Insight Dale Rodgers March 22, 2024 (Comments off) (141)

AUSGP: The Field from Turn 12

Each year we send The Race Torque’s Dale Rodgers to a corner on the Albert Park Grand Prix circuit to view the current crop of Formula 1 machines. Their strengths, the drivers who are pushing and the overall comparison of the ten F1 constructor’s latest offering. Turn 12 was the destination in 2024, the fast right hander leading into the final corners. 

This year we have divided the field into three categories. The Ones to Beat, the Mid Fielders and the ‘Can Do Better.’ Now this is a preview after Friday practice so if it is turned on its head by Sunday at 5.00pm, we take no responsibility.

The Ones to Beat.

After two hours of practice four teams genuinely found their car(s) and drivers at the pointy end. Ferrari, Aston Martin, McLaren and Red Bull. Scrambling in as the fifth team is Mercedes Petronas F1. George Russell saved the day for Mercedes as he was in the P3 and P6 after both sessions, whilst teammate and the pits lane most interesting wardrobe arrival driver, Lewis Hamilton chalked a P9 in Practice 1 but a questionable P18 in Practice 2. But let us look first at the pacesetters.

Down at Turn 12, the Ferrari pair were fast but regularly rattled the ripple strip on the exit. The Ferraris were both early on acceleration but looked edgy while putting down fast lap times. A stunning 1:17.277 was the reward for Charles Leclerc, which sent an ominous warning that the 2023 result in Melbourne may well be on the cards again.

After a less than fruitful Practice 1 for Fernando Alonso, the #14 Aston Martin came out punching in Practice 2. Typically, Alonso smooth and early on the gas in Turn 12, the car looked quick in the afternoon with minimal correction through the fast right hander. Teammate Lance Stroll was in the Top 10 in both sessions, but he was pushing hard, smashing the exit ripple strip on a number of occasions. Two distinctly different driving styles and yet only 1/10th of a second apart.

McLaren looked extremely competitive in every session. The car is stable, fast and both drivers can pick up the throttle very early on the apex of Turn 12. Melbourne’s own Oscar Piastri was P10 and P7, while Norris topped Practice 1 and held on for P9 in the second session. His Practice 1 time was only bettered by 4/10ths in the second session, whilst Piastri improved by just under a second.

Red Bull. This car is so well-balanced that it looks like it is on rails. Visibly quick through Turn 12 and under full acceleration, both Verstappen and Perez rarely ran the saw tooth kerb, but their exit speed was impressive. In the end not quite on Ferrari’s pace today, but little doubt Max will be a contender for pole and the race once again.

As aforementioned, it was very hard to get a real read on the Mercedes-AMG F1 W15. George Russell flew the flag, but teammate Lewis Hamilton was constantly struggling with a reported long brake pedal, but the Mercedes World Champ spent a lot of time fighting a recalcitrant car. Their Merc engines bark as they punch through Turn 12 with both cars hitting the ripple strip and producing the most sparks from the undertray when they venture out wide. Russell’s performance just got them into The Race Torque’s first category.

The Mid Field

Visa RB only needed a couple of 10ths from both drivers, and they would have been Top 10 in both practice sessions. Yuki Tsunoda finished in P5 and P10, while the other local Aussie favourite, Daniel Ricciardo, grabbed a P11 and P12. These cars both look smooth, not the outright pace of Ferrari and Red Bull, but not far off. Both drivers punched through Turn 12 and ran down to Turn 13 with a minimum of fuss, often the sign of a quick car.

Our mid field bunch is fairly small as The Could Do Better’s have a few more than usual.

Making it, however, is the Kick Sauber F1 Team. What a mouthful, but after two lacklustre performances in the Middle East, both cars were in the Top 15 today at Alber Park. Zhou Guanyu had a solid Practice 2 in P11 while adopted Aussie Valtteri Bottas came in P14. This was a good comeback after being at the tail of the field in P1. But the Sauber’s did not look quick at Turn 12 and appeared later on full acceleration than cars around them. Still, knocking on the Top 10 was a promising result.

And that leaves Williams. It included in the Mid Field category, to be fair, as Logan Seargeant carried Practice 2 honours by himself after Alex Albon binned it a Turn 6 in Practice 1. His time was still good enough for P12, while Sargeant ran a solid P14 and P13. As was the case in 2023 when Albon scored points, the Albert Park layout suits the Williams design philosophy and the FW46 is no exception. The car looks very well balanced through Turn 12 and the bark of the Mercedes Power Plant suggests they drivers are able to get good response as they are early on the throttle.       

The Could Do Better

For the third Formula 1 Grand Prix of 2024, Alpine and HAAS sit at the bottom of the field. At Turn 12, both cars are smooth, but visibly slower than every other team. Rarely challenging the ripple strip on the exit, the Alpine, in particular, looks a handful. Even through the enclosed cockpit, you can see drivers correcting the steering wheel.

The fall from grace for the Alpine team has been staggering and at no event so far in 2014 has the Alpine A524 looked a competitive package.

The HAAS looks smooth but clearly not fast enough to climb the order. P13 and P16 in Practice 1 and P16 and P19 in Practice 2 – albeit with both drivers outgunning each other.

Overall, the times were very very fast on Friday Practice results, with only 9/10th separating the Top 10. It will only get quicker…..

You might also like!