After all the hype, all the talk, and all the downforce and fat tyres, Formula 1 finally returned this past weekend to the land of Oz, Melbourne, Straya! It was a very interesting weekend, and just when you thought Mercedes had all the answers, Sebastian Vettel changed the questions, and shocked everyone with his fourth Ferrari win, and his first in 27 races? In this review, I’ll talk about the race itself, some of the over-arcing problems the series has at the moment, and craft an overall view of what was a weekend where Vettel papered over a LOT of cracks.
Let’s address the important one first. VETTEL WON! FERRARI WON! HELL YEAH! It was a superb victory from Sebastian Vettel and a perfect performance from both him and the Ferrari pit crew. The testing pace was no fluke, Seb seemingly has a car this year, and the early pressure he put on Lewis forced him to burn through his ultrasoft tyres several laps early, forcing the pitstop.
Ferrari went for the overcut, Mercs exposed their old weakness of struggling to run in turbulent air, Lewis got caught behind and couldn’t pass Verstappen, Vettel came out ahead, and the rest was history. What surprised me was not only the strategy call but the pace Seb showed afterward, eventually winning by just under 10 seconds. In the open air, neither Mercs had an answer for him. It was a #BEATEMDOWN, and probably the most comprehensively beaten Mercs has been since Singapore 2015 – Ironically, the last time Seb and Ferrari won a GP.
Mercs seem to have this knack of coughing one up when they’re genuinely challenged, and Toto Wolff knew the jig was up the moment Seb came out ahead of Max. Simply put, Seb’s early pace but Mercedes in an unwinnable situation on the opening stint. Either lose track position on the Ultras (CRITICAL for Albert Park) or take the undercut and pray the fresh rubber is enough.
And it’s not just the car either. Seb finished a full 22 seconds ahead of teammate Kimi Raikkonen. Hope it’s not another case of the Iceman being a slow learner for a new era… speaking of which…
This race had HOW many passes?!
Yeah, make no mistake, for as much as the nuance of a battle for the lead (sort of) led to this race being slightly more enjoyable, this still sucked for on-track action.
The big excitement for the regulations was seeing the 2017 cars look mean and aggressive. Parties in the rear, fat-ass tyres, all that good stuff. In Qualifying, they were fast as hell, LH pulling off the fastest EVER lap of Albert Park. But from a practical standpoint, the fear was always that the dirty air effect by adding ALL the topside downforce you can think of would ruin the racing… and given the early evidence… we may be in trouble here.
There was 2 on-track overtakes in this race. TWO. The 3-wide between Esteban Ocon, the dying engine of Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg was a highlight of an otherwise really boring race, where the 2nd car couldn’t follow in a scrap. Lewis Hamilton brought it up post-race and he was absolutely right.
Now I don’t think that’ll be the true baseline for these 2017 cars – I think China in a fortnight’s time will be a LOT more representative given a lot of Tilke tracks run the same, but it’s not promising to see a ton of Perez and Sainz clips where one is within 0.7 of a second, but literally can’t get any closer to force a pass.
And for all the talk about drivers being able to push more, did that make ANY difference to the product as something consumable? Certainly didn’t for this guy. 1-stop races due to all the extra grip and race laps still 4-5 seconds off Quali? No thanks.
And another thing, if the early pecking order is anything to go buy, this could be a long season.
Mercedes and Ferrari are in a league of their own. The Red Bull’s are most likely 3rd and in no man’s land. The Williams of Felipe Massa was the last man on the racing lap in 6th place, 83 seconds behind Seb. Now sure, Ricciardo had the weekend from hell, and I’d have liked to have seen where the Haas of RoGro would have ended up, but that’s not a good sign either.
I know a lot of people will watch F1 for the midfield action (There’s where it’ll be interesting), but it’s disheartening to see the field just so disjointed. The regulations were supposed to bring the field closer together, and right now, it looks to have done the opposite. Which saddens me, because I’d love to see Force India and Toro Rosso dice for Top 5 finishes a lot more frequently, rather than seeing the big three teams constantly lock out the top spots. Nearly 2.5 seconds covered the field in Q3. *sigh*
The Rise of Antonio Giovinazzi
First of all, before anything else, props to Pascal Wehrlein for withdrawing if he didn’t feel like he could go. Sports these days have this ridiculously toxic fan culture where everyone has to play through pain, injury, and fatigue. See the NBA for more drama on that at the moment. But in any case, Martin Brundle’s ignorant comments saying he should just “take some painkillers and get on with it” was a classic example of “Back in my Day”. I hated it. It was moronic, arrogant, and completely unnecessary. Who the hell are you tell someone how to manage their body, which is what these amazing athletes bank on in their careers? Go away.
However, it meant Antonio Giovinazzi was pulled in at the 11th hour to replace Pascal in Qualifying, and he had an exceptional weekend. Qualified in 16th place, and would go on to finish in 12th, including some solid defensive driving we saw on the hard camera. But to be called in on just hours notice and drive like you’ve been here 3 seasons already was incredibly impressive. I hope this wasn’t a one-shot deal for Antonio and more is to come because this was an exceptional first weekend.
So… Title Fight?
A lot of people jumped right up on the “Hamilton vs Vettel” rivalry and what it could be to have a 2008 or 2012-esque feud, and it took one race for everyone to be on this wagon. Remember 2015 when Vettel won in Malaysia and Nico Rosberg said: “Game on!”… Yeah, no. Please people, for your own good, calm down.
Although, as friend Zoe Hamilton pointed out on Twitter, it’s going to be fun to see the inner conflict of the British Media here. One the one hand, F1 has become the Lewis Hamilton show over the last four years or so, and he dominates all the headlines, win or lose. On the other hand, Vettel seems to have given people a TON of hope, and they’re going to want to push the shit out of a potential two-team scrap. The confliction is strong here, and I LOVE it. It’s gonna be fun either way. Me personally, I’m not buying into this just yet, but god I hope I’m wrong because this would be the title feud that has eluded F1 since maybe 2009 when they both consistently had top-tier cars.
Dre’s Random Observation of the Week: I love that we as an audience Jolyon Palmer under the bus for being a spoilt brat regarding his team (Which to be fair, IS justified), but when Fernando Alonso does it constantly for years on end, we just laugh at it. Amazing what privilege two world titles and a third of your career being a waste does for you. The double standards amuse me. We should be throwing Nando under a train for TURNING DOWN MERCEDES. Hello?! His agent is stealing a living here!
Dre’s Race Rating – 5/10 (Average): Make no mistake here, the only thing saving this one from a poorer score, is the fact that Sebastian Vettel was able to break the status quo and punch Lewis Hamilton in the nose. This race intriguing strategic merit and surprise at the front… and little else. Any race with two overtakes otherwise, gets slammed. An extra half point for the Hulk/Nando/Ocon three-wide and the fact the winning car was red instead of silver.
Thanks for reading, check back soon for some thoughts on MotoGP’s opening round in Qatar!