The difference in the Formula 1 title chase after two races is one lap. One exceedingly fast, hard-turning, plot-twisting race against the clock. Max Verstappen was just a little bit faster than his teammate Sergio Pérez in that lap two weeks ago, and so it is he that leads the title race entering the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday in Melbourne.
Pérez was not thrilled to learn his teammate had snatched a bonus point, and the series lead, in his moment of victory. (He was annoyed enough, in fact, to demand answers from his own team.) And he will be even less happy after a mechanical issue left him skidding into a gravel patch during qualifying on Saturday, meaning he will start last on Sunday.
But Pérez also will know that in a year when the only thing faster than a Red Bull driver is another Red Bull driver, any race can turn around in a hurry.
How to Watch
Time: Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix starts at 1 a.m. Eastern, which is 3 p.m. local time in Melbourne. Adjust your alarm clocks accordingly.
TV: Watch on ESPN in the United States. For a full list of Formula 1 broadcast rights holders wherever you are, click here.
Sunday’s Starting Grid
The Red Bulls bookend the field in Melbourne: Verstappen will start first after he was fastest in qualifying on Saturday, while Pérez — with a couple of paint chips from his unplanned trip into the gravel — will be 20th.
The weekend’s big surprise was that the Mercedes tandem of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton will be right on Verstappen’s heels after qualifying in second and third. “The car felt alive,” Russell gushed after climbing out.
Race Week in Melbourne
This Week’s Story Lines
A hiccup for Red Bull. Sergio Pérez was having a forgettable weekend long before he locked up his brakes and slid straight into a sea of gravel on Saturday. He had joined the final practice session late while Red Bull mechanics worked on his car, then had to leave the track repeatedly for more tinkering. By the time he crashed he was talking about “minimizing the damage” on Sunday. Red Bull, meanwhile, will be quietly wondering if it has problems lurking under the smooth curves its dominant cars. Both Pérez and Verstappen have complained about issues in their cars. “I hope we are able to fix the technical issue for tomorrow, otherwise it will be really hard to race like this,” Pérez said.
The million-dollar question. Those unfamiliar expressions you see on faces in the Mercedes garage are called “smiles.” There haven’t been many of them this season, but on Saturday there were everywhere after Russell and Hamilton qualified second and third. Mercedes team leaders have admitted that they got the design of their car wrong, but said it will take a few more weeks for the changes they have in the works to show up on the racecar. “We are doing good steps, good developments but you have to run them, confirm them, produce them,” the team principal Toto Wolff told Sky Sports F1 at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. Still, Saturday was a good day. And that means Sunday could be even better. “If we can deliver a performance like this with a car that is definitely quite a bit off the pace, it shows good promise for when we bring our first upgrade,” Russell said.
Obstacle course. The perils of racing in a park: There may be wildlife on the track.
About those penalties. Who knew it could be so hard to park a Formula 1 racecar, or that there could be a gray area in what constitutes “working” on one? Yet at two straight races, drivers have been penalized for violating those rules, leading to a comical situation in which an Aston Martin went from third to fourth to third again, George Russell of Mercedes took photos with a trophy that wasn’t his, and race officials had to learn in an appeal hearing that they weren’t applying their own rules consistently.
In response — and maybe a little embarrassed — the governing body for motorsports made some changes to its rulebook this week. Here’s what’s new:
The definition of working on a car has been simplified to, essentially, Don’t Touch the Darn Car. “For clarity and until further notice, in this context the physical touching of the car or driver by hand, tools or equipment (including the front and rear jacks) during any such penalty will all be considered to constitute work,” the FIA sporting directive read. It’s only five seconds, everyone. Hands off. Tools away. For all five seconds.
Grid boxes will be 20 centimeters wider and include trial use of a center line, making it easier for drivers (we’re looking at you Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon) to ensure they park completely inside them before the start.
What They’re Saying
“To be this close to Red Bull is incredible. I think this gives everyone in the team a boost and a glimpse of hope.” — Lewis Hamilton, optimistic for a chance after qualifying third.
“I could play it cool here and say that we expected it, but we did not.” — The Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, on his team’s surprising, and sudden, revival.
“The signs are pointing towards getting back on the grid.” — Daniel Ricciardo, who is spending this season as Red Bull’s third driver after leaving McLaren at the end of last year. Ricciardo, an Australian and fan favorite, might have been the most popular driver in Melbourne this week, even though he won’t turn a lap.
Last Time Out
Results of the second race of the season, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on March 19:
Drivers Championship Standings
At the moment a single fast lap in Jeddah separates the two Red Bulls.
April 30: Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Baku City Circuit
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