Dre’s Race Review: F1’s 2024 Australian Grand Prix

16 days after being on an operating table, Carlos Sainz has a career-drive to break the streak again. Alonso’s penalty, Williams chassis drama and more discussed as Dre talks a loaded Australia.

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Dre Harrison Reviews



Read time: 11 mins

“Red vs Blue.”

Hey folks, sorry this was a day late, I was physically cooked after The Thermal Challenge. More on that on Wednesday, but it’s time to start my DRR’s for the week and it’s time to head to the land down under and the Australian Grand Prix. And after 43 straight races and 1,055 consecutive points scored in F1, Max Verstappen leaves a race weekend with a goose egg and a broken brake disc after it got stuck on the grid. It paved the way for F1’s greatest opportunist to take another streak-stopping win. 

17 days ago, Carlos Sainz was on an operating table having his appendix removed, less than a month out from being outed to the world as the man whose seat will be taken by Lewis Hamilton. Yesterday, he won his third Grand Prix in the most convincing fashion of his career to date. 

Sainz was excellent right off the bat. He out-qualified and outraced Charles Leclerc, the man who’s often taken the spectacular headlines in that Ferrari camp, all while barely being able to get out of the car under his own steam. Once Max’s brake caught fire, Sainz was never touched en route to his win. It’s an early exclamation point for a strong start to his 2024 season. Yes, Charles had a more severe braking problem in Bahrain, but Sainz got some rub for his bullish passing of his teammate and finishing as best of the rest to the established Bulls.

People understandably, off the back of one of his strongest career drives, were quick to proclaim that someone’s got to hire him given his impending free agency and his status as the probable #1 name on the board that a team may take on ability alone. But if you survey the lay of the land in F1, it’s just not as simple as that. 

Red Bull might have an open seat for 2025 depending on Sergio Perez. And while Checo was poor in Australia, he did have the mitigation of Fernando Alonso’s tear-off stuck on his car. Beyond that, he’s been fine in taking second place behind Max. That might be enough for another short-term deal. And even if it isn’t, is Red Bull prepared to go beyond the academy for only the third time ever? Sainz’s departure from the umbrella was hardly graceful when he was briefly in a Renault. 

Mercedes has said the quiet part out loud, they see the future of their team in Andrea Kimi Antonelli, even if it meant sacrificing Lewis Hamilton to clear him a path to F1. Pair him alongside George Russell and that’s a strong team for another half-decade at least. McLaren’s drivers are locked in until 2026 at least. That only leaves Aston Martin and hoping Fernando Alonso causes yet another high-profile breakup, or the Audi project, which is an immediate heavy downgrade in the short-to-medium term for CS55. A harsh sentence for one of the field’s best. 

But that just sums up the Spanish driver’s career. Sainz reminds me so much of the career of Nico Rosberg. I loved it when he won the 2016 World Championship and immediately retired because he finally got to step out of the shadow of so many who controlled his narrative. (Hey Secret Base, he’d make for a great Prism episode.) From his Dad being a World Champion of his own, to his former best friend Lewis Hamilton getting the greater career opportunity early on, dealing with Michael Schumacher when he finally got into a top team with Mercedes, only then for Lewis to come back and be THE guy in F1. Nico’s 2016 was the perfect middle finger to ride off into the sunset with. Sainz might not ever get that happy ending. 

Sainz got to F1 as a very good prospect but was immediately outshined by Max Verstappen, a generational talent. Danill Kvyat jumped him in the queue at Red Bull. His stock took a beating at Renault via Nico Hulkenberg, a polarising but quality driver. He rebuilt himself as a solid anchor at McLaren but again has failed to make Ferrari his own. 

In my time at WTF1, the most common hot take I got in my inbox for their Podcast was Carlos Sainz being the better Ferrari driver, almost like his strength as an intelligent, reasonably consistent “floor guy” and good qualifier was a dirty word, with so many fans ignoring Leclerc’s stronger pace and form and his narrative via his occasional mistakes. 

For the Spaniard, his time in red will be remembered, with teammate Charles Leclerc’s horrifying run of bad luck in the last 3 years becoming an asterisk on Sainz’s highlight reel. His first win was a mismanaged mess by Maranello, with Leclerc making a heroic effort despite a damaged car. His second and third wins have come when Verstappen wasn’t competitive, and in Singapore, Leclerc was put on a losing strategy and then had his car crippled. For every argument that pushes Sainz to the moon, another valid one brings him back down to Earth. 

