F1: could Red Bull’s usually bulletproof reliability define the 2022 F1 season?
GP talking points: another DNF for Max, a resurgent Ferrari and the unsung hero of Aus - Alex Albon
We were somewhat spoilt last year when we were fortunate to witness one of the most exciting F1 seasons of all time. Watching the two best drivers in the world and two different teams slog it out over twenty-two races was never anything less than riveting but by comparison, yesterday’s Australian Grand Prix was a bit of a let-down.
Whilst it's clearly good for the sport to see Ferrari back on form, they were in a class of their own in Melbourne and one has to hope that someone is going to step up and give Charles Leclerc a run for his money. He leaves Australia 34 points clear of George Russell in second and a massive 46 points ahead of his most obvious title challenger, Max Verstappen, currently down in sixth.
The Ferrari is clearly the fastest car out there, with Leclerc bagging two poles, three fastest laps and two wins plus a second from the first three rounds. That isn’t entirely surprising given that whilst Red Bull were engaged in an out and out battle for the title in 2021, Ferrari had the opportunity to focus their efforts on developing their 2022 car. Red Bull are at least in the ballpark in terms of outright speed and definitely the best of the rest, but they must be hugely concerned about their mechanical reliability. The blue cars are usually bulletproof, having retired for mechanical reasons just five times in the previous three seasons. That’s a 96 per cent reliability record across 60 races and 120 starts for both cars.
Compare that to their 50 per cent record so far this season, and you have to imagine there are some worried faces back at Red Bull HQ in Milton Keynes. With twenty races still to come though, let’s not write off Verstappen and Red Bull’s championship just yet. One only has to look at McLaren to see how quickly things can change in F1. They looked utterly lost in the first two races of the year and yet they came to Australia with a car capable of qualifying on the second row of the grid.
Equally impressive was the form of Alex Albon, who was arguably driver of the day. Having started in last place, he somehow managed to coax 57 laps out of one set of hard tyres and ran in seventh place on merit until forced to make a mandatory stop for soft rubber on the final lap. He claimed to have driven the last twenty-five laps as if they were qualifying laps and Williams’s first point for tenth place was his just reward.
Meanwhile, spare a thought for Sebastian Vettel who started his season in Australia having missed the first two rounds due to a bout of Covid. He picked up a €5,000 fine for riding a marshall’s scooter back to the pits on Friday afternoon, and then only managed to qualify 17th the following day. He didn’t have much more luck in the race as he retired after hitting the wall on lap 23, prompting Damon Hill to joke on Twitter, ‘please remind me not to get on the same flight as Seb Vettel’.
He’s a four-time world champion and one of F1’s good guys and it's only ten months since he finished second in Azerbaijan last year, so he’s still got it. Let’s hope that Aston Martin can turn things around quickly because there is no way that someone like Vettel should be knocking about towards the back of the grid like this.
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