CAROL’S CORNER: Mercedes has proven they can close the gap to Red Bull

© Steve Etherington for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd.

By Carol M. Creasey

Ahead of the Australian Grand Prix, Mercedes have been posting positive news about how they are getting good results in the wind tunnel, but many people appeared to be very sceptical.

After the first two race of the 2023 season, there was a feeling of huge disappointment circulating amongst fans on the Internet, and indeed in practice in Australia there was no indication that any steps forward had been made. But then came Qualifying. During Q3 it was apparent that Mercedes’ car was faster, although Lewis Hamilton said he continues to feel he is not properly ‘connected’ to the car. However, at one point in Quali he was on provisional pole, but was unable to better his lap due to traffic. Ultimately, George Russell did well to qualify in P2, while Lewis was right behind him in P3. Max Verstappen was on pole, and Fernando Alonso in P4. Lewis was very buoyant afterwards, when interviewed he said he was going to try and win the race, and got a roar of approval from the fans in the crowd.

At the start of the race both Mercedes drivers started off very well, while Verstappen had a poor start, so they capitalised by getting in front of him. Lewis pulled off a masterclass in race craft when he passed Verstappen at the bend without touching him or running him off the track, although the Dutch driver didn’t see it that way. He complained over the radio, but the stewards looked at the incident and decided there was no further action needed.

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Lewis slowly caught up with George, but after the young Briton pitted under the Safety Car, a subsequent red flag compromised his strategy and race. He came out in P7, whereas other drivers got a free pit stop. Lewis then led the race from Verstappen, but was eventually overtaken, and just behind him was Alonso, hot on his trail. Lewis hung in there, while Bono warned him that Alonso was trying to make him destroy his tyres, and not to fall for it. At one point Lewis even told Bono that he was determined to beat the Spaniard. In the meantime Russell had more bad luck, as his car caught fire because his engine had failed, an extremely unusual occurrence for Mercedes, so he had no choice but to retire.

Lewis continued to hold Alonso at bay, and during that time there were three safety cars, and red flags with race restarts. Sergio Perez, who had started from the back worked his way up to P5 and Charles Leclerc had a DNF. Ultimately, Lewis managed to hold onto his second place, and was delighted to be on the podium again. Alonso praised Lewis’ driving, commenting that it had been faultless, and he had done his best to cause the Briton to make a mistake, but was unsuccessful.

As a footnote, former F1 race director Michael Masi was in the paddock this weekend, while many people questioned how he dared to show his face after what happened at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. When Lewis and Toto were asked if they would speak with Masi, they both said no, as there was nothing to say.

After the race Mercedes promised to continue to push, and Lewis again thanked the team and tried to inspire them to fight on. I am sure the cheers he got from the crowd when he was on the podium will encourage him to carry on the good work he is doing with the team. There is now a four-week break before the next race in Azerbaijan, so it’s a good opportunity for Mercedes to improve their car even more. In Australia they have certainly proven they are more than capable of getting closer to Red Bull as the season progresses.

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