F1 2023 Australian GP: can Oscar Piastri live up to the hype and who will win ‘best of the rest’ battle?

Oscar Piastri has large shoes to fill as this marks first Australian Grand Prix without Daniel Ricciardo since 2011

The third race of the Formula 1 2023 season is here and the drivers will head down under to Albert Park in Melbourne.

While fans will be excited that after a two week break, we can once again watch as the drivers speed around the circuit, this will also be the first time since 2011 that Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo will not be racing in his ‘home race’ after being dropped by McLaren last year.

Formula 1’s favourite Honey Badger will be visible from the Red Bull garage, where he is now operating as their reserve driver, but it will now be up to Ricciardo’s McLaren replacement and compatriot Oscar Piastri to fly the Australian flag as he prepares for his first home race in his Formula 1 career.

Red Bull have dominated the past two races and while they are currently looking unstoppable, it is the middle-order which has been creating the most drama and chaos on the tracks.

Ahead of the Australian Grand Prix, which takes place on Sunday 2 April, starting at 6am BST, here are some of the biggest talking points…

How will the rookie Australian fare?

Oscar Piastri is not quite the fan favourite his fellow Australian was around the tracks. The story which ended with him choosing McLaren over Alpine was not a pretty one and he has not quite won the fans back over yet.

Piastri is a highly talented driver but McLaren have had a multitude of issues in their first two races, with the young Australian having to retire the car in his maiden F1 race in Bahrain so it remains to be seen what the 21-year-old will be able to accomplish in his first home race.

This is also the first race since McLaren’s major restructuring of their technical department, with three technical heads being brought in to oversee the division.

According to Australian journalist, Stewart Bell, Piastri will find his countrymen behind him when he takes to the tracks in Albert Park and the youngster has said: “It’s a massive privilege for me to be able to race in not just my home country, but in my home city. I grew up 10-15 minutes away from the circuit and could hear the cars back when they were loud enough, back at home in the backyard.”

It might be the circuit Piastri knows best, but it is a whole other kettle of fish knowing whether he will be able to get his currently disappointing engine around the circuit fast enough to appease the home crowd.

Daniel Ricciardo will be in the Red Bull garage at Australian Grand PrixDaniel Ricciardo will be in the Red Bull garage at Australian Grand Prix
Daniel Ricciardo will be in the Red Bull garage at Australian Grand Prix

Could this be the fastest race ever in Australia?

Australia is one of the fastest tracks in the Formula 1 calendar with Charles Leclerc setting the lap record in 2022 of 1:20.260 and with the new regulations in place, this could be the fastest ever race seen in Melbourne, especially if Red Bull unleash their one second advantage.

This year will also see the first ever fourth DRS zone in place. Albert Park was where the first race using DRS took place and was also the first circuit to have two DRS zones. Last year saw several corners modified and a long back straight along the lack put in place.

This long straight will now see the fourth DRS zone and is set to make for easier overtaking opportunities into the very fast turns nine and ten chicane.

Red Bull and Aston Martin are currently sitting streets ahead of their fellow teams in terms of speed so while fans could well enjoy watching these four drivers ace round the track, the real battle is set to be played out in the middle-order and the competition will be to see who can get close enough to Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez, Fernando Alonso and even Lance Stroll.

How competitive is the best of the rest battle?

Unless every engineer, mechanic and member of the technical team at Red Bull suddenly leave, it seems highly improbable that Christian Horner’s team won’t win the constructor’s championship.

So, the real storylines in 2023 are likely to be what is happening in that middle-order battle and who is the ‘best of the rest’?

McLaren used to be one of the leaders of this pack but they are now finding themselves right at the back and their continuing development over the year will be crucial.

Only two drivers - Nyck de Vries and Logan Sargeant - have failed to escape Q1 so far this season meaning the gap between the lower half of the grid has never been closer and only two teams are yet to score any points - McLaren and AlphaTauri.

12 months ago it was a safe bet that Williams would be the slowest car on the grid, but heading into the third race of the season, it’s anyone’s guess who is going to pick up the wooden spoon.

With a fourth DRS section and knowing the pace that the Australian circuit offers, the bottom half of the pack are set to have their work cut out this weekend.