The action starts here, a new era of F1 begins under the banner of new owners, Liberty Media. This season also introduces new regulations resulting in bigger more durable tyres, wider cards, more powerful engines and a selection of new drivers. This has created a newfound energy for the sport, change is in the air and it is a positive vibe from all as F1 embraces the digital age. While testing was also intriguing, making the free practice sessions ever more revealing. This year, F1 has kept its cars close to its chest, drip feeding the performance throughout the weekend but resulting with two teams on the front row. But if Mercedes have the better one lap pace, who has the better pace for long runs? Ferrari historically wins this battle and their long run pace has been strong in simulations so we look forward to a competitive race despite concerns that overtaking may be more difficult.
As the cars make their installation lap to the grid we see a problem for Daniele Riccardo, he appears to lose gears, and is forced to pull over. Unable to make it to the grid he will opt to start from the pit lane as the team work against the clock to repair damaged parts. A great disappointed to Daniel for his home Grand Prix.
Following parade lap we see a false start, a Force India accidently taking Daniels empty grid slot, this giving the Red Bull mechanics more time as the crowd are willing them to get the work completed. Onto the second parade lap and Lewis comments on the radio explaining a lack of grip for his grid slot. This time it’s lights out and away we go, Lewis maintains the lead from Vettel and Bottas, while everyone makes it through turn one cleanly. A nice surprise given the wider, longer chassis. Moving up to the legendary Turn 3 and we see an incident between the Haas of Kevin Magnusson and the Sauber of Marcus Ericson., both cars manage to make their way out of the gravel trap and back to the pits.
Sergio Perez scores the first overtake of the race as it’s fast and furious, lots of cars moving around but all tentative, not wanting to lose their race via contact on the first lap. Daniel Ricciardo eventually starts two laps down, a day testing for the Australian but great for his supporters to see him on track. Soon later we see Stoffel Vandoorne pit, forced to make an engine restart and he’s on his way again, the McLaren not looking too strong at this stage.
As the race progresses we hear Jolyon Palmer on the radio describing the brakes as ‘anchored’, some form of locking which was halting his progress. The British driver’s weekend seemly going from bad to worse after a positive showing in the early pre-season testing. We then see Grosjean pull out from 6th place, looks like an engine failure of some kind. A shame given the progress of Haas this weekend and vital points lost early in the season, Haas looking to improve the car and alter their brake supplier in the coming races.
The battle up front has been consistent throughout and by lap 16 Vettel sticking to within 2 seconds of Hamilton, just outside of the dirty air but clearly in control. He’s driving smoothly and at this stage appears to be the more confident racer, Lewis’s tone on the radio appears unsettled. Hamilton then pits first on Lap 17 and changes from the ultra-soft to the super soft tyres, then comes out behind the lapped Giovinazzi, then Max Verstappen. Not a great strategy from the Mercedes team which has left Lewis vulnerable. Meanwhile Palmer retires from a difficult few laps as Perez pits.
Vettel stays out and continues to push, Lewis past Giovinazzi is now the fasted car in clean air, proving the undercut would work had it not been for traffic. Vettel eventually pitting on lap 24 and coming out ahead of Max Verstappen. A frustrated Hamilton unable to make the pass while Ericsson pulls off and retries his Sauber at the side of the racetrack, the second Ferrari engine problem of the afternoon.
Lap 26 and Bottas pits from the lead followed swiftly by Kimi Räikkönen, the cars come out in 3rd and 4th respectively, Bottas instantly appearing more comfortable on the super soft tyres. Lap 28 sees Daniel Ricciardo pulls off with an engine failure, the end to a disappointing afternoon, Red Bull being further off the pace than expected. It’s lap 34 and Bottas is consistently the fastest man on track, now closing the gap to Hamilton. Vettel’s pace has slowed, looking to conserve the car and tyres at this stage. Lance Stroll has a brief off on Lap 43, then re-joins without pitting, Lance citing a long brake pedal.
Lap 50 and Kevin Magnussen retires with a car failure, an end to a difficult afternoon for him and Haas who leave with no points after a promising weekend. Vettel is comfortable in the lead, cruising to victory while Bottas cruises up to the back of Hamilton, now he appears to hold station, Kimi is still some way behind and unable to mount a challenge. Lap 54 Fernando Alonso retires following an exciting battle for 10th with Esteban Ocon and Nico Hulkenberg. Despite being way down on power Alonso was driving well to keep the McLaren within a chance of a point scoring position, but alas the power deficit was all too clear to see. It’s going to be a long selection of away races for McLaren, Honda confident they will have a competitive engine that will fix all of the current issues in two months, lets hope so, they said the same about this engine two months prior.
Just a few laps to go and Daniil Kvyat inquires on the fastest lap, Max also inquires “how fast is the fastest lap?” Pits “too fast!” The team aware the tyres offer more grip but also concerned with the pressure on the engine at this stage of the race. Kimi Räikkönen then scoring the fastest lap right at the end of the race.
Sebastien Vettel wins the 2017 Australian Grand Prix, with Hamilton second and Bottas right behind in third. All round it was an entertaining race, the smaller grid affecting the race in terms of overall action but it was positive to see Ferrari back on race willing pace. Ferrari are no doubt pleased with the result but its going to be a close battle with Mercedes for the remainder of these away races. We’ll analyse the race further in our upcoming podcast.
The finger returns, race classification below: