Formula One embarked on a new era in Australia as the halo made its competitive debut on the cars at Albert Park, Melbourne for the opening round of the 2018 season. The sport has never had two four-time champions on the same grid before so how would take the first blow in what promises to be an enthralling season?
As the weekend progressed, Hamilton and Mercedes seemed to be the team to beat. Though Vettel topped the FP3 timesheet. Tjay came in a changing track from wet weather conditions to dry in which Mercedes did not take to the track at the end. The Hamilton and Mercedes domination resumed into Qualifying as he eventually smashed the track record to take the first pole position of the season. His teammate crashed out in Q3 bringing the session to a slight halt while Vettel was beaten into 3rd by his teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
In the race, Mercedes and Hamilton’s domination seemed to continue as the reigning Champion led away from the start having fended off a challenge from Raikkonen. However, Vettel taking advantage of the Virtual Safety car brought out in the pit stop phase brought him out into the lead ahead of Hamilton. Vettel held on to win the first race of the season. Overtaking was few and far between, however, Bottas delivered a few moves as he climbed from 15th to 8th; he too benefited from the VSC. Daniel Ricciardo pushed Raikkonen hard for third but had t settle for 4th in his home race. The podium challenge for Ricciardo came at the expense of his teammate, Max Verstappen who spun on lap 10. The Dutch driver recovered to 6th as he was unable to get past a dogged Fernando Alonso who finished 5th.
The top 1 was completed by five teams (Renault, McLaren, Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes) as Nico Hulkenberg finished 7th, Stoffel Vandoorne 9th and Carlos Sainz 10th who had to hold off Sergio Perez for the final point. It ended in a nightmare for Haas. After their promising performance in Qualifying, both drivers failed to finish as a result of botched pit stops. Pierre Gasly, Sergey Sirotkin and Marcus Ericsson all failed to finish.
2018 Australian Grand Prix Results
Q1: 1st Lewis Hamilton 1:22.824…………….15th Esteban Ocon 1:24.503
ELIMINATED: 16th Brendon Hartley +0.029, 17th Marcus Ericsson +0.053, 18th Charles Leclerc +0.133, 19th Sergey Sirotkin +0.419, 20th Pierre Gasly +0.792
Q2: Sebastian Vettel 1:21.944………10th Nico Hulkenberg 1:23.544
ELIMINATED: 11th Fernando Alonso +0.148, 12th Stoffel Vandoorne +0.303, 13th Sergio Perez +0.401, 14th Lance Stroll +0.686, 15th Esteban Ocon +1.242
Q3: 1st Lewis Hamilton 1:21.164, 2nd Kimi Raikkonen +0.646, 3rd Sebastian Vettel +0.674, 4th Max Verstappen +0.715, 5th Daniel Ricciardo +0.988, 6th Kevin Magnussen +2.023, 7th Romain Grosjean +2.175, 8th Nico Hulkenberg +2.368, 9th Carlos Sainz +2.413, 10th Valtteri Bottas (no time set)
1st Sebastian Vettel 1:29.33.283, 2nd Lewis Hamilton +5.036, 3rd Kimi Raikkonen +6.309, 4th Daniel Ricciardo +7.069, 5th Fernando Alonso +27.886, 6th Max Verstappen +28.945, 7th Nico Hulkenberg +32.671, 8th Valtteri Bottas +34.339, 9th Stoffel Vandoorne +34.921, 10th Carlos Sainz +45.722, 11th Sergio Perez +46.817, 12th Esteban Ocon +60.278, 13th Charles Leclerc +75.759, 14th Lance Stroll +78.288, 15th Brendon Hartley +1 lap, Romain Grosjean DNF, Kevin Magnussen DNF, Pierre Gasly DNF, Marcus Ericsson DNF, Sergey Sirotkin DNF
Drivers: Sebastian Vettel 25, Lewis Hamilton 18, Kimi Raikkonen 15, Daniel Ricciardo 12, Fernando Alonso 10, Max Verstappen 8, Nico Hulkenberg 6, Valtteri Bottas 4, Stoffel Vandoorne 2, Carlos Sainz 1
Constructors: Ferrari 40, Mercedes 22, Red Bull 20, McLaren 12, Renault 7
Team by Team Review
With the expectation of a three-way title battle, Ferrari arrived in Australia hoping they could strike the first blow. The Scuderia won in Melbourne twelve months ago and hoped to topple Mercedes again Despite, at one stage appearing to struggle, they pulled off a surprise victory. It turned out to be the second successive win in Australia for Ferrari as their four-time Champion took the chequered flag but not everyone is happy…
It was not a vintage Sebastian Vettel Grand Prix win in Australia. The German was put paced by Raikkonen for most of the weekend and going into Qualifying, topped Third Practice setting s time on the drying track with slick tyres. Ferrari had needed that having changed their set up overnight. In Qualifying, he seemed to set up a tense battle for pole position by going quickest in Q2. However, that did not materialise as he could get nowhere near Hamilton’s storming effort. Vettel qualified 3rd, almost seven tenths off the pace and 0.010 seconds slower than Raikkonen. Starting the race on the second row, Vettel held station as Raikkonen looked at Hamilton. Instead of playing the waiting game, he could not keep pace and fell five seconds behind his teammate. That forced Ferrari to keep him out, prolonging his stint which ultimately worked to his advantage. The Virtual Safety car played into their hands and by pitting, he came out ahead of Hamilton before race stewards deployed the actual Safety Car. After racing resumed on lap 35, Vettel held firm to the superior pace of Hamilton to claim successive wins in Australia and his 48th career victory despite needing ‘a little bit more confidence in the car’. Even so, that was Vettel’s 100th podium on his 200th start and in winning, matched Raikkonen’s win tally for Ferrari (9) as well as becoming the third man behind Hamilton and Michael Schumacher to lead 3,000 laps.
