Experiencing a hectic maiden Qualifying session in Melbourne, Zak O’Sullivan managed to chart his own course through the dramatic final minutes to secure a spot inside the top five. Having topped Practice earlier on in the day, the PREMA Racing driver translated that performance to put himself in the fight for his first points of the 2023 campaign.
Swiftly getting to grips with Albert Park Circuit, O’Sullivan demonstrated his potential throughout the 30 minutes of running. He was sitting fourth and then second after two flying laps on his first set of hard Pirelli tyres.
With three Red Flag disruptions forcing most of the field to gamble on their final attempts at the same time, O’Sullivan admitted it was hard master all the various factors at play, particularly given the track’s already challenging nature.
“It wasn't bad. I think the first run was quite strong; I was quite happy with everything. Then it was a bit tricky obviously with three Red Flags throughout the session, so it was quite hard to get into a rhythm, especially on a street circuit like this.
“In general, I think when you have to go out and deliver the lap straight away, it's quite hard to get the tyres and everything up to the right working windows. A bit of room for improvement on that side, but in general we've had good pace all weekend, especially so far on Friday, so looking forward to the races.”
Qualifying’s stop-start running proved to not only be a test of the drivers’ speed and adaptability, but also their mental resilience and ability to stay calm under pressure whatever’s thrown their way.
Acknowledging the frustration that brings when trying to put together the perfect lap, O’Sullivan is remaining level-headed and is looking on the bright side – that he’s got the pace to be challenging at the front end of the order this weekend after an underwhelming opening round last time out.
“It's a little bit irritating because you might be on a good lap, and you get a Red Flag, or you've just got everything ready after a couple of prep laps and suddenly there’s a Red Flag. It's one of those things, I think it becomes a bit more of a lottery because even sometimes you try and go a bit earlier to let's say avoid any potential Red Flag and you can still get caught out if someone goes later.
“I think in a session like that, there'll be a few of them this year, it's a bit of a lottery. One day you get the rub of the green, the other day you won’t. It's one of those things, but the positive is the pace has been strong since we turned up here. I'm quite happy with the car.
“The pace was there in Bahrain, just a bit of a scruffy weekend for myself. In Qualifying, I had a lap that was potentially good enough for the front row disallowed and then from there it was a bit of a slippery slope. When I’d done the first couple of laps in Free Practice this morning, I felt quite confident, so it’s always nice.”
Lining up P8 for Saturday’s reverse grid Sprint Race and P5 for the Feature Race on Sunday, the Williams junior will find himself in the middle of the fray. Eagerly anticipating the prospect of getting his elbows out duelling with those around him, O’Sullivan is keenly aware that the four DRS zones are a double-edged sword – leaving him ample opportunities to make a move, but also being vulnerable to those close behind.
“We've got to wait and see completely. Obviously, a new track for everyone and the first time we'll be using the DRS to overtake a car. I’m starting within the top 10, I think we’ve got to play it by ear and see. I think it will be quite easy to overtake, so we’ll have a bit of a battle which is always quite nice. I think like always, if we're in the kind of front group, the Sprint Race is more of a preparation for the Feature Race on Sunday.”