Now, I’ll try and keep this short and sweet but considering the race that we’ve just seen I’m not sure that’s entirely possible. In typically British fashion I complacently woke up a 5 am, for one of the few races this year that we have an early start for, and I was hoping that Melbourne would make the early morning worth it. Little did any of us know what Albert Park had in store for us.
The first small takeaway that was made apparent throughout the duration of the weekend were the issues that many of the drivers encountered when warming up their tyres. L. Last year F1 announced plans to move forward with lowering the temperature of the tyre blankets, however this change was met with stark criticism from teams and drivers alike. Despite F1’s probable abandonment of this proposal we saw spins, stoppages, and shunts from the top of the grid right down to the bottom, all due to the inability to bring the tyres up to the correct temperature. Whilst this contributed to solidifying the Australian Grand Prix as one of the undoubtable highlights of the season, it does raise the important question of how long can this go on before it takes a turn for the worst. Crashes are not indicative of a good race; they can provide entertainment at times but they’re also a substantial safety concern and if the tyre situation is not fixed urgently it could go beyond the entertainment and veer into a much more sinister side of side of the sport by adding additional hazards to an already dangerous sport.
The second surprising outcome of this weekend is that the stewards finally got it right… well almost. The FIA have not been short of facing scrutiny for their questionable decisions (to put it nicely) that have been plaguing the sport over the past couple of years, but today they looked to be in firm control of their decisions, most of the time. There was some doubt amongst drivers and teams as to whether the second red flag was entirely necessary, as it seems as though a safety car would have been satisfactory, but in an explosive drama-filled race that kept everyone on the edge of their seat and the adrenaline pumping through your veins, I was expecting a much more indecisive response from the stewards based off of their decisions as of late. Their definitive responses to the unrelenting action ensured that fans were treated to a spectacle that should be enough to hold us over for the following month on no F1 action.
It’s fair to give the FIA props where props are due but I wanted to dig a little deeper into the few errors that the stewards were called up on this week. Alongside the first call for a red flag one of the other FIA decisions that remains a grey area is the choice to give Sainz a 5 second penalty whilst restarting the initial lap that the collision occurred on. Though the penalty could be justified, in my opinion, there was a split amongst fans as some argued that if the lap would not be counted it was nonsensical to hand out a penalty to Sainz for an incident that occurred on a lap that, as far as the records will reflect, didn’t happen. On the other hand, there is an argument that Sainz’s collision would have received a penalty in any other race and it ultimately affected Alonso’s position in the short term, regardless of whether he was able to continue or not. Sainz’s team radio and post-race interviews could not be more evident in showing his frustration and disapproval of this decision, however the stewards are doing what we have all asked of them by providing clarity, continuity and a conclusive result that was not handed out after the race ended, and then taken back and then reinstated.
The final point that has seemingly flown under the radar is the Ocon-Gasly collision and the repercussions for it, or lack thereof. I’m not saying that I want to see anyone banned from a race, especially when they’ve put on a drive like Gasly did today, but I find it hard to believe that the blame for that incident doesn’t solely fall in the lap of Pierre Gasly. It’s understandable that it has been put down as a ‘first lap incident,’ as with the amount of collisions that the first laps saw today it makes sense that this would just be added to the long list and everyone moves on. However, in contrast to what I stated earlier surrounding the steward’s continuity on their decisions, this is one that falls into one of their possible mistakes this weekend as I think that there is a chance that if it was a different driver who did not have a potential race ban hanging in the balance, perhaps a different result may have been seen. I personally can’t see Gasly receiving a race ban this season as I don’t think it would do anything at all to help the credibility of the sport, which has been hotly debated over the past couple of years to say the least. Equally I don’t think that Gasly’s driving warrants the 10 points that he has nor is it reflective of his ‘dangerous driving’ that the points are supposed to represent. There have been much needed conversations surrounding how penalty points are awarded and whether it needs to be reformed, but ultimately I think that giving Gasly a penalty today would have been to the detriment of the sport.
The Australian Grand Prix has comfortably been the best race of the season and if it’s a sign of things to come then we are in for a treat this year. In a season that many of us predicted to be a bit of a bore, Albert Park has genuinely surprised me as I don’t think anyone could foresee such a thrilling race so early into the season. Everything fell into place to give us a nail biting start, ample overtakes and close calls, and a few restarts that shook up the grid creating an unforgettable race that I’m sure we’ll still be talking about come the end of the season.