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Review and Recap: Finding Our Way Forward After a Tricky Aus GP

Austria 2018 - the last time the team had both cars retire from a Formula One Grand Prix. 2,094 days later, and there's no doubt this double DNF feels different, for so many reasons.

Six years ago, we were in the middle of an intense Championship battle, having arrived in Styria leading both standings. We had won the French Grand Prix the week before.

Fast forward to last Sunday, and the picture is far less clear. As Toto says: "This car is just very difficult."

There was optimism in the suitcase as the team checked in to Melbourne early last week. Two races in to F1's longest-ever season, and while it hadn't been the start we had hoped for, both drivers felt more confident in the baseline performance of W15.

"We made steps forward in the winter, but it's all about getting these cars into the right window," said Lewis.

Those Jekyll and Hyde characteristics were evident straight away on Friday around Albert Park.

P3 and P9 in FP1, and both Lewis and George felt more comfortable attacking the higher speed corners, the biggest limiting factor from Jeddah two weeks prior.

"The first few laps of FP1 were the best the car has felt all year," said Lewis.

A few hours later though, and the issues had returned. The higher ride height to tackle any bouncing now seemed to have caused problems in the slow speed sections.

Lewis was struggling. W15 had become unpredictable again and the grip from FP1 had gone. George wasn't faring much better but was upbeat before Saturday with more laps in the tank.

"Every single lap is valuable when you are trying to learn more about the car to get it into the sweet spot," George said.

Unfortunately for the team, Saturday mirrored Friday. A strong FP3, which had Lewis remarking how much more comfortable to drive W15 was compared to the day before, was followed with a tricky and frustrating Quali session.

A scrappy lap from Lewis saw him eliminated in Q2, while George could only manage P7 in the final top 10 shootout.

The latter had begun his push laps strongly, before sliding and a lack of grip severely hindered his progress in the final few corners. In all, it cost George eight tenths to Max Verstappen at the head of the grid.

"FP3 showed us the potential this car has, but it is so tricky to get it into this place," lamented Toto.

"There is no simple solution to this at the moment."

Race day dawned and we were determined to advance up the grid and get among the front runners.

Albert Park's increased safety car potential meant there was always going to be lots to play for once the lights went out.

Lewis started on the Soft tyre, with the aim of making up some early ground and both he and George made up a place off the line.

When Verstappen unexpectedly pulled over early on, George was up to P5, and after the first round of stops put both drivers on the Hard tyre, Lewis had gained a place against Tsunoda.

But that was all there was to Lewis' day, as a PU failure forced him to retire on Lap 15.

The resulting Virtual Safety Car period put George behind Alonso in the Aston Martin, but a strong run on the Hard tyres allowed George to extend his second stint.

He emerged in P7, but just three seconds behind the Spaniard, and began the chase.

It was a chase that cruelly ended with George beached in the middle of the racetrack just a lap from the flag, having been caught out by Fernando Alonso's erratic braking in the middle of fast Turn 6 right-hander.

"I'm ok," confirmed George on the radio in the immediate aftermath.

He added post-race: "He [Alonso] braked earlier than on the previous lap. I wasn't expecting it. I hit the wall and had a dramatic few seconds after that."

The Spaniard's 20-second penalty was little consolation for the team who had to watch George climb out of his W15 on the exit of a 250kmh corner.

The no score also signalled the first pointless weekend for the team in 63 races, since the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

As much as it is frustrating to say this, we just need to keep working. It's not for a lack of trying that we are in this situation.


What Now?

For Toto, in so many ways, nothing has changed.

"As much as it is frustrating to say this, we just need to keep working. It's not for a lack of trying that we are in this situation," he said.

"We just have to keep our heads down and keep pushing. I still have the belief that there is performance in this car."

And that's what the team believes.

Since the start of 2022, only three teams and five drivers have won a Grand Prix. And we are in that mix.

"If we get things right, we can turn things around. You have to believe," said Toto.

"We have a physics problem, not a philosophical or organisational one. We have not swallowed a dumb pill overnight."

Things can change quickly in Formula One, and a bleak prognosis one race weekend can be followed by a far brighter outlook the next. The remedy might not be far away.

As Lewis said before Melbourne: "We will get there."

And we will.

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