In what turned out to be a rather ominous start to the season, Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez absolutely trounced the entire Formula One grid, 1-2 in qualifying to an untroubled 1-2 in the race. While it was plain sailing for the defending champions, other drivers did not get the season going quite as they would have wanted.
Three penalties is more than enough to secure Esteban Ocon an absolute classic Reject of the Race Award!
After qualifying, Esteban Ocon had comfortably outqualified his new teammate and apparent sworn enemy Pierre Gasly, taking his below-par Alpine into Q3 while his team mate lined up on the back row. However, points are not awarded in qualifying, and to say Esteban was overshadowed on Sunday would understate just how much attention he drew to himself when it mattered.
Firstly, he performed a feat not often seen since the days of Sepang and one Giancarlo Fisichella, when he lined up incorrectly on his grid slot (though to be fair to Esteban, at least it was the correct grid slot). He began the race by losing a few places, but it was to get a whole lot worse very soon. He received a five-second penalty for his grid misdemeanour, which ended up on replay looking more like three seconds. The team were far too hasty beginning work on the car, and it wasn’t long before a rather dull race was spiced up by the announcement that Ocon was due yet another penalty for failing to serve his first penalty properly. Soon after that, the viewers at home were informed that he had received another penalty, for speeding in the pitlane while serving his second penalty!
Three penalties in a row were embarrassing enough, but Esteban even had the gall to mouth off over the team radio about “how never in his many years of racing etc”. Eventually the team retired the car, ending a painful evening around Sakhir. To rub salt in the wounds, Gasly worked his way through the field to secure a points finish for Alpine. For his Maldonado-esque performance in racking up penalties, Esteban Ocon is a rightful Reject of the Race.
There was only one other main candidate this weekend, and that was McLaren. The team have been improving since the dark days of 2015-18, but sadly it seems like they have taken three or four steps backwards in preparing for 2023. 2022’s Reject of the Year Daniel Ricciardo is gone, but sadly it looks like Oscar Piastri has walked into an absolute mess at Working. The car seems like a dog to drive, and it spent almost all the race occupying last place, except when Ocon fancied being penalised again.
There were various issues in testing, and cooling issues reared their ugly ahead on race day, causing Lando Norris to serve no less than five pitstops for coolant top-up. Meanwhile, Piastri’s car failed barely half an hour into the race,, ensuring the Australian recorded Formula 1’s first DNF of the new season. That being said, Norris came within a gnat’s breath of reaching Q3 and demonstrated strong race pace later in the race by managing to hold onto the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers. Shame he was already a lap down by this point. It remains to be seen whether this weekend was a hiccup or the start of a year-long waste of two of Formula 1’s hottest talents.
Haas produced nothing but garbage on Sunday, whose inspired choice of driver in Nico Hulkenberg had a honeymoon that lasted one whole Saturday. A poor getaway and a clash with Ocon on the first lap meant the end of any relevance in the race, as both he and Kevin Magnussen plummeted down the order, demonstrating a worrying lack of race pace.
And of course, how could the fans at home go one race in 2023 without a major Ferrari blunder? Charles Leclerc looked poised to finish best of the rest, although the current state of play of the field means wins are looking unlikely, yet alone mounting a title challenge to Verstappen. However, it would be easier for him and the Ferrari team to succeed if their cars didn’t break down every other race in unchallenged positions…
Fernando Alonso takes a podium and scoops our Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race Award!
The happiest news story was surely from one Fernando Alonso. When he returned to F1 in 2021, there were some who felt he was washed up and not worth bringing back. Then, when he produced a series of spirited drives in the last two years, many pundits felt he was foolish to move to Aston Martin, a team seemingly keen to pour serious money into a painfully unsuccessful project. However, perhaps for the first time in over a decade, Fernando has made a team switch that has actually paid off! The AMR23 is a fast car, and the best moments of the rather uneventful race were by far the Spaniard’s overtakes on George Russell, Lewis Hamilton (outside of the DRS zone) and Carlos Sainz Jr. “This is a lovely car to drive” remarked Alonso over the radio. For an Aston Martin to overtake both Mercedes on merit was very refreshing to see. It has made Toto Wolff and Brackley squirm seeing one of their customers outperforming them.
Alonso’s teammate Lance Stroll stood on the thin line between great success and embarrassing failure. He missed pre-season testing completely when he broke his hand in a biking accident, and seemed in serious pain in Friday’s practice sessions. Half a second off Alonso in Q3 meant that his qualifying was better than expected, and then in the race he almost ruined everyone’s day by whacking Alonso’s right rear on the first lap. However, luckily for everyone there was no damage of note, and Lance was able to recover and finish the race in sixth, ahead of Russell’s Mercedes. Although his recklessness in driving through injury cannot be condoned, Lance absolutely did not waste the seat. In fact, this season could be the making or breaking of the Canadian’s reputation, considering the potential of Aston Martin’s package.
Williams were another team punching above the weight of expectations. Not since 2017 have the team been fast enough to properly dice in the midfield pack. Alex Albon, still in form after his comeback to F1 last year, is partnering a surprisingly dependable Logan Sargeant, who kept his car on track and out of trouble all weekend long. Albon took a point and Sargeant wasn’t too far behind on his debut. A great start for a team so long in the doldrums.
The final word should go to Pierre Gasly. While his teammate frankly embarrassed himself on Sunday, Pierre dragged his car from the back row of the grid to the points by the end of the race, in an unfancied car. Considering his disappointing 2022 and the expectations Alpine had going into Bahrain, this is a solid result for Gasly to build upon in 2023.
|REJECT OF THE RACE||INFINITE IMPROBABILITY DRIVE OF THE RACE|
|Esteban Ocon||21 (78%)||Fernando Alonso||13 (52%)|
|McLaren||6 (22%)||Lance Stroll||5 (20%)|
|Williams, Albon & Sargent||5 (20%)|
|Pierre Gasly||2 (8%)|
|Number of votes: 27||Number of votes: 25|
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.
2023 Grand Prix Rejects Awards
2023 Season Preview