Join Olivia for another episode taking you through the fast-paced world of Formula One. In this episode, Olivia breaks down the first three races of the season and where each driver and team stands. An incredible rookie drive and a dramatic Australia race await, so it’s time to get Back on Track.

Olivia: Hey everyone, welcome to Back on Track, a podcast discussing the wonderful world of Formula One. I am Olivia Teeter and I’m here to unpack any drama that happened on and off the track. We have a lot to catch up on for the first 3 races of the season: Bahrain, Jeddah, and Australia. So strap in and let’s get back on track.

Before we begin, I have some fast facts for you guys about the structure of a race weekend.

There are 3 parts to a weekend. Friday is reserved for practice, which allows drivers to get acclimated to the track and allows teams to see what strategy might be best to employ. Then Saturday is qualifying. Qualifying determines what order the cars will be starting in based on the fastest lap time that they have during this portion. Then Sunday is the actual race day. The cars line up, the lights go off, and a winner is determined.

The qualifying session gets more complicated, so I will dive into that during a later episode. For right now, you just need to know the three different portions of a race weekend. Ok, we got it? We got it. Let’s dive into the races.

Starting off with the first race of the season in Bahrain, Max Verstappen qualified first, meaning he had the fastest time during that qualifying session on Saturday and will therefore line up first, giving him the biggest advantage for that race. Behind him in second was Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari, then George Russell from Mercedes, and Carlos in the other Ferrari in fourth.

The race got underway, and pretty early on Charles lost places due to his brakes locking up, which ultimately slowed him down. His team radio messages reveal that there was an imbalance with the front brakes, causing friction and overheating them.

As Charles struggled with his car, Carlos seemed very comfortable behind the wheel. He moved up to the podium places, or the top three, and Sergio Perez also made the climb up to take second place after starting in fifth.

Mercedes had power issues the entire race, slowing down the team, but Mclaren, on the other hand, demonstrated a lot of pace, especially towards the end. Lando Norris was gaining on Charles, but despite his braking issues, Charles held on to his position and ended fourth, which is very impressive. The whole race, the car was working against him, and Charles had to manage his speed and his braking to make sure that the brakes didn’t overheat and he didn’t have to retire his car totally. So, very good drive by Charles Leclerc.

Max Verstappen took home first with Sergio Perez in second, making it the first 1-2 for Red Bull this season, and Carlos Sainz finished off the podium at third.

All around, this was a pretty entertaining race, and a very typical one at that. All drivers finished the race, which had actually not happened in a very long time. So overall, this was a successful first race of the season.

Immediately after Bahrain, the drivers and teams headed to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The main story from this race was that after the first day of practice, Carlos Sainz had to be rushed into appendicitis surgery. He couldn’t race for the rest of the weekend, so Ferrari decided to promote the 18-year-old Formula Two driver Ollie Bearman to take his place.

Just for a little context, there are other racing leagues below Formula One, mainly called Formula Two and Formula Three that are made up of younger drivers usually to prepare them for Formula One. A lot of the times when teams are looking to replace a driver who retired, or looking for younger experience, they will pull from F2. However, the jump from F2 to F1 is incredibly large because the cars are bigger, they go faster, and are overall just way more competitive. It can be intimidating for a young driver, especially one who has never driven in F1 before, to take on the challenge.

Despite this, Ollie Bearman came into qualifying and took his Ferrari to 11th place, out-qualifying other drivers who have been in the sport for years. Granted, he probably did have a better car than those other drivers, but it is still impressive, to say the least. Max Verstappen, however, once again started first with Charles Leclerc in second and Sergio Perez and the other Red Bull in third. The race got underway, and almost immediately, Alpine had to retire Pierre Gasly’s car and Lance Stroll in the Aston Martin crashed into the barriers. So already, two cars were out pretty early on.

Ollie Bearman quickly gained on the drivers ahead of him, making his way up to seventh place and matching the pace of the drivers in front of him, which actually is insane when you think about it. A rookie, never having driven this type of car before, only having an hour of practice beforehand, was matching the lap times of highly experienced drivers, one of which was a two-time world champion Fernando Alonso.

Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez finished first and second again for the second race in a row, and Charles in his Ferrari once again closed out the top 3. Ollie Bearman ended up finishing seventh after starting in 11th which means both the Ferraris ended up scoring points that weekend. While the results were fairly similar, almost exact to Bahrain with a 1-2 Red Bull and Ferrari rounding out the top 3, this race was exciting because we saw the breakout performance of the 18 year-old Bearman, which could earn him a seat in Formula One very soon.

Lastly, we come to Australia. And, oh boy, Australia never fails to provide the drama. Once again, Max started first, with Carlos Sainz, just 16 days post-op, starting second. Lando Norris in the Mclaren was in third and Charles in the other Ferrari, fourth. By lap 2, Carlos took the lead from Max Verstappen, and by lap 4, Verstappen was forced to retire his car because his brakes overheated and caught on fire. This is Formula One, guys! Verstappen has not retired from a race since 2022, for almost two years. This meant that the race now opened up for other drivers to battle for first, now that the fastest driver was no longer in the running.

By lap 17, Lewis Hamilton faced engine failure in his Mercedes, leaving the team’s hopes of scoring points up to George Russell. However, on the very last lap of the race, Russell collided with the barriers and crashed out, meaning Mercedes had a double DNF, or “do not finish” result. Zero points for the team for the entire weekend.

Carlos Sainz held onto his lead of first. Meanwhile, Charles overtook Lando Norris to come in second, with the Mclaren driver rounding out the top three. So it was a Ferrari 1-2 with Landon Norris coming in third.

So what do these first races tell us about the rest of the season, and what questions remain? Well first, this season may be more unpredictable than we thought, despite Red Bull’s dominance so far. The double retirement of Mercedes and Verstappen's DNF raises questions about their cars’ reliability, leaving room for Ferrari or even Mclaren to make significant progress. While I think Verstappen’s Australian race was most likely a case of bad luck, I think we’ll see a closer championship race than we did last year. Already, Sergio Perez, Charles Leclerc, and Carlos Sainz are not far behind Max Verstappen.

On the other hand, Alpine and Mercedes are wondering what went wrong.

Alpine is tied last in the championship, not having scored a single point yet, while Mercedes, normally top 3, have dropped to fourth behind Mclaren in the Constructors Championship standings. Mercedes has been saying they have had problems with their power unit in their car, and Alpine’s car has been unreliable from the start. Will we see improvement from these teams as they continue developing their cars over the course of the season? Only time will tell.

Lewis Hamilton has also been struggling immensely with the Mercedes car, consistently being outscored, outpaced, outraced by his teammate George Russell. Meanwhile, the driver he will be replacing, Carlos, is the only non-Red Bull driver to win a race the last two seasons. It may be too early to say, but will Ferrari start to regret their driver swap?

Ollie Bearman’s success also raises some questions about promoting younger drivers into the sport. Many current drivers are well into their 30s, and some even into their 40s, which typically is way past any driver’s prime. Could Formula One be missing out on younger talents such as Ollie Bearman in prioritizing this experience? There are lots of contracts expiring this year, and therefore many seats up for grabs, including for Bearman. It will be interesting to see how that shakes out.

Ok guys, I know that was a lot of information, but we are now caught up on almost everything from the first 3 races. Of course, I tried to get through all of it, but there’s always something going on in Formula One. So thanks for joining me on this episode of Back on Track, and I will see you for the next race in Suzuka, Japan.