Sebastian Vettel took his 43rd Grand Prix Victory ahead of Lewis Hamilton & Valterri Bottas to prove that Ferrari are indeed the real deal this season and finally we may be set to have a head to head between the two most successful F1 drivers of the past decade. It’s crazy to think that between Vettel & Hamilton, they have won 7 of the last 9 drivers championships. However, neither has ever finished 2nd to the other in a season. The closest we have had was 2010 when Vettel, Alonso, Webber & Hamilton went into the final race each with a chance of winning. However, Vettel won the race and the championship, with Hamilton finishing 2nd in the race but 4th in the championship.
After the enthralling end to FP3 (Free Practice) this weekend, with Sebastian Vettel topping the timesheets by half a second, we knew we were in for a close qualifying battle at the top. Hamilton ended Q1 on top before Bottas responded by topping Q2. However, when it mattered in Q3, Hamilton put his Mercedes on pole, with Vettel second and Bottas third. Hamilton ensured it was 6 Melbourne poles in 11 outings. A record matched only by the late great Ayrton Senna. It also meant Hamilton moved to 62 Career poles, 3 behind Senna and 6 behind Schumacher. Surely, it’s only a matter of time before he breaks the pole record.
Getting off the line was an Achilles heel for Hamilton in the early part of last season. However, no such issues occurred as he got a clean getaway today. It was Vettel who then admitted that he got a bit of wheelspin at the start and had to fend off Bottas and the charging Verstappen. From the get go, the pace of the Ferrari was incredible. It took Hamilton until about lap 7 before he managed to get out of DRS range from Vettel. By the end of the first stint when Hamilton pitted Vettel was still within 3 seconds of Hamilton. To put that in context, in the past 3 years, if Hamilton or Rosberg got a good start, by lap 7 they would usually be out of sight, easily about 3/4 seconds in the lead.
The race-defining moment came in the first round of stops when Hamilton pitted a lap earlier than planned. This allowed Vettel to put his foot down and attack for the overcut (opening up a wide enough gap so he could retain track position after he pitted himself). This worked to perfection as Hamilton was stuck for a while behind Max Verstappen when he came out, hence couldn’t push to prevent Vettel’s strategy from working. From that point on the rest of the race was a formality with Vettel controlling proceedings to the checkered flag. Bottas finished third but he actually held his own and was seriously closing the gap to Hamilton in the middle stint of the race. This suggests that Bottas should perhaps not be ruled out in the race for the driver’s championship. Kimi Raikonnen finished in fourth behind Bottas in a less impressive drive. It is often said that Kimi requires the car to be in a very narrow window for him to perform, it appears he just didn’t like the balance of the car this weekend.
Ricciardo Woes/ Midfield Battle
Red-Bull and Daniel Ricciardo in particular had a weekend to forget. Below is a summary of how Ricciardo’s home Grand-Prix went.
• Crashes in Q3 without setting time, hence starts P10 in race.
• Changes gearbox due to crash, hence gets 5 place grid penalty and starts P15 instead.
• On the formation lap, he gets stuck in sixth gear and has to come back to the pit to fix problem, hence misses start of the race.
• Starts race 2 laps down before retiring in the middle of the race with an engine issue.
It literally could not have gone any worse for him. At least the other Redbull got to see the checkered flag finishing 5th which is where the team expected to end up this weekend. In terms of the championship, Red-bull and Daniel Ricciardo are already now playing catch-up. It appears that Adrian Newey might have got it wrong for once after a rule change, however there are still a lot of races left. Red-bull may struggle in the next 2 or 3 races but I’m sure they will be back fighting in front soon this season as red-bull are usually the best at developing the car over the course of the year.
Moving to the midfield, there were a lot of retirements, 7 in total. Which is not totally unexpected given it’s the first race after a major rule change. Haas had a double retirement which was unfortunate after Roman Grosjean had put in a sensational qualifying performance, starting P6 on the grid. Other retirements included Fernando Alonso, Lance Stroll, Jolyon Palmer and Marcus Ericsson. Fernando Alonso had a solid race and it’s amazing how well he makes the Mclaren-Honda look given it was probably the worst package this weekend.
Williams lead the midfield pack courtesy of Felipe Massa’s 6th place. However, it’s very close as the two Force-Indias and Toro-rosso’s scored points behind him. Hulkunberg missed out of the points but not for lack of trying in the tight battle between himself, Ocon and Alonso (before he retired). Ocon came out on top after an impressive overtake on Alonso. That battle will surely be contender for image of the season, just look at the colours of the cars. It’s like looking at a rainbow.
In conclusion, it’s great to have F1 back and it seems we have a proper title fight between two constructors for the first time in the Hybrid era. The new Pirelli tyres allow drivers to push until the end which is great. I loved when Kyvat was asking his engineers on the radio for Vettel’s fastest lap so he could try beat it, even though his engineers were not best pleased as they would rather he nursed the car home safely. Moments later when Verstappen knew he was probably going to finish fifth he asked the same question about the fastest lap time. Perhaps an extra world championship point should be given to whoever sets the fastest lap in a race to at least give drivers who had a lonely race, something tangible to shout about.
Article Courtesy of Laju’s F1 Corner