Five big Australian Grand Prix questions: FIA, Red Bull and a resurgent Lewis Hamilton?

Sam Cooper
Mohammed Ben Sulayem, Oscar Piastri, Daniel Ricciardo and Lewis Hamilton

F1 is heading back Down Under for the Australian GP.

Formula 1 returns this weekend with the Australian Grand Prix and a few days out from the event, we have some questions that need answering.

From tensions within Red Bull to an existential threat for F1, here are five questions ahead of the Australian Grand Prix.

Will Max Verstappen continue to win amidst the background noise?

Tensions within Red Bull may have cooled off a little but there is nothing to suggest all is entirely well within the camp.

One of the most dominant topics between Saudi Arabia and this race has been the future of Verstappen and as understands it, the Dutchman has a contract clause which could cause further tension.

The clause was reportedly inserted into Verstappen’s contract and allows him to leave if Helmut Marko’s tenure ends and was supposedly inserted without the knowledge of Christian Horner or other senior members of the parent company – achievable through Marko’s position as a director of Red Bull Racing.

With plenty of media duties before lights out, this is no doubt a subject that will be on the agenda and it will be up to Verstappen to once again block that out once the visor goes down.

What will Christian Horner and the FIA have to say about the latest revelation?

Another item on the agenda is the revelation that Christian Horner’s accuser has gone to the FIA after her initial complaint was dismissed by Red Bull.

As first reported by the BBC, the unnamed accuser twice made contact with the sport’s governing body on February 2 and then later on March 6 regarding the Red Bull team principal. She has meanwhile been suspended by Red Bull.

In response, the FIA said: “At the FIA, enquiries and complaints are received and managed by the Compliance Officer, and the Ethics Committee where appropriate. Both bodies operate autonomously, guaranteeing strict confidentiality throughout the process.

“As a consequence, and in general, we are unable to confirm the receipt of any specific complaint and it is unlikely that we will be able to provide further comment on the complaints that we may receive from any parties.”

But that leaves questions to answer. How much evidence has the FIA seen? What will their investigation involve? Why did the FIA not act sooner if they were first informed at the beginning of February?

FIA individuals do not tend to give press conferences during a grand prix weekend, which means it will be Horner being asked once again. This is a subject that refuses to die down.

Can Lewis Hamilton shine at one of his best circuits?

Lewis Hamilton’s 2024 has got off to a sluggish start with a P7 and P9 putting him ninth in the Drivers’ standings, so it will be welcome news for the seven-time World Champion that the next venue is one he has historically done well at.

The Melbourne circuit has seen Hamilton secure pole on eight occasions with only the Hungaroring somewhere that can boast a bigger number and given Red Bull’s dominance during the race, it does look like if they are to be toppled, that will most likely come in quali.

To date, the W15 has not been a quick qualifier with Hamilton yet to finish higher than eighth but having had a break now between races, he will be hopeful the Brackley squad have managed to iron out at least some of the kinks.

How will Australia’s favourite sons perform?

Sorry Valtteri, but it is the home race for just two F1 drivers this weekend as Daniel Ricciardo and Oscar Piastri return to their native land – but both drivers are heading in with remarkably different feelings around them.

Piastri, born in Melbourne, returns home after a triumphant year in 2023 and with Australia once again proud of one of their own.

While he was just three races into his F1 career last year, and in a McLaren car that was a way off the front of the grid, Piastri is back as an assured member of the grid and no doubt a much loved one by his home fans.

Daniel Ricciardo is also a much loved figure but he is once again facing questions about his own future.

After much hype heading into 2024, Ricciardo has found life tough so far and a failure to score points in the opening two races earned him some harsh words from his compatriot Alan Jones.

Ricciardo would love to jump-start his season with a strong performance Down Under but Melbourne has never been one of his strongest tracks.

Could the Australian GP be the lowest watched race in a long time?

A worrying trend will have no doubt caught the eye of F1 higher ups from within their London office as viewing figures continued to fall.

The Saudi Arabian race recorded 920,000 viewers via ESPN in the US, but that was more than half a million drop from the 1.52 million of 2023.

That is not an unusual data point either. In 2023, Sky F1’s figures dipped by 6% compared to 2022 as a sign of a worldwide downward trend.

The reasons behind it are obvious as Verstappen’s stranglehold on the title means more casual fans are unlikely to tune in but if that dominance continues, the Australian Grand Prix could be one of the worst watched races in recent history.

As to why that could happen, the timings of the race always make it difficult for the TV companies. The grand prix will begin at 4AM UK time, viewers on the East Coast of the US will need to stay up until midnight.

Only in the West Coast is the start time in what some may consider a prime TV slot of 9PM but there will be plenty of competition on a Saturday evening, including the ongoing March Madness.

With viewing figures down in both races so far, F1 will hope Australia will buck the trend – but there is everything to suggest that it will not.

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