The last of our flyaway rounds, Formula 1’s return to Albert Park offered some much-needed familiarity after a succession of five consecutive races in empty deserts at night. After three years away, Ferrari came in strong with yet another dominant victory in the hands of Charles Leclerc. As always, we at GP Rejects shall take a sideways look at the action, to discover who merited our prestigious GPR Awards this time out!
Aston Martin win Reject of the Race for their incredible unreliability and their pair of accident-prone, unmotivated drivers!
This one was quite the slam-dunk. Aston Martin have seen quite the fall from grace in 2022 – even more so than peers like McLaren or Mercedes. After Sebastian Vettel contracted COVID-19 and was replaced by our generation’s SuperSub Nico Hulkenberg for the first two weekends of 2022, fans weren’t expecting much more than the occasional point from team owner’s son Lance Stroll.
While McLaren and even Williams (we’ll get to them) have had a good session or two since the season began, Aston Martin have gone from bad to worse. To start with, latecomer Vettel’s car broke down in the closing stages of FP1, a failure which was terminal enough to keep him on the sidelines in FP2. He caused a storm in a teacup after being fined zooming back to the paddock unauthorised on a moped. Then both he and Stroll threw their cars in the wall on Saturday’s FP3. While Vettel went more under the radar in his returning weekend, Stroll’s crash with Latifi in Q1 earned him a hefty penalty and provided excellent footage for highlight reels.
After Latifi slowed down to allow Stroll past – neither were on hot-laps – he then attempted to pass Lance again at Turn 5 at full speed. Lance not looking in his mirrors meant an expensive prang when the team could least afford it, and a lot of nice, sharp carbon fibre for their friends in the paddock to navigate. Unsurprisingly, neither car in the end escaped Q1. During the race, Stroll benefitted from both safety car periods to launch himself into the points.. and then decided to undo all of his good work by weaving in defence against Valtteri Bottas in the Alfa Romeo, copping a time penalty for his troubles. Vettel capped the weekend off by trashing his AMR22 in a ludicrous crash at Turn 5.
An omnishambles of a weekend leaves Mike Krack’s squad as the only team who have not yet scored a point in 2022 yet – but like every great ROTR winner, they can obscure some other outrageously rejectful displays, which we can now focus on.
Let’s start with Carlos Sainz Jr. The Ferrari driver is one of the favourites to win the drivers’ championship, especially seeing as his team have been competitive and able to win at all three circuits so far this year. While he has not had the edge over Charles Leclerc, he is not far behind, and a series of consistent results could see him mount a genuine challenge. Australia was therefore not the kind of weekend he wanted. While he was on for a possible pole time (as every driver who crashes in Q3…), he simply ran out of luck and talent in the final qualifying session, winding up a poor 9th on the grid.
His mission on Sunday was to stay out of trouble on the opening tour, and pick his way through the field to fight the Red Bulls for the podium. Young Carlos decided to double the amount of work he had to do with an abysmal first lap, and a few moments later his weekend was run. He drove onto the grass at the Turn 11/12 left-right, lost control and in a moment of the GPRejects rFactor series, slid over the grass for multiple seconds, crossed the track, and beached himself in the gravel on the other side! A rejectful display from a driver who, unlike Max Verstappen, doesn’t have an excuse for his poor reliability.
Speaking of which, Red Bull deserve an honourable mention. Motorsport and other publications are already running articles to the tune of “Verstappen is out of the championship already”, and this author is inclined to agree with them. When Max later mentioned that he had not expected to finish the race in Melbourne, we can take a guess that the team’s reliability woes are not improving any time soon. Expect more pain for Max and the team in the coming races.
While other teams and drivers had the acceptable off-day, the driver that drew the least sympathy from our community was the seven-time world champion Sir Lewis Hamilton. The Mercedes team leave Albert Park in second place in the constructor standings, with excellent damage limitation to their hopes of catching the Red Bull / Ferrari duo upfront. Considering the former’s unreliability, it is hard to feel sympathy for Hamilton when he takes his on-radio whining to the next level during the races. Admittedly he had bad luck both in Australia and at Jeddah with safety car timing, but then again so do many drivers, and Hamilton’s usual luck of the gods doesn’t give him a carte blanche to complain about a fourth-place finish, especially considering the position rivals like Verstappen find themselves in.
Alex Albon takes Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race in Melbourne, bringing Williams home a point with an excellent strategy!
Indeed, the strategy was both inspired and quite humorous for us at home. Running a 57 lap stint on hard tyres, only pitting with one lap to go, Alex Albon made a mockery of the Pirelli tyres and the mandatory pitstop rule to seal an unexpected 10th in Melbourne. The Thai driver has made quite the impressive comeback for Williams, firmly putting Nicholas Latifi in the mud.
Latifi, who is now building up a crash streak, having managed to shunt his car in the last four race weekends in a row, must have the Williams team accountants literally counting the damage he has cost them this weekend alone, compared to the money he brings in. Albon on the other hand, after a year out, delivered a wonderful, feel-good performance that brought the team a point. Quite the feat in what seems to be the worst car on the grid.
George Russell also drew a lot of praise this weekend. While Sir Lewis has arguably had the upper hand so far in 2022, this was possibly the first event where the understudy demonstrated superior pace. His laptimes were consistent, and mentally he seems very cool in these uncharacteristically testing times at Mercedes. He bested Hamitlon and took great advantage of the safety car to grab an eventual 3rd place. He now sits second in the championship: can he keep himself there?
Finally, a positive word for the McLaren team. They showed a glimpse of last years’ pace in Australia, with a solid points finish. After the Bahrain omnishambles, when both drivers were engaged in death battles for PNowhere against Aston Martins, it seems already like a different team. Whether this is simply a positive blip on the radar or a sign of competency to come, who’s to know? However, like Russell they sit unexpectedly high up in the constructors’ championship now: 4th place! For the sheer unpredictability alone, McLaren get them an honourable IIDOTR mention.
|REJECT OF THE RACE||INFINITE IMPROBABILITY DRIVE OF THE RACE|
|Aston Martin||15 (65%)||Alex Albon||21 (88%)|
|Lewis Hamilton’s whining||4 (17%)||McLaren||2 (8%)|
|Carlos Sainz Jr.||3 (13%)||George Russell||1 (4%)|
|Red Bull’s unreliability||1 (4%)|
|Number of votes: 23||Number of votes: 24|
Disclaimer: The ROTR and IIDOTR awards are purely for fun purposes.
The IIDOTR is a democratically-decided award, based on the assumption that, at any moment in time, there is a non-zero probability that even the slowest, most inexperienced and least reliable of underdogs might win the race. That under every rock, there might be a gold nugget. This is the award for that first podium that we all celebrate, for the overtake no-one was expecting, for the underdog’s first win. This is the award, in short, for the driver or team that makes you go “Woah! Where did THAT come from?!”.
The ROTR is a medal of dishonour that celebrates the most noteworthy failure of a Grand Prix weekend, based on expectations heading into the weekend and general performance. That one brainfade, the silliest mistake or the most patent nonsense going on, all that is what being the ROTR is all about.