the fans it has kept over the years and hoping that this new found fame maintains itself longer than an average TikTok video.
Mature Verstappen continues to dominate
Through all the chaos on and off-track, one man continued to shine and that was a certain reigning two-time World Champion.
Let us be honest here. Max Verstappen was never going to lose the race in Melbourne. After a bit of a setback in Saudi Arabia, he came to Australia a man possessed and was hungry to add a win to his CV he had never achieved and help Red Bull break their 12 year drought around Albert Park. And he delivered in spades.
Bad start aside; he never looked challenged in the race. Even after the Mercedes took the lead and his anger at Lewis Hamilton’s overtake on him, he was in a league of his own, reflected by the fact that after overtaking Hamilton for the lead, he pulled an astonishing 2.5 seconds over his former Championship rival in half a lap. It was game over from that point on.
While Verstappen can obviously not win every single race this year anymore, it’s still not out of the realms of possibility that Red Bull could do exactly that. And given we’re in Baku in a few weeks’ time, a track in which Red Bull have won 3 out of the 5 races held and the last two, it looks likely that streak will continue.
A shimmer of light for Mercedes
Well who saw that coming?
Nobody clearly. Not even Mercedes themselves.
Both George Russell and Lewis Hamilton shone across the weekend, with Russell very nearly claiming a surprise pole position on the Saturday before Hamilton took a much deserved podium on Sunday to give some hope for Mercedes fans in 2023.
Ultimately they never looked like challenging for the win, but given Ferrari seemed to struggle across the weekend and Aston Martin were solid but not spectacular, Mercedes would be very happy leaving Melbourne with the points they scored.
Perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel for the team yet.
Piastri continues an Aussie tradition
Mark Webber 2002. Daniel Ricciardo 2012. Oscar Piastri 2023.
The last three Aussie drivers to race in F1 all have managed to score their debut points on home soil in each of those years.
For Piastri, it was a stroke of luck that saw him achieve that, with the Melbourne driver looking likely to finish just out of the points in 11th place before all the carnage.
But all the cards fell into play for Piastri and he was able to claim four points, and most importantly for him and McLaren, help get the papaya team on the board for 2023 alongside teammate Lando Norris who finished in sixth.
The result will help give Piastri confidence for the rest of the season as the team looks to build on their points and hopefully find some pace to ensure that even more points will come across the season.
This article was originally written for The Roar. You can read the published version here