Why F1 will leave Australia with more questions than answers

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The Australian Grand Prix hosts the third round of the 2024 Formula 1 season this weekend, with the event staged around Albert Park.

It used to be a tradition for the Melbourne-based race to open the new F1 campaign, however, Bahrain has been the season-opening stage since 2021 – Australia is poised to return to the curtain-raising slot next year.

Assessing the true F1 pecking order after the Australian Grand Prix when it was the frequent first round was always a difficult task due to its layout more akin to a street circuit, and the fact there was more potential to extract in the following rounds.

The situation is similar again this year even though two races have already been staged in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia where Red Bull and Max Verstappen dominated in both, with Ferrari taking the final spot on the podium.

Behind them, the trio of McLaren, Mercedes and Aston Martin seem closely knit and are looking to make the jump and contend for a position inside the top three.

Suzuka a better indicator

Whatever the form book may say in Melbourne, teams are not expecting it to present a true picture of the ultimate pecking order.

“Australia we know is a very particular track and Tarmac,” said McLaren team principal Andrea Stella. “It’s a Tarmac on which, as soon as you have a drop of rain, it’s very slippery.”

There is no rain forecast for this weekend’s race around Albert Park, but the unique nature of the circuit remains.

Instead of drawing conclusions after the upcoming round, teams are now looking to round four around the Suzuka Circuit in Japan to provide clearer answers as to the performance of their cars.

“In all honesty, the way the calendar is this year, I think four races in, we’ll have a pretty good idea,” said senior Ferrari engineer Jock Clear.

“You’ve got Japan in there, which is a hell of a circuit to measure a car. So that kind of circuit, you’re going to find out a lot.”

			© Red Bull Content Pool


© Red Bull Content Pool

Clear’s assessment was mirrored by Stella who also views Japan as a significant event to dissect the pecking order.

“I wouldn’t classify Australia as ‘Oh, that’s a normal one’,” Stella added.

“I think it’s going to be a little bit of an exercise of averaging across Bahrain, Saudi [Arabia], Australia, and Japan is another interesting one.

“It is a good test, and for us, it will be a very interesting test to check where we are in Japan. Japan was a very competitive one for us (in 2023) where we were P2 on the grid.”

Oscar Piastri out-qualified team-mate Lando Norris at the circuit last year, only for the Briton to reverse the order in the grand prix, with Verstappen winning from pole position.

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