The third round of the 2023 Formula 1 (F1) Championship took place on April 2 in Melbourne, Australia, culminating in a second win of the year for Max Verstappen after a wild 58 laps. Following closely behind were Sir Lewis Hamilton (+0.179) and Fernando Alonso (+0.769). Lance Stroll (+3.082) added a fourth place finish to Aston Martin’s strong performance with Sergio Perez (+3.320). Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc (P20, DNF) and Mercedes Geroge Russell (P18, DNF) did not finish the race after getting stuck in a gravel trap and suffering an engine failure, respectively. Carlos Sainz (P12, +6.594) also finished outside of the points, capping off a miserable day for the Italian manufacturer.
Qualifying came with quite a few surprises. Hamilton held provisional pole after the first run and finished just +0.372 seconds behind Verstappen in third. Russell made the front row as well, finishing just +0.236 behind the Dutchman. Both Mercedes outqualified their strongest customer team (Aston Martin) for the first time this year. This could mean that the circuit played more to the strengths of Mercedes’ car or that the team has a better understanding of their current package. Either way, being ahead of the Astons and that close to Red Bull indicates substantial progress for the team. Sergio Perez was not in the mix because he beached his car in a gravel trap before his first run, meaning he qualified last. He then decided to start from the pitlane to avoid any potential first lap chaos.
And first lap chaos there was. George Russell got the jump on Max Verstappen into turn 1 and Hamilton relegated the defending champion to third a couple of corners later. While this position swapping was going on at the front, Lance Stroll made contact with Charles Leclerc. The Monegasque driver spun into a gravel trap and his race ended after three corners. On lap 7, Alex Albon lost control of his car. He spun into a wall, suffering terminal damage to his car, and displaced some gravel onto the track, which caused a Safety Car. At that point in time, it seemed like a good idea to take a cheap pit stop and lose less time — like Hamilton did last race. This strategy seemed like an especially good idea because the hard tires for that weekend were believed to be durable enough to last a whole race, meaning whoever pit would not need to pit again. Russell and Sainz opted to go for this advantage. However, shortly after the two came out of the pits, a red flag came out. A red flag freezes the field, but also brings all drivers in the pit lane and allows them to change tires for free. As a result, the advantage Russell and Sainz went for was entirely neutralized and in fact became a disadvantage.
After the red flag restart, the race moved along smoothly, aside from Russell’s engine failure. Max Verstappen drove off into the sunset, showing off the strength of the Red Bull car. The race was interesting behind the leader, though. Hamilton and Alonso spent much of the race in close proximity to each other, with just over a one second gap between the two. This is important because of a mechanism called the Drag Reduction System (DRS). At every F1 circuit, there are straights that are designated DRS zones, with DRS detection points just before the straights. In practice and qualifying, DRS can be activated within these zones — opening up a gap in the rear wing to decrease air resistance and speed up the car. In the race, you must be within one second of the car ahead at the detection point to be granted DRS. As a result, Alonso would push to get within that 1 second range, and Hamilton would push to keep him far behind. This tactical battle went on the entire race up to the second red flag.
Kevin Magnussen (P17, DNF) caused that second red flag when he lost his right rear wheel after contact with the barrier coming off of turn two. Again, teams took the free pit stop to put on soft tires, as there were only going to be two laps left after the restart. The restart brought chaos. At turns one and two, Sainz ran into Alonso, Logan Sargent (P16, DNF) rear-ended Nyck De Vries (P15, DNF), Sergio Perez ran through the gravel, and the two Alpines of Pierre Gasly (P13, DNF) and Esteban Ocon P14, DNF). And then at turn three, Stroll also ran wide. This series of crashes produced another red flag. After a lengthy decision process of whether or not to finish the race under the pre-restart or post-restart order, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA, the governing body of F1) determined to use the former and paraded the cars around to effectively end the race under safety car (which is why the gaps are so close). However, Carlos Sainz received a 5-second penalty for his contact with Alonso. Because the cars were so close at the finish, this meant he finished as the last of the cars still running. Consequently a P4 finish with 12 turned into a P12 with no points — as only the top 10 get points.
The takeaways from the race are continued Red Bull dominance, progress for Mercedes, and more misery for Ferrari. The next race is not until the end of the month, though, so there is plenty of time for teams to update their cars — in fact, rumors are already flying around about who is upgrading what. After round three, here is what the standings look like:
Drivers Championship Standings
- Max Verstappen (Red Bull) - 69
- Sergio Perez (Red Bull) - 54
- Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) - 45
- Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) - 38
- Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) - 20
- Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) - 20
- George Russell (Mercedes) - 18
- Lando Norris (McLaren) - 8
- Nico Hulkenburg (Haas) - 6
- Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) - 6
Constructors Championship Standings
- Red Bull - 123
- Aston Martin - 65
- Mercedes - 56
- Ferrari - 26
- McLaren - 12
- Alpine - 8
- Haas - 7
- Alfa Romeo - 6
- Alpha Tauri - 1
- Williams - 1
The next race will be April 28-30 in Baku, Azerbaijan and, notably, will use a special Sprint Weekend format. Stay tuned for a debrief on this twist as this season’s drama continues to unfold.