Ahead of the Australian Grand Prix, the mood around Ferrari was rather positive, despite the difficult start to their 2023 Formula 1 season. Prior to qualifying, reserve driver Robert Shwartzman was part of the coverage on F1TV, and he described the feeling around the team as “very good.”
That is certainly not the case following the Grand Prix itself.
Charles Leclerc was knocked out of the race on the opening lap, after getting caught in a collision with Lance Stroll that sent Leclerc’s SF-23 into the gravel and out of the race.
Then it looked like Carlos Sainz Jr. was going to fall victim to a bit of bad luck. With Sainz running inside the top five, Ferrari made the decision to bring him into the pits when a virtual safety car came out following Alex Albon crashing into the barrier and out of the Grand Prix. The thinking was that Sainz could switch to the hard compound and go the distance without another stop.
Ferrari was not alone in making that decision. Mercedes brought in race leader George Russell, who made the same switch to the hards.
Unfortunately, the timing went from perfect, to flawed, through no fault of either team. Race officials then brought out the red flag, citing gravel on the track, and every other team got to make the same switch under red flag conditions. Russell was now in seventh, and the Ferrari driver was outside the top ten.
Both Sainz, and Russell, had given up good track position and received no advantage.
However, while Russell would soon retire after a failure, Sainz managed to charge his way through the field. That included this incredible overtake of Pierre Gasly, with Sainz hitting the Alpine driver with a perfect dummy move:
When the race was stopped for another red flag with just a few laps remaining, the Ferrari driver was fourth, and in position to push for a podium.
Perhaps he pushed a bit too hard.
Sainz collided with Fernando Alonso just after the restart, sending the Aston Martin driver into the gravel. That touched off a chain reaction of events that would see Gasly and Esteban Ocon collide, knocking both Alpines out of the Grand Prix:
The red flag came out yet again and everyone from the teams, the fans in Melbourne, and bleary-eyed sports writers in the United States, wondered how race officials would handle the finish. Would there be another standing start? Would the race finish under a yellow flag?
Eventually, race officials set the order for the restart, which would occur under a safety car.
They also handed down a five-second penalty to Sainz, dropping him out of the points.
As you might expect, it was a bitter blow for the Ferrari driver:
Max Verstappen took the checkered flag, and Ferrari took home nothing to show for their efforts. Worse still, the team now sit in fourth place in the Constructors’ standings, well behind Red Bull, and 30 points behind Mercedes, who sit in third place:
Still, the team did their best to put a positive spin on the weekend.
“It was unfortunate to end the race this way today, but it was a racing incident and I don’t think that we could have done anything differently,” said Leclerc after the Grand Prix. “Disappointing, but on to the next one where I hope things will run more smoothly again.”
“I had a good start and felt confident on the medium tyre but we were unlucky, pitting just before they brought out the first red flag and I dropped down to P11. From there I managed to pull off a good comeback with nice overtakes and solid pace, so for that I’m happy,” said Sainz.
“It was a good race overall but the penalty ruined all the effort and I don’t agree with it,” he added. “The frustration I feel right now will be difficult to digest, but I will try to think only of the positives from today and focus on the next race.”
New Team Principal Frédéric Vasseur, who took over from Mattia Binotto this past winter, talked about the “progress” the team has made through three races.
“Today’s result, not scoring points, does not reflect the progress we have made as a team. We have taken a step forward in terms of pure performance and even more importantly, we had a decent and consistent race pace on the various tyre compounds, including the hard. Only yesterday’s qualifying did not match our potential.”
“Our initial reaction is one of frustration, with Charles clearly unlucky to be involved in a racing incident at the start. It was a good call to bring Carlos in under the first Safety Car, but following the red flag, he had to start again from P11, from which he recovered very well,” added Vasseur. “The penalty had a devastating effect on the final result for him but despite this, we go back to Maranello knowing that we are moving in the right direction and we now have three weeks to keep working on optimising and updating the SF-23 for the coming races.”
Ferrari now has an extended break to work on the SF-23, before trying to right the ship at Baku at the end of the month.