The new season of F1 has gotten off to a splendid start down under at the Australian Grand Prix, with Sebastian Vettel bringing in Ferrari’s first win since 2015. Lewis Hamilton finished a distant second, even though he started on pole, had a much better start and was leading in the Mercedes-AMG silver arrow before the first pit stop.
There wasn’t much overtaking as is expected with the Aussie circuit, even with the grippier tyres. But there were some exciting moments in the middle order. At the front, it was a clean start with Hamilton getting a clear run with the better start off the line, Vettel meanwhile managed to close the door on Bottas who started third and Kimi Raikkonen managed to hold off Max Verstappen and retain fourth. The rest of the pack squeezed into the first two corners and even with the odd locking up of the brakes, there were no incidents till turn three where Magnussen in the Haas F1 car clipped the curb and ended up taking Ericsson’s Sauber into the gravel with him.
At the front, Lewis had the hammer down, trying to pull away from Vettel’s Ferrari, but he never quite managed to get away far enough. Ferrari clearly showing the form and pace that it had through winter testing with the new cars, and knocking on the door of the Mercedes and keeping the pressure on. Hamilton was about two seconds ahead of Vettel, but with constant complaints about the lack of grip, he was called into the pits by Lap 18. He came out behind the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, while Vettel stayed out for another six laps in the lead, pulling away in the clean air ahead of him. That pit stop is what ended up being the deciding factor for the race outcome and when Vettel came out of his pit stop right ahead of Verstappen and Hamilton, it pretty much cemented Vettel’s win.
Ferrari clearly had the pace and performance that allowed Vettel to stay ahead of Lewis Hamilton for the rest of the race, while teammate Kimi Raikkonen too put in a strong performance to finish fourth, staying clear enough of Max Verstappen’s charge in the last few laps. He even ended up setting the fastest lap of the race in the end. Fellow Finn and the new driver in the Mercedes F1 team, Valterri Bottas had an excellent start to his season, qualifying and finishing in third. He clearly had good pace as he was catching up quite rapidly to Lewis and maintaining a decent lead over Kimi, but we didn’t really get to see much of what Bottas can do behind the wheel of the Mercedes.
Down the order, with the new drivers and the new cars, there were a number of retirements with technical problems. Jolyon Palmer had a tough weekend with the Renault, Alonso has been quite vocal about how the McLaren-Honda car is still a long way from being truly competitive, while teammate Vandoorne too was struggling to put in decent laps in the orange race car.
Meanwhile, Toro Rosso and the Force India team had a good start to their run for the 2017 constructor’s championship points with both cars for both teams finishing in the points. While one has possibly the best looking livery of the new season and the other being surprisingly pink, they were the ones who offered the most excitement in the race today. The main highlight, on Lap 52, Esteban Ocon, Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg were fighting for tenth, all three cars were side-by-side down the start-finish straight, right till the corner. Ocon managed to get past Alonso’s ailing McLaren quite swiftly, and Hulkenberg in his new Renault followed through the gap and managed to stay ahead of Alonso and secured 11th place. Earlier on, somewhere in the 20-30 lap stage in the race, Perez in the Force India car had pulled off quite a late overtake on the Toro Rosso of Kvyat to take seventh place.
There was one man, however, for whom the whole weekend had been a complete disaster. Home favourite and Red Bull racer, Daniel Ricciardo had the worst possible start to his 2017 F1 season. He had a bit of an accident in qualifying, his car needed a new gearbox which resulted in grid penalties putting him low in the order at 15th and then this morning as he was doing his open lap to go line up on the grid, his gearbox got stuck in 6th. The Red Bull Racing engineers did manage to get him to start from the pits, a lap down, but that too was to no avail as the engine decided to pack up around Lap 29, bringing and end to the nightmarish weekend for Ricciardo.
The new cars themselves were definitely much faster compared to last year, while the new fastest lap times weren’t quicker by 4 to 5 seconds as was claimed, only by 2 to 3 seconds. This year’s fastest racing lap was a 1:26:538 by Raikkonen compared to last year’s 1:28:997 by Ricciardo.
With the extra downforce thanks to the new regulations and with the extra grip from the fatter tyres, the new cars were cornering at blistering speeds. It was like the viewing sped up footage for every cornering shot around the track. In terms of more overtaking, we’ll have to wait and see how the cars do on different kind of circuits before we can say for sure, but Hamilton and Verstappen have already voiced their opinions regarding how difficult it is with the wider cars.
Meanwhile, Ferrari’s win at the 2017 Australian F1 Grand Prix has injected some much-need new life into the sport for the fans and the other teams as well. Even Niki Lauda said in an interview that he gets bored with just winning and that having some competition gets him fired up, and that’s exactly what Vettel’s win has done. The 2017 Formula 1 season is off to a great start and looks like it will be most exciting one in years and hopefully, this continues at the next race in Shanghai, China on the weekend of April 7. Stay tuned for more formula one and motorsport updates.