The Formula 1 season kicked off last weekend with the Australian Grand Prix. The race was won by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, confirming the pace of Scuderia and asking questions of the Mercedes team early on. There were a few other things that became apparent after the opening race too.
The Red Bull wasn’t as Quick as Anticipated
During the back end of last season, Red Bull Racing were firmly best of the rest behind the clear leaders Mercedes. Heading to pre-season testing, the team were optimistic that they would retain this position at least, and even close the gap to the Silver Arrows up the road. Unfortunately, last weekend revealed not only that the gap to Mercedes remains large, but also that Ferrari have leapfrogged the team over the winter. Daniel Ricciardo failed to finish his home race and encountered arguably the worst weekend of his career luck-wise. His team-mate Max Verstappen managed fifth behind Kimi Raikkonen, crossing the line 28 seconds behind race winner Sebastian Vettel. It was easy to tell that the team were hoping for more, their only chance of fighting for the title rests on the efforts of the in-season development race, and they’ll need to be a clear rung ahead of the top two in this department to close the gap.
Ferrari Are Back
After a couple of disappointing seasons, Ferrari proved they were firmly back in the game on Sunday. Vettel, who last stood on the podium in 2015, beat Lewis Hamilton to the line to cause an uproar from the crowd. Even when Hamilton was leading the race, (not forgetting the triple World Champion started on pole) Vettel’s Ferrari was never too far behind, keeping Hamilton’s Mercedes honest. It was the Brit who had to pit first having spent his tyres prematurely in order to stay ahead of Vettel – For once, Mercedes weren’t afforded the luxury of coasting. Vettel optimised on the Mercedes call, and started pushing in clean air as Hamilton emerged from the pits behind the very wide RB13 of Max Verstappen. Post-race Hamilton admitted that Vettel’s pass on him was inevitable; he had been struggling with tyres. Regardless of the circumstances, Ferarri simply had better race pace, with Vettel able to build an eventual gap of 10-seconds even after Hamilton had cleared the Red Bull of Verstappen.
Williams are Still the Quickest at Pitstops
Williams may have had a solid weekend with Felipe Massa – not so much with rookie Lance Stroll – but it was their rapid pitstops that once again made them a talking point. They won the pitstop challenge in 2016, with the quickest stops at a staggering 11 of the 21 races. This included a 1.92sec change in Baku – breathtaking! In the season opener, they were quickest again at Albert Park, with Massa’s stop taking 2.34sec.
“The work from the whole team, the pitstop – everything worked really well. We managed to beat the teams behind us in the right way. I’m really happy with the result today. Not bad for an old boy.”
– Felipe Massa
Massa’s 6th indicates that the Brazilian could be leading the team’s efforts to reclaim fourth in the Constructors, and possibly threaten Red Bull if Lance Stroll can improve in qualifying as the season progresses.
The Australian Grand Prix proved a learning curve to many teams with only 13 cars managing to finish the race. A great deal of attrition was anticipated given that this is a drastically different era, with new machines to get on top of. As the F1 heads to China for the second race, the key questions will surround whether Ferrari can retain their competitive edge over Mercedes, the points haul that Red Bull can salvage to keep the teams ahead in check, and whether Williams can stay in the gap below the top three, but above the midfield.