Race Recap: Australia

Hayley Stanway reports on the opening round of the 2017 Formula One World Championship.

Could it be that this is the start of a new, less predictable era in F1. Could we be about to see the long-awaited fight between Hamilton and Vettel? Maybe it is too early to say, but today did bring a bit of a shake up in the order, with Seb taking the top step of the podium.

Ferrari fan or not, you couldn’t fail to enjoy the celebrations, with Arrivabene crying and the team belting out the national anthem like their lives depended on it! Sergio Marchionne, who has been largely silent all winter, released a statement shortly after the victory acknowledging that it was “about time” and that he is delighted for the Tifosi having waited a year and a half for victory. Seb said it was a great relief for everyone and that it was massive for the team. “it has been a rough road but one that we had to take. It doesn’t stop there, it is just the beginning.”

Lewis brought it home in second place having been complaining about a surprising lack of grip from the Ultrasoft tyres from lap 5. He pitted on lap 18 for a set of Softs but came out behind Max in fifth place. If there is one driver you don’t want to be stuck behind, it is Max, with him being likened to the back end of a donkey on a number of occasions. This turned out not to be the problem as Lewis struggled to get anywhere near him, allowing Seb to build the gap up front. After the race, Lewis said “We executed the strategy as well as we could” and restated his claims that Ferrari were quicker, but he is pleased that they have a race on their hands.

Valtteri took third in what was a relatively hassle free afternoon with Kimi behind him never really posing a threat. He was closing the gap to Lewis at a fair rate in the middle of the race but he levelled out and maintained the gap at about 2.5 seconds leading to speculation that Mercedes may have nipped it in the bud, although there is no confirmation of this and Nikki Lauder has said it wasn’t the case. Valtteri expected a better result but says this weekend is a good start.

Other than an aborted start with a second formation lap due to an out of place Renault, the start was relatively drama free with the front runners maintaining order through the first phase and a completely clean turn 1 was had by all. Kevin Magnussen misjudged turn 3 and put himself and Marcus Ericsson in the gravel. Both recovered with only a pit stop needed by KMag and after a quick stewards’ investigation, no further action was warranted. The new rules state that unless a driver is blatantly at fault, there will be no punishment, and it is great to see them being left to get on with it on track.

As if the Aussie locale didn’t have enough to groan about after their home grown hopes went spinning into the gravel yesterday, confirmation came this morning that Daniel Riccardo would be taking a 5 place grid penalty having changed his gearbox due to damage sustained during the crash. Surely that’s the bad luck out the way then? It’s just a case of elbows out and let’s get through the pack? Well, no actually, on his way to the grid he had a sensor issue that resulted in him being jammed in 6th gear. He was recovered to the garage in good time where there was some frantic “control alt delete“ action to try to reboot the system, so he missed the start, but was able to join the action in lap 3. This left them with hopes of an early safety car so he could unlap himself and, theoretically, start making his way through the field on the lead lap. It was not to be and in another case of the home race jinx, he pulled into the run off at turn 3 on lap 29 and was told over the radio that “the car is done”. In commentary, Brundle joked that if he didn’t have bad luck, he would have no luck at all, which really sums up his weekend. He did say that he was disappointed, mainly for the fans but that he is pleased that Max had a good race with decent pace relative to Kimi in fourth.

Mystifyingly, Christian Horner has said that he is more pleased with today than yesterday, although Max was also surprised at how he was able to hold pace with Kimi in fourth but acknowledged that there is a lot of work to do. Disappointing start to the season from Red Bull with aero being their specialist subject and they are falling over themselves to tell us they are on top of it and have updates coming. Let’s hope that is the case!

It wasn’t a great afternoon for McLaren although they managed further than most expected. Vandoorne was suffering a power output issue, with his steering wheel stuck in formation lap mode and giving him no information at all. He pitted on lap 10 for a reboot and managed to make the chequered flag albeit in 13th and last place. For a long time, Fernando was running in tenth and on for a unlikely points finish but in the closing stages he suffered suspension failure and had to retire the car. Not before he was subjected to the overtake of the race by Ocon in the Force India. Fernando said he felt the race was going well before his retirement, although he claims to have been saving fuel. He said that they were very lucky with retirements and that if everyone had have had a clean race they would definitely have been last. Rumour has it Hasegawa has said there should be a brand-new engine in the next couple of months, but it remains to be seen how much of a difference that will make given that the current engine was brand new for testing. Tough times ahead for the McLaren Honda partnership, with no clear solution in the pipeline.

The Force Indias and Toro Rossos completed the top ten with Esteban Ocon scoring his first point in F1, pleased with how his weekend went, but frustrated at how difficult he found overtaking to be – and he is not alone.

Everyone asked said that overtaking was at least as difficult as it had been last year, with Lewis being particularly vocal about it during the race. It may be that Mercs are more sensitive to the dirty air with Valtteri also saying that it was difficult to follow if you are within 2 seconds of the car in front. With increased aero, overtaking certainly wasn’t going to be easier than in previous years but Albert Park is not an easy track to pass on anyway so it may be worth waiting for up coming races before judging just how much of an impact the new regulations will have.

Nico Hülkenberg came home in 11th, just missing out on a point in the fight with Ocon but with so many retirements, it is difficult to know if this is representative of the Renaults pace.

Giovinazzi, the surprise appearance of the weekend after Pascal had to sit out the race, put in a good performance to finish in 12th. He had a good scrap with fellow rookie Lance Stroll and kept a cool head in the opening lap to avoid any damage. There have been suggestions that this may not be the last we will see of the Ferrari young driver, although quite where that leaves Pascal remains to be seen.

Including Ricciardo and Fernando, there were 7 DNFs in all. Haas had a disappointing day, in contrast to the elation of last year in Australia, with Grosjean retiring the car in a plume of steam and Magnussen pulling over to the side of the track on lap 51. Jolyon Palmer made it to lap 18 before retiring his Renault with braking problems, topping off a pretty dismal weekend for the Brit. Lance Stroll was having a decent first outing for Williams, making his way up the order nicely in the opening stages but brake failure called time on his charge. He is pleased with his performance in the race, although many have identified areas where he will need to improve if he is to have more productive weekends going forward.  Ericsson was the final retiree, suffering a hydraulics failure that is thought to be related to the first lap off.

– Hayley Stanway

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