Despite finishing third, it is arguable that Kimi Raikkonen had the better weekend of the two Ferrari drivers. The Iceman seemed closer to Mercedes and Hamilton for much of the weekend and was just over quarter of a second shy in Q1. He had the measure of his teammate for large parts too and 0.010 seconds meant he took the first blow in the 2018 Ferrari Qualifying battle. Ferrari’s last drivers Champion looked strong. He had a look at Hamilton at turn 3 on the opening lap but he could not get close enough. The Finnish driver could not get close to Hamilton thereafter as he fell 5 seconds adrift. This prompted Ferrari to try the undercut on Hamilton by pitting Raikkonen on lap 19. That did not work out and when Vettel came out in the lead, Raikkonen was third. When racing resumed, he found himself on the back foot as Ricciardo pressured him for the final podium spot. The Iceman, as cool as you like withstood and finished 3rd for his 92nd podium in F1. Post-race, Raikkonen seemed to play the team game, ‘Maybe I have been a bit unlucky today, but at least the luck came to our team. Third place it’s not exactly the result we wanted, but it’s only the first race and the big picture is not too bad’.
Sebastian Vettel: He may not be happy with his car and winning will come as a surprise but winning when he’s not on top could make this an important victory in terms of the 2018 Championship. 8/10
Kimi Raikkonen: For the most part Raikkonen was able to get the most out of the Ferrari so will be ruing his luck that Vettel beat him and win in the race and defended well to keep Ricciardo off the podium. 8.5/10
Ferrari: The calculated gamble in keeping Vettel out for longer paid off for Ferrari but their pace deficit to Mercedes in Qualifying will be a concern. 8/10
Reigning Champions Mercedes arrive don Melbourne hoping to carry on from where they left off n 2017. Team principal Toto Wolff was cautious as ever in his preview comments. He acknowledged his two drivers were happy with the car but warned it had yet to be driven in anger. Wolff also anticipated the three-way Championship duel with Ferrari and Red Bull and insisted the team had been working hard to ensure they have the ‘best machinery possible’. While the car seems to be the one to beat still, something did not go right with the machinery…
Reigning Drivers Champion, Lewis Hamilton was well on form in Australia. The British driver was imperious in Friday practice but did not take to the track as it dried in FP3. Having lost top spot to Vettel in Q2 and phased with a big battle for pole, he broke the track record with a stunning 1:21:164 to take his 73rd career pole position. Despite it being Hamilton’s 7th pole position in Melbourne, he has only won twice. He led from the start, saw off an early challenge from Raikkonen to build up a 5-second lead. Mercedes reacted to Raikkonen pitting on lap 19 by pitting the race leader the lap later. Hamilton still seemed in control. After Grosjean’s retirement brought out the VSC, he was bemused to see Vettel remerge from the pitlane ahead. The comments on team radio say it all really. From there, Hamilton seemed to be the quicker driver after the restart as he urged the team, ‘let me know how much you want this’. However, he missed an apex at turn 9 which cost him almost two seconds and denied us of a wheel to wheel battle to the finish as Hamilton came home five seconds adrift. Post-race, Hamilton said, ‘I;m still in a little bit f disbelief as o don’t understand what happened yet’. The post-race inquest at Mercedes revