Feature Image: Sutton Motorsport Images
As soon as it came, it went. Round one of the 2017 season is in the books and it’s Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari who stand victorious for the first time since Singapore 2015.
Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas joined Vettel on the podium while Kimi Raikkonen, Max Verstappen, Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz, Daniil Kvyat and Esteban Ocon round off the points positions.
It wasn’t the most spectacular race and people are complaining about the new regulations limiting overtaking, but the thing is it’s always difficult to overtake at Albert Park. Before this year, there had been less than 50 overtakes in the last two years — it’s not a place, historically, where a lot of overtakes happen. So don’t blame the new regulations or make judgements too quickly on the new regulations. Let’s see what happens in China and Bahrain. We’ll know more then.
Felipe Massa for his 6th place finish, the supersoft tyres and the drivers who selected the supersoft tyres for their second stints (most noticeably, Max Verstappen and Massa) Toro Rosso for a double points score, Antonio Giovinazzi, Daniil Kvyat for a great race that underlined his abilities (a possible 7th place taken away from him due to an engine issue that forced him to pit a second time) and, finally, Lance Stroll for showing solid pace and keeping his car in one piece (including some good evasive action in the first corner) before a brake disc failure forced him to retire.
Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari and Formula One
It’s been a long time coming, and in the words of Sergio Marchionne (Ferrari CEO) “it’s about time”.
For Sebastian Vettel, it’s his 43rd race victory, his fourth for Ferrari and his first since Singapore 2015. Last year we kind of saw Vettel wonder in the wilderness but it’s good to see him back where he belongs at the sharp end of the grid.
“…It’s just the beginning and there’s still a lot of work going on. This is one of many steps and we have to enjoy what we do…”
For Ferrari, this race confirms that their pace is truly, um, true, and now we can finally look forward to another team finally taking it to Mercedes. In fact, this is the first time Ferrari and a non-Mercedes driver have led both championships in the hybrid-era.
Ferrari’s decision to run longer than Mercedes in the first stint was an inspired one and it proved to be the turning point in the race (as well as getting a little luck with Hamilton feeding in behind Max Verstappen). But regardless of this, Vettel was catching Hamilton just before he pitted and was just managing his pace behind the Mercedes — they had an answer for anything Hamilton did/would’ve done. They were just the faster team today.
“…Ferrari played it very well – and they had the quicker car today…”
— Toto Wolff
This result was exactly what the sport needed and it’s going to be exciting to see these two teams go toe-to-toe for 20 rounds but, just as has been the approach all through testing, Ferrari aren’t getting carried away.
“…This is only the first race of the championship: there are still 19 to go and we must maintain a high level of concentration at every Grand Prix, avoiding distractions and, already as from today, we are looking ahead to the next Grand Prix in China.”
— Maurizio Arrivabene
Mercedes on the back foot after race one, a perfect way (from a neutral’s perspective) to start the season…
Despite finishing in P3, Valterri Bottas can be proud of how close he finished behind his much more illustrious teammate, Lewis Hamilton. Though the final split was 1.3 seconds (due to Hamilton backing off at the end), Bottas whittled a six second gap to 2.3-ish seconds and it stayed that way for a good chunk of the second stint. Finishing a comfortable 11 seconds ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, Bottas did what he was supposed to do and kept Hamilton honest enough while he was at it.
“…once we stuck on the Softs I had a great feeling with the car. It was behaving really nicely and it felt really nice to drive. It’s a shame it was just a bit too late. But overall this race wasn’t a disaster. It’s good to start with a podium with a new team and every position is important for the Championship. There’s a long season ahead. I have my points and I’ll do better next time. I’m looking forward to China.”
— Valterri Bottas
A solid, solid weekend for Valterri Bottas.
Force India, Esteban Ocon and Bob Furnley’s trousers
A good weekend for the men in pink (that’s a little odd to say, now that I think about it…). A double points finish for Force India, Sergio Perez finishing 7th while Esteban Ocon scored the first point of his career with a 10th place finish, which he took with a great move on Fernando Alonso who he was racing for most of the race, however Alonso was beginning to struggle with a suspension issue that forced him to retire shortly after he was passed.
“Scoring my first point in Melbourne is a very nice reward after what has been quite a tough weekend. I spent almost the entire race fighting against Fernando [Alonso] because we were side-by-side for the first lap of the race. He was able to stay ahead and I had to chase him for the rest of the afternoon. It was a hard fight because Fernando is a tough opponent and it was so difficult to get close and overtake. Eventually I found a gap in the last few laps and took my chance going into turn one. It was a big moment for my race and took me into the points. I’m happy with the result and I feel I’ve learned a huge amount from my first race weekend with this team. I hope this is the first point of many this season.”
— Esteban Ocon
And, finally, Deputy Team Principal, Bob Furnley, was a popular man in the paddock this weekend largely thanks to his pink trousers, matching the car’s colour scheme since the team haven’t got the pink overalls yet in light of their new deal with BWT.
Those are just fantastic. Great effort, Bob.
Were it not for a suspension failure, Fernando Alonso was, somehow, looking good for a world championship point. He kept the much, much superior Force India of Esteban Ocon behind him for a while. How?? I know Australia is a difficult place to overtake but even still, that’s an incredible achievement. In fact, Alonso described the race as one of the best he’s ever done.
“In terms of driving, I probably had one of my very best races today. I was able to drive the car at my maximum; I felt confident, and I enjoyed driving the car throughout the race – I was able to push…”
— Fernando Alonso
Despite this, Fernando went on to say that on a “normal circuit” McLaren should be “last and second last”, which was interesting hear him say despite how much he extracted from the car. In that case, I’ll take stab and say that Monaco and Singapore are going to be highlights of McLaren’s and Alonso’s season…
Kimi Raikkonen (and how tricky setups can be), the ultrasoft tyre (which drivers were delighted to shed after the first stint) and Jolyon Palmer who just had a horrible weekend.
Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull
As if starting in 10th position after an accident in qualifying wasn’t bad enough for Danny Ric at his home grand prix, the Australian had to take a five-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox before his Red Bull found itself stuck in sixth gear on his lap heading to the grid. Ted Kravitz of Sky Sports F1 reporting that it was a sensor on the gear box that caused the issue. The Red Bull mechanics eventually got Ricciardo and the car back to garage and going, albeit from the pitlane and two laps down.
The home crowd saw 26 laps of Danny Ric before a fuel cell failure forced him to retire, rounding up a terrible weekend for the Aussie.
“Not the weekend I wanted at home. For all these things to happen at my home race that’s probably the most frustrating thing. We were on the back foot already after the crash in qualifying and then today we had an issue during the warm up lap followed by a second issue in the race. On both occasions the car just came to a stop so I couldn’t do anything else. But look, it’s the first race so hopefully we’ll move forward from this. Sure I’m disappointed now but it is what it is. I’ve been here before so I’ll wake up tomorrow and be motivated to get ready for China…”
— Daniel Ricciardo
Max Verstappen did the best job he could but Red Bull were, worryingly, finished almost half a minute behind race-winner Vettel. For a team who, behind Adrian Newey’s technical genius, had been expected to excel under the new regulations, they were very disappointing. Their testing issues/concerns were true after all.
“…Looking ahead to China I think we need to keep working hard on the car, race pace was good but you can still see we are not quick enough in certain situations.”
— Max Verstappen
Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes
Uh-oh. There’s finally another team capable of taking victories away from Mercedes that aren’t caused by accidents or reliability issues.
Lewis Hamilton struggled with his ultrasoft tyres and he made the call to pit on lap 17 to exchange his ultrasofts for softs. Unfortunately for Hamilton, he popped right behind Max Verstappen on-track and he couldn’t get past despite his race engineer, Pete Bonnington, telling him it was “race critical” to get past him. Vettel, of course, emerged ahead of Hamilton after his pitstop and, from there, Vettel was always in full control.
“…I was struggling with grip from the get-go. Sebastian was able to always answer me in terms of lap time and just go quicker. Towards the end of the first stint I caught some traffic and that overheated the tyres. I struggled for grip to the point where I needed to come in, plus the gap was closing up and I was sliding around a lot. We made the call to pit, because otherwise I think Sebastian would have come past me anyway. After my stop I got caught in some traffic which was unfortunate but that’s motor racing.”
— Lewis Hamilton
For Mercedes, they were just second best on the day:
“Some races you win, some races you lose, and when the days come where another team has done a better job, you need to accept that with humility and recognise their performance. Today, Sebastian and Ferrari were well-deserved winners. From the early stages of the race, it was clear that Sebastian was very quick because Lewis wasn’t able to pull away. Sebastian came into the window where the undercut was possible and we had the feeling at that point that the tyres were not lasting. It was the team’s impression on the pit wall looking at the data and Lewis’ in the car, too. So that was when, with all the clear risks of coming out in traffic, we took the decision to come in. We were between a rock and a hard place, really, and we went for it. But Ferrari played it very well – and they had the quicker car today…”
— Toto Wolff
Mercedes aren’t in any major trouble right now but they are definitely behind in terms of pace. They were well beaten by Ferrari today and they know it. This is the first time in the Hybrid-era where Mercedes have started on the back foot, now we’ll see how what their response is in what appears to be their biggest challenge yet.
A day filled with so much promise ended in disaster for the Haas team. Romain Grosjean did a great job sticking his Haas on the third row on Saturday, but lost a position to Felipe Massa at the start of the race before retiring from 7th with a water leak.
“I suddenly lost a lot of power. I told the guys, then the next thing I knew I had to slow down the car. It’s a pretty disappointing result, but again, right now I’m hot and we’re all disappointed to lose a seventh-place position, but the car was there in qualifying in P6…I’m feeling it right now, but tomorrow I’m going to wake up thinking, you know what, we’ve got a great car, so no matter what, we’re going to be there this year.”
— Romain Grosjean
Kevin Magnussen, meanwhile, had a rocky start to his Haas career, spinning Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson around in Turn 3 on the first lap, requiring him to make an unscheduled trip the pits. Magnussen’s race was already ruined by this point and he wouldn’t get the opportunity to finish the race, forced into retirement with a suspension failure.
“I had contact at turn three. I had Ericsson on the outside and I understeered into the side of him, which was unfortunate. I lost my front wing and damaged the car a little bit. We changed the front wing and then I went for a long test session to feel the car and learn a bit more about it, which was good. It feels good and the car is fast. That’s the really positive thing from this weekend. The car is there. We just have to make it finish and score points.”
— Kevin Magnussen
A disappointing end to a promising weekend for the Haas team but they’ll have more opportunities for points, their car does seem like one of the better ones out of the Williams, Renault, Force India, McLaren and Toro Rosso midfield scrap.
“Not the race we wished for, or we expected…The good thing we take out of here is that the car seems to be fast…”
— Guenther Steiner, Team Principal
Qualifying highlighted an area of potential concern: the grid is as top-heavy now as it’s possibly ever been, certainly in the modern era. You look at the qualifying splits, there’s a huge drop-off after the Ferrari’s and Mercedes’ and even larger drop-offs after that.
The gap separating 1st and 9th is a whopping 2.4 seconds. That’s just a lot amount of time in F1 to be trailing by ,even if you were 20th on the grid let alone 9th/10th…
This concerning difference in pace was confirmed in the race. Max Verstappen finished almost half a minute behind Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari, while Felipe Massa — in 6th place — finished almost a minute behind Verstappen in 5th, and behind Massa everyone else was lapped, lapped in a race that lasted just 1 hour, 24 minutes. That’s quite concerning and FIA President Jean Todt was also concerned about the pace “discrepancy” between teams and has called for F1 to reduce its massive spending:
“There is too big a discrepancy (of pace) between the smallest and the biggest budget.”
— Jean Todt, FIA President
Bar reliability issues and incidents, it’s going to be hard to see any team other than Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull making the podium this season based on pure pace or even strategy, the gap is just so wide.