Sainz turns 30 in September, and I hope the third chapter of his career is one where he can truly shine as “the guy” and stand up on his own two feet as an elite driver, without the caveats that have plagued his career. Maybe something like his time at McLaren when the pressure was largely off and he got to embrace their rebrand into the not-so-corporate, papaya Mac. Maybe Audi is that outlet for him. Maybe he can escape the shadow that’s haunted his career. 

This is one of those incidents where there is no “good” outcome. On the final lap of the race, Fernando Alonso and George Rusell are in a close battle for sixth. Russell gets caught out by the closeness of Alonso’s car as he takes the Turn 6 apex, loses control of the car and hits the outside wall, pushing him back out onto the track. Alongside the inevitable jabs about another final lap failing for GR63, there was a surprise steward call-up for both him and Fernando. The stewards alleged that Alonso drove “erratically” into that Turn 6 complex. Alonso admitted some degree of fault for it, and as a result, took a 20-second time penalty that dropped him from sixth to eighth. 

Fans inevitably boiled piss that one of the most trusted elite drivers on the grid had the book thrown at him for this one. At face value, I did too. But looking back at the data… I think the stewards probably did get this one right. 

Compared to him at full speed, Alonso entered Turn 6 forty kilometres per hour slower than he usually did. He also did that old trick you do on a video game when you know you’ve braked too early for a corner and quickly get back on the throttle. Alonso’s a wily old fox, and I could see what he was trying to do. He was trying to enter the corner slower so he could maximise his exit and try to mitigate the massive upcoming straight and DRS advantage that Russell was going to have heading towards the Turn 9/10 complex. It’s a potentially great trick… he just didn’t execute it well enough. 

And while the stewards struggled to explain this on the report (And I’m glad they did, they should do it more often in my opinion), it did make sense to this writer, and the likely consequence of Russell suddenly getting an extra dose of dirty air he wasn’t prepared for, likely led to his error and his car in the fence. While it didn’t cause a collision like we normally associate with poor driving standards, it was driving unnecessarily erratically, and I can understand the penalty. 

Even if I thought a DTP/20 seconds was harsh, I get why it’s happened that way because a lot of fans and drivers have pushed for more consequential penalties and 10 seconds, the now go-to rate for a collision or an advantage gained by leaving the track, wouldn’t have changed Alonso’s finishing position. I have issues with that though, because it feels like the stewards are punishing more on the outcome, rather than the act itself, and I’m not sure that’s how the sport should be policed. 

And there’s the other problem, this is only going to add more murky ground to evaluating incidents in the stewards’ room. At least with collisions and track departures, they’re fairly clear-cut when it comes to apportioning blame. All stewarding decisions have a degree of subjectivity and adding another clause, the “aggravating circumstances”, will only make the grey area of judgment calls that much bigger. 

It didn’t help that in Formula 3 this weekend, their stewards deemed Nikola Tsolov’s aggressive hip check towards Alex Dunne in practice an accident, which only led to a three-place grid drop. Especially when there’s a good argument that the move was intentional. It’s an easy pinata to whack at with our sticks as fans, and I hope we get better communication behind these decisions or else we’re going to be seeing even more backlash towards the guys in the box going forward. 

Williams gave themselves an almighty headache on Friday after Alex Albon had another nasty shunt at Turn 6 during Friday’s FP1. As a result, the chassis was damaged beyond repair, and because Williams didn’t have a spare at the circuit, they were left with only one care for the weekend and a painful decision – Run Logan Sargeant on his own, or dismantle his car and give it to Albon, withdrawing Sargeant for the weekend. James Vowles chose the latter. And for the first time since he got to F1, Sergeant drew genuine sympathy from the audience on socials.

I completely understand Vowles’s decision. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Albon has carried Williams since he got there, scoring nearly 90% of all of Williams’ points since his debut there in 2022. He has outclassed Sargeant in every way since the American arrived last year. If you’re going to pick one driver to give you the best possible chance of scoring, it’s Alex, even if you want to ignore the “unfair vibes” of Albon being the one to wreck his car, not Logan. This is a business, and points are everything, especially in this era where the lower half of the field is a bloodbath. That I can understand. 

What irks me about Williams is this was a decision that never had to be made at all. Williams already had a chassis written off in Japan in 2023 when Sargeant had his huge qualifying wreck there, I felt like that could have been a lesson learned in terms of being prepared for the worst. But Vowles has pushed this line that the team’s poor internal resources forced them into gambling without a chassis and it’s now paid the price for not doing so. 

Did it cost them points? Probably not. Albon’s 11th place was flattering with Russell’s late retirement and Bottas’ suffering yet another dodgy wheel nut in the pits. But it was a weekend where two of their rivals in Haas and RB scored good points. Worst case scenario.

And I’m not normally this blunt when I talk about F1, but today I’ll make an exception – Logan Sargeant is finished beyond this season. Vowles’s decision was a damning one, a public vote of no confidence in the driver you gave a second chance to at the end of last season. If you can’t back your second driver to get you out of a pinch, what is the point of him being there? Through no direct fault of his own, you’ve now dented his confidence, maybe beyond repair. When Logan said it was the toughest day of his career, I sincerely believed it. I’m not sure there’s any way back for him at Williams at this point. 

I’ve sung Vowles praises on here as Williams Team Principal. He was sensational in 2023 at getting the best out of a very difficult situation. We’re now only finding out more about just how difficult that situation is via weekends like this one. This is the first time he’s truly dropped his foot in it since taking over. I heard via friends of friends that he was extremely apologetic towards fans in Australia over the decision he made. It backs up my feelings that there is genuine sincerity and empathy with him that other team bosses lack. But this was a situation he’s badly mismanaged and by the end of the season, it may cost Williams dearly.

I fear Valtteri Bottas on track is winding it down a little bit, but props to him for his hilarious Uber Eats commercial he filmed before the weekend started. Tremendous and rare to see such “rizz” in a sport where rarely do you see guys take themselves so unseriously (affectionately).

As for his team, it’s beyond embarrassing that for three races in a row they’ve had pitstop errors, and it seems like they’ve adopted super-light wheel nuts that sheer when the wheel guns kick in. I think it genuinely cost Sauber points this weekend. Horrendous.

Haas gets both cars in the points for the first time since Austria 2022. Brilliant work again from Komatsu’s team who used different strategies and strong drives from Magnussen and Hulkenberg to score three more precious points. I’m a little cautious towards more praise as they have a knack of starting strong before fading as the year goes on, but this is an excellent start and it blows every pre-season prediction for them right out of the water. It looks like they might have something here after three competitive weekends in a row.

Yuki Tsunoda drove a very good weekend to finish 8th for RB, getting them off the mark as well after great quali speed and an excellent first stint to stay with Lance Stroll. It only builds up more pressure for Daniel Ricciardo after another relatively poor showing. The Honey Badger needs to find that Late-2023 form again, and quickly.

This may shock some people – I was fine with how Race Control handled the final lap crash of Russell. I know a lot of people reacted to the radio footage of Russell’s fear after being stranded in the middle of the circuit, but the VSC, neutralising the field to 40% speed did exactly what a Red Flag would have done anyway. More than one thing can be right – F1 could easily have a built-in safety team like IndyCar has to have an immediate response to an accident on a neutralised track.

IndyCar could have a rulebook and stewards that don’t undermine the brilliant team they have via delaying cautions so that they can be “fair” to their race leaders. My overall point here is, there are always ways we can improve safety. Let’s just not wait until a big visual accident happens before we have those conversations. No matter which series you bat for, we should all want the best possible safety measures for the gladiators we choose to watch every weekend.

The one thing on safety I will say here though, is that Turn 6’s runoff needs to be extended. We saw it with Russell, Albon in the past and Dennis Hauger in the F2 race, it can push cars back onto the race track like Eau Rouge did in the past at Spa. I think that needs to be addressed as it’s a constant safety issue at Albert Park.

Mercedes… Dumpster Fire. Even ignoring Russell’s crash and Hamilton’s power-unit failure, they are now the clear Number 4 team in the sport and they’ve been worse year-on-year since these regulation set started. They need answers and they’re not going to be getting them anytime soon. 

Lando Norris was superb this weekend and more people seemingly cared about a team orders call that didn’t matter in the end. Odd. 

And finally, good for Susie Wolff for standing on business and taking the FIA to a criminal complaints court in France over her bullshit investigation against her in December over “conflicts of interest”. I agree with her fully, someone in the FIA needs to be held to account for it.

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Somehow can now call himself a Production Coordinator at the Motorsport Network, coming off the back of being part of the awkward Johto Era at WTF1. All off a University Project that went massively out of hand. Weird huh?

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