The 2017 Formula One Season has already seen Ferrari claim victory, a feat that the Italian team were unable to achieve last season. Sebastian Vettel won the race with a ten-second gap to Lewis Hamilton, the fourth victory of his Ferrari career and his forty-third overall.
After a tough race in which Ferrari nailed the strategy, successfully pulling off an over-cut in the pit-stops as Hamilton lost time behind Max Verstappen’s Red Bull, Sebastian Vettel said,
“There is a long way to go, but we are just over the moon at the moment. I was not entirely happy with my start, there was a bit of wheel slip, but I was trying to keep the pressure on to give the message that we are here to fight. There was a bit of luck that Lewis came out in traffic.
You can push these cars until the end. The tyres still degrade but you can still attack all the way.”
– Sebastian Vettel
Lewis Hamilton made the call to pit early on lap 18 after feeling that his ultrasoft tyres were giving up, the decision would cost the Briton a greater chance at winning the race, as he pulled out of the pits and found himself stuck behind Max Verstappen whilst Vettel built a gap in clean air from the lead. It showed that the Mercedes W08 might struggle a bit more than the Ferrari in the dirty air of a car in front, which is not surprising given that the Silver Arrows have been running at the front for years.
Valtteri Bottas had an excellent race and finished third, he looked to be adrift of his teammate for most of the race, but in the remaining fifteen laps, the Finn showed stronger pace than his highly-rated teammate and at one point reduced the gap to 1.5s. We’ll never know whether he was told to hold off from attacking Hamilton in the closing stages of the race.
Kimi Raikkonen had a fairly anonymous race but managed to secure fourth and puts Ferrari ahead of Mercedes in the constructors standings. Max Verstappen finished fifth, confirming that Red Bull aren’t quite on the pace, but the Dutchman was close enough to Raikkonen to be positive about the pace of the RB13, although he finished half-a-minute down on Vettel.
Felipe Massa was able to improve on his qualifying and finished the race sixth, ahead of Sergio Perez in the Force India, who pulled off some aggressive overtakes during the race. Carlos Sainz collected valuable points for Toro Rosso with eighth, his teammate Daniil Kvyat finished ninth. Esteban Ocon scored the first points of his Formula One career at the expense of Fernando Alonso, who outdrove the McLaren and was running in tenth until lap 53, when of all things, a suspension failure ruined his efforts.
Elsewhere, Antonio Giovonazzi had a memorable debut for Sauber, finishing the race in 12th place and showing impressive ability in a pressurised situation. He though he’d be sitting about in the garages until Pascal Wehrlein’s late decision to pull out, so the Italian driver put in a very good shift for Sauber.
Haas had a disastrous race. Romain Grosjean retired early on from 7th position, and Kevin Magnussen retired deep into the race, long after a first lap collision with Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber. It was a 50/50 incident that warranted no reaction from the stewards.
Daniel Ricciardo was the unluckiest driver of the day. The Aussie was poised to start fifteenth after a five-place grid penalty was given for a gearbox change after he damaged the rear in Q3. On his lap to the starting grid, an issue prevented the Red Bull from getting out of sixth gear, so he ended up emerging from the pits after the race start, two laps down. His race was then plagued by a fuel pressure issue later on, ending the Honey Badger’s weekend early and preventing Red Bull from claiming solid points.
There has been a mixed reaction on social media to the new era of Formula One, with some suggesting that cars don’t look like they can overtake. Last season, there were only 26 overtakes around Albert Park, it would be blind to judge the new era before a few more Grand Prix have played out.
Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari head to China leading both Championships, the race is poised to be another battle between red and silver. Williams, Force India and Toro Rosso will be aiming for points again in Shanghai, as the battle for fourth in the Constructors becomes a bit clearer. McLaren-Honda’s pre-season testing makes it tempting to call Alonso’s close brush with points in Australia seem like a positive, but it’s still year three of the partnership, and it’s disappointing compared to last season.