Farce and fury in Saudi Arabia. PETER COSTER looks at a new season and some old tensions.
Formula One has embarrassed itself once again as it moves to Melbourne for the third Grand Prix of the new season.
That comes as no surprise after the confusion that saw Red Bull’s Max Verstappen secure his first world championship.
In Saudi Arabia on Sunday, following his undisputed world championship last year, it was another double world champion who was caught in another FIA car crash.
Fernando Alonso finished third for Aston Martin to take his 100th podium, only to be relegated to fourth after he had splashed the champagne snd held the trophy aloft.
Having already served a five-second penalty for slotting too far to the left on the starting grid, Alonso was given a ten-second penalty for an infringement while waiting in the pit for the clock to run down on the original penalty.Embed from Getty Images
A mechanic put the jack for a tyre change in place before five seconds had passed and there was later a review and more confusion before everyone gave up and Alonso was reinstated on the podium .
Days passed before even the lawyers threw their hands in the air with Alonso saying he was more concerned with moving on to next week’s third race of the season in Australia.
Alonso will start at Albert Park after two third places this year while the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Sergio Perez swapped their one-two finish in Bahrain with a one-two finish in Saudi Arabia.
While Verstappen won in Bahrain, Perez was first at the Jeddah street circuit. This caused further tension between the two Red Bull drivers.
Perez was under the impression they were to hold position towards the end of the race, but Verstappen thought differently and set the fastest lap of the race to give him a one-point advantage in the championship.
As Perez threw himself at the Red Bull mechanics at the end of the race, there was one stony face in the crowd.
Jos the Boss, Max Verstappen’s father, looked like a man who has been served a stale sandwich when he expected a banquet.
Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo, the reserve driver-in-waiting hopes for a seat at Red Bull next year if the animosity between the world champion and his Mexican teammate cannot be resolved.
Perez has only a one-year contract and if Verstappen and his dad don’t want him, the door will likely be open for Ricciardo to fill the seat.
There are tensions, too, in other teams as they fly to Australia.
Ferrari, having sacked teams chief Mattio Binotto after an underwhelming year are faced with lead driver Charles Leclerc letting his feelings known over term radio after failing to finish at Bahrain and trailing in seventh at Jeddah behind teammate Carlos Sainz.
There is even more disenchantment at Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton spoken of as a potential signing at Ferrari after failing to sign a new contract.
Those who follow Formula One from the grandstands seem to think that every F1 driver wants to drive for Ferrari.
But while Mercedes has major issues surrounding its underperforming car, Hamilton’s complaints are likely to add to its motivation to fix the problems.
Alonso’s places on podium show what can be done when a team provides a champion with a car that can win a championship.
Aston Martin lured Alonso from Alpine, not only with money, but a car designed by the team of top-level engineers it lured from Red Bull.
Suddenly, Aston Martin is the best of the rest behind Red Bull, which is so far in front that Mercedes driver George Russell’s comment that Red Bull might win every race this year no longer sounds like a throw-away line.
The Honda-powered Red Bull is considerably faster than any of is rivals and by the time Mercedes or Ferrari catch up, the constructor and driver championships are likely to be long gone.
At the other end of the grid sits that dog of a car, the McLaren, giving no more than a whimper.
Its young drivers, two of the brightest prospects in F1, amused themselves racing against each other after their retirements at Bahrain were compounded at Jeddah.
Melbourne rookie Oscar Piastri found his race ruined on the first lap after qualifying ninth and being starting eighth when Leclerc the Ferrari’s electronic control unit had to be for the third time.
Piastri found himself alongside seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, but a potential points finish was lost when he was squeezed on the first lap and lost part of his front wing.
Lando Norris was also forced to come into the pits when his front wing was damaged by some of the debris from Piastri’s car.
At the end of the race, the McLaren drivers started racing each other when they found themselves at the back of the field.
Surprisingly, it was Norris who was ordered to let Piastri past, later offering the excuse that he “just let him go in the end.
“It would have been different if I was fighting for points,” Norris said, “but 16 and 17th, it doesn’t really matter.”
This sounds like a driver who has given up on the car he is driving.
Far different from Max Verstappen, who towards the end of the race asked his team, who had the fastest lap.
“We are not concerned about that at the moment,” he was told, to which he replied, “Yeah, but I am.”
They are the words of a racer.