Round 1 – Australian Grand Prix – Melbourne 2017
So finally, after more than 3 months of eager anticipation, the 2017 season began in Albert Park, Melbourne Australia.
As usual, pre-season testing in Barcelona didn’t really give us too many clues into the winners and losers from last year. If you listened to Mercedes, they told you that Ferrari was the quickest team. If you listened to Ferrari, they told you that Mercedes was still on top. Red Bull looked there or thereabouts and McLaren appeared to be in dire straits once again. It would only be at the Melbourne qualifying on Saturday where all the team’s true pace could be seen.
It was Lewis Hamilton who took pole, but it was not a Mercedes that joined him in the front row. No, that was taken by Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari. So Ferrari’s pace in testing was true and honest. It was a Mercedes and Ferrari that would start in the second row with Bottas and Raikkonen, but what of the Red Bulls? Max Verstappen proved to be best of the rest in 5th.
It was on his first run in Q3 where Daniel Ricciardo’s nightmare weekend began, when he pushed just a bit too hard a few corners before completing what would have been a quite respectable lap. The back of the car got away from him and he ended up in the barriers with a significant amount of damage.
Grosjean did a stellar lap to start 6th and Alonso pulled 13th out of the bag to show that McLaren may not be as bad as first thought.
And so to Sunday, the weather was fine, the air displays flew low and Daniel Ricciardo’s weekend started to go from bad to worse. As a result of the damage experienced during qualifying, Red Bull had to change his gearbox. Unfortunately, the new gearbox had a faulty sensor that caused him to stop out on the circuit before the race had even begun.
The lights went out and Hamilton led cleanly away from the Ferrari of Vettel. Ricciardo was in the pits where his mechanics were frantically trying to get him started and in to the race.
On Friday, Ferrari showed good race pace and appeared to be able to make their tyres last longer than almost anyone else. This became a critical play during the race. Hamilton stopped early on lap 17 complaining that his tyres were shot. When Lewis came back out on track after his pit stop, he found himself stuck behind the Red Bull of Max Verstappen who was yet to stop.
Vettel finally stopped 6 laps later than Lewis on lap 23, and when he came out, he was ahead of the Brit. Verstappen stopped on lap 25, but now Vettel was over 6 seconds ahead of Hamilton’s Mercedes and that’s pretty much how it remained until the end of the race. This was Ferrari’s first win since Singapore in 2015.
What of the others? Bottas in the other Mercedes took the final podium position with Raikkonen in 4th and Max in 5th. Daniel Ricciardo’s weekend turned to full disaster when his Renault engine failed on lap 30. Daniel Ricciardo and Mark Webber have 13 GP wins and 60 podiums between them but not one has happened at their home race… Maybe next year?
Felipe Massa finished 6th in his come back race from retirement and both Torro Rosso scored points.
Was this the game-changing start to the season that everyone was expecting? The cars were almost 5 seconds faster than last year in pre-season testing but not in Melbourne. Why? Albert Park is essentially a street circuit with some unique characteristics, that could explain these questions. Let’s hope the next round in China sees some unpredictability and real excitement.