Red Bull won in Melbourne, however the raw pace numbers indicate that the chasing pack of Aston, Mercedes and Ferrari has decreased (and even halved) the gap to the RB19 in two weeks according to the data analysis from the Australian GP, without major updates by any of the three teams.
As many will have noticed, it’s not so fair to assess the gaps in this third round as the race was run on a very controlled pace to end the race with the single-stop strategy, and Verstappen was able to further manage them thanks to the problems encountered on Saturday by his teammate.
While in Jeddah both the Dutchman and Sergio Perez showed all the pace of the RB19, pushing hard as they fought for a fast lap and victory, here the 25-year-old from Hasselt had no rival and even ran with a more conservative Power Unit mode according to a rival engineer.
It’s important to highlight that, despite the team’s claims, Red Bull has no interest in winning every race by a wide margin. Further back Ferrari has taken a step forward, finally the SF23 is at the level of Aston Martin and Mercedes on Sunday, even Alpine made itself dangerous before the late incident between Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon.
Australian GP, data analysis: Sainz better than Alonso and Hamilton, Alpine closes the gap
Ignoring the comparison with Red Bull for the reasons just listed, Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari was the fastest car on the track and for the first time the SF23 expressed more speed than the AMR23 in the race, showing that the work done in Maranello in recent weeks is beginning to pay off. However, there is a point to be made that Sainz’s comeback was countered by a containment race by the Hamilton-Alonso duo, so the SF-23’s strides especially compared to the AMR23 will certainly have to be proven again in the coming races.
Nonetheless, this weekend’s work was focused on finding a better qualifying-race compromise. Only communication errors made prevented both Sainz and Leclerc from being able to occupy a place in the first two rows of the grid. Since last year in Austria, it had never happened that Ferrari improved from qualifying to the race; this weekend the gap remained the same, however, around three tenths were missing on Red Bull’s side.
This season, the ‘Rossa’ has lost on average almost half a second of pace between Saturday and Sunday. A figure quite close to the 4 tenths lost post-TD039 in 2022, while before the summer break the F1-75 recovered a few thousandths in the race against the RB18. A positive aspect for Ferrari is that the SF23 performed better than its direct rivals in the last, twisty and technical, sector on Sunday.
Aston Martin, on the other hand, is the car that loses the least between Saturday and Sunday compared to Red Bull, just a tenth of a second if we analyze the data from the first three events although not considering Red Bull’s controlled pace in the second half of the races in Sakhir and Melbourne. In Australia, the difference in pace between the Spaniard and Lewis Hamilton was not enough for the number 14 to attempt an overtake, especially considering the AMR23’s top speed deficit.
As for Mercedes, it pulled the ace out of its sleeve on Saturday thanks to rather favorable conditions for the W14 and also to two good laps by George Russell and Lewis Hamilton: Sunday rewarded the seven-time world champion, for the first time on the podium this season; however, the race pace was, albeit slightly, slower than that of Aston Martin and Ferrari. According to the data analysis from the Australian GP the delay is quantifiable around half a tenth against the AMR23 and one tenth compared to the SF23.
The surprise on Sunday in Melbourne was Pierre Gasly’s race until lap 57. However, the Frenchman was helped by DRS, which was worth as much as 7 tenths in Australia, allowing the Frenchman to keep a similar pace to Sainz in the second phase of the race. Alpine’s real pace was on average 2-3 tenths from the group of Hamilton, Alonso and Sainz: like last year the French team seems to be recovering after an underwhelming start to the season, but major strides are needed to catch up with the teams in front.
‘Midfield’ data analysis: Alfa still underwhelming, McLaren and Haas on the upswing in Australia
After Jeddah one could attribute their poor performance to Piastri’s debris which hit Bottas’ car, but this weekend there is no excuse for Alfa Romeo: the C43 was faster only than the very poor AT04 and Sargeant’s FW45, and more than half a second slower than the Haas of Nico Hulkenberg, the author of a resounding weekend.
The Italian-Swiss team had started well in Bahrain but the next two events did not show a very good C43, despite the updates introduced in Melbourne. It will be important to get back on the right track and return to fighting for the points zone as in Sakhir.
On the other side, Haas and McLaren were much better in Melbourne compared to previous Sunday performances. Both Norris and Piastri finished the race in the top 10 in what has been a good track for McLaren for several years, taking advantage of the retirements of Leclerc, Gasly and Ocon, and the penalty given to Sainz. The situation has not changed so far, with the MCL60 still being only a small evolution of the 2022 MCL36. However, a major upgrade package will debut between Baku and Imola, which the team hopes will allow its two drivers to give Alpine a battle, or perhaps something more.
Haas was led by an excellent Nico Hulkenberg, who qualified tenth with a time 0.7s faster than Magnussen’s, and an equally solid and positive race that would have seen him in the top ten even without Leclerc’s retirement. The VF23’s problem is that, like for Ferrari, it loses so much speed between qualifying and the race (averaging 8 tenths missing in the first three races!), which is not good news also for Maranello considering that the American team’s concept is very similar their own.
Further back Alpha Tauri and Williams were once again the slowest, the latter very good in qualifying with Alexander Albon: the Thai driver’s mistake on lap 7 did not allow us to see the potential of the FW45 this weekend on a good circuit thanks to the many straights present and a low-energy asphalt. Yuki Tsunoda was the author of a good race, but once again the AT04 proved to be an underperforming car in qualifying and especially in the race: the first points of the season come on the worst weekend for the Faenza-based team, despite the new parts introduced in Melbourne.
Author: Andrea Vergani