2023 Australian Grand Prix
Budding Formula 1 tech-journalist Ashwin Issac pens his ‘F1 Midfield Tales’ from the 2023 Australian Grand Prix. ‘F1 Midfield Tales’ will be a combination of data and analysis that will aim to dissect the uber-competitive F1 midfield race-after-race.
The Albert Park circuit in the land down under is an adored street track just south of Melbourne’s central business district. The Grand Prix event that receives one of the highest attendances never ceases to create an enjoyable atmosphere for the travelling Formula 1 circus.
This weekend’s race had all the thrills and spills of a blockbuster which ended in chaos and uncertainty. The recently resurfaced circuit with an altered layout, implemented last year, makes this track low degrading in nature. With an additional DRS zone and sweeping corners, the aerodynamically efficient cars held a clear advantage, but the lack of slow-speed corners and the aforementioned track characteristics tightened the pack throughout the weekend.
The preparation for the weekend was marred by the mixed weather offered by Melbourne on Friday and Saturday leaving the teams with insufficient or incomplete data.
The top teams were not too far from the midfield in pace except for the all-dominating Red Bulls. Unclear technical problems for Perez meant he was out of qualifying after just three corners into the session. The compacted midfield was at touching distance from the rest on Saturday and Sunday with the likes of Gasly staring at the gearbox of Sainz’s Ferrari for most of the stint after the first red flag.
The first red flag was a result of Albon losing control at turns 6 and 7 and collecting the wall. A few drivers pitted under the safety car initially but were hard done by the late red flag call. All the drivers bar Nyck and Logan bolted on the hard tyres with intentions to go the full distance until the end of the race. This set the course for a fair comparison of race pace as the variables were constant.
If the jeopardy at the end of the race is overlooked, which changed the results drastically, the ‘midfield’ battle had another interesting chapter added to it.
Observations (from F1 midfield, Australia 2023)
For the comparisons, data with similar variables are selected to make a viable analysis. For instance, the fastest sectors by a team and not individual drivers are considered for qualifying analysis. Lap times are collected for the same tyre compound at identical periods of the race.
Qualifying (specific to F1 midfield, Australia 2023)
The fast-paced Albert Park demanded drivers of high precision. Miniscule errors lead to time loss. The non-ideal preparation added to a scruffy qualifying session.
- Sector 1
The first sector consists of medium and medium/fast corners with short DRS-enabled straights that benefit cars with higher efficient downforce.
Here’s a bar chart comparing the times set by the fastest car of each team and the observations made are:
- The Haas especially in the hands of Hulkenberg was the fastest in this sector with the Alpine and Williams closely behind.
- Alfa Romeo struggled in this sector and was the slowest.
- Sector 2
This is the shortest sector beginning with high-speed corners leading to a sweeping straight. Cars with efficient downforce in addition to high top speeds take a significant advantage.
Here are a few observations accompanied by an F1 midfield bar chart:
- The Williams was the fastest car among all teams in this short section.
- The Alpine too was very quick in this sector.
- McLaren, Alfa Romeo, and the Alpha Tauri lost a significant amount of time in a 17-18 second sector.
- Sector 3
This part of the track with its slow/medium and medium speed corners asks the cars to have a higher downforce for the quickest times. The tricky turns 13 and 14 caused a lot of trouble among the drivers.
The bar chart suggests of the F1 midfield:
- The Haas had a distinct advantage over the rest.
- Alfa Romeos struggled the most in this part of the circuit.
- The Alpines uncharacteristically couldn’t keep pace with the Haas.
Carrying on from the analysis above to further understand the characteristics of each car, here is a mini-sector comparison of all the midfield teams. The below graph gives a visualisation of the advantages each team had at different segments of the track.
A lot of time was left on the table by the drivers because of their inconsistency in stringing a good lap, which probably was due to a lack of qualifying simulations.
Even though the Williams of Albon took the spoils of being the fastest among the midfield, the best sector times of the teams added together portray a vastly different picture. On qualifying trim, the Haas, at least in the hands of Hulkenberg, is the most potent of weapons followed by the Alpine. McLaren drivers seem to struggle at this part of the weekend but not as much as the Alpha Tauri and Alfa Romeo. Those two teams have a lot to catch up. This might well be an outlier, but the difference is significant.
The Race (for the F1 midfield, Australia 2023)
With the track being easy on the tyres the most common strategy across the field was to start the race on mediums and then eventually shift to the hard tyres with one visit to the pits.
The first red flag came at a time when it was markedly early for the hard tyres but with Albon’s stint from last year the hope for the hard tyres to last for the rest of the race was high and it would have been if not for the second major interruption to the race.
From the graph below, the observations for the F1 midfield made are:
- Haas, McLaren and Alpine have a similar pace with Alpine just edging them, the constant DRS that Gasly was receiving from following Sainz for most of the stint would have boosted the pace of the Alpine.
- The worrying observation is the lack of pace possessed by Alpha Tauri and Alfa Romeo with the latter being the slowest. The Qualifying performance was translated into the race in this case.
Nyck De Vries’s side of the garage gambled on another safety car and bolted on the mediums to gain a pace advantage, but it did not go according to what they hoped for.
The evidence of the medium tyre being the wrong choice is below, the difference in performance in the long term was too big even though the times stabilised at the end.
Conclusion (for the F1 midfield, Australia 2023)
The result of the race was skewed by the late drama, it would have been even more astonishing if the track order after the second restart had stayed but still a few narratives took shape.
From the observations made, it can be said that a lower field is beginning to take shape in the form of Alpha Tauri and Alfa Romeo. Their disappointing performance throughout the weekend should be a matter of concern for the teams. An argument can be made that the mixed weather and conditions created unfavourable circumstances for the optimal setup of the cars but the gap in lap times was significant which suggests a fundamental disability compared to the other teams in the midfield.
There is time until the next round in Baku. Time to introduce upgrades or to find ways in setup to optimize their performance. Will the trend continue? or will Alfa and Alpha refuse to be a Beta?
Ashwin Issac is a budding Formula 1 tech-journalist. He has completed a Master of Science degree in Automotive Systems Engineering from Loughborough University, UK. He will pen his thoughts for the ‘F1 Midfield Tales’ section in 2023.