It has been two and a half years since F1 started at a fairly unreasonable time on the east coast, as travel to Japan, Australia and Asia had been made impossible by COVID-19. In that time, F1 has exploded in popularity in America and is one of the youngest-skewing shows on cable television every race weekend.
This past weekend’s race was no different, even with a 1 a.m. ET start time. Sure, it was down from the series’ strong starts at Bahrain and then Saudi Arabia, but this race still managed to pull in 316k in 18-49 demo viewers, still good enough to place third on the total ranking for the day. That 2019 race, an October Japanese Grand Prix, actually did better numbers all around (except for how young the rating skewed), but that’s because they had a huge Florida-LSU football game as a lead-in. No such one this week.
The youth numbers are also very impressive. They had more age 12-34 viewers than the NASCAR race at Martinsville Speedway a few hours prior and was the highest-rated show on Saturday (April 9) among males aged 12-34.
This is, more than anything, proof that the start time for next year’s race at Las Vegas makes sense from a television point of view, because it’ll be on at the same time as Australia was. Logistically, that weekend is going to be fascinating, with free practice potentially starting on Thanksgiving night with how FOM schedules things and so much of the strip down for a huge holiday week like that.
In Bahrain, McLaren was exposed as one of the backmarkers of the grid, with the battle for eighth in points expected to come between them and fellow Mercedes power unit customers Aston Martin and Williams.
Just a month later, McLaren walks out of Australia with a fifth and a sixth and once again fresh in the fight for fourth in the midfield with Alpine instead.
It was expected prior to the season that the first three races would be fairly locked in as far as upgrades or improvements, with Imola next weekend being the first where we’ll start to see dramatic upgrades. But instead, McLaren first got franchise star Lando Norris up to speed in Saudi Arabia with a seventh before backing that up by getting home-track star Daniel Ricciardo a sixth to go along with Norris’ fifth in Melbourne.
With that being said, McLaren may not have salvaged this season quite yet.
The Alpine has been objectively better than the McLaren, just with significantly more reliability problems. In Jeddah, so many drivers had issues of some kind, and there were only 14 classified finishers in that race. In Melbourne, both Kevin Magnussen and Fernando Alonso saw points-contending runs fall apart due to bad luck in strategy, while both a Ferrari (Carlos Sainz) and a Red Bull (Max Verstappen) failed to finish. Still, in both races, the papaya orange cars didn’t look as out to lunch as they did in Bahrain, and a reliable race car should always do well if a team’s goal for this season isn’t a championship.
Of course, McLaren wasn’t the lone Mercedes-powered team to make themselves known in the land down under. Alexander Albon had a legendary drive on hard tires for the entire race, getting a point for Williams at the very end of the race anyway. Albon has shown that he deserves to be in F1, and if Red Bull were to promote Pierre Gasly back up to the mothership after this season, they’d be very silly not to recall Albon to serve in that solid Alpha Tauri gatekeeper/team leader role.
Lance Stroll also had an adventure in Melbourne, spending lap upon lap holding up cars in the mid-field. After taking hard tires on the first and second safety cars, the plan was to exploit the bad pit strategy of Albon (before he maximized his tires), Magnussen and, ironically, Alonso and steal a point that way. But first Stroll stabbed himself in the foot by getting himself a five-second penalty for weaving, and then the entire mid-field motored past him. Albon finishing ahead of him regardless had to be frustrating for a team already having a hard time to begin the year.
It’s going to be very impressive if Sebastian Vettel is able to consistently get points in this Aston Martin this season. Vettel’s 2021 was rife with inconsistency, and his 2022 so far has been a complete disaster with two missed starts because of COVID and an awful weekend in Australia. The Aston isn’t a total loss like the Haas was last year, but they have a lot of digging to do now as the lone F1 team with no constructor points.
About the author
Michael has watched NASCAR for 15 years and began covering the sport five years ago. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and a proud member of the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA).
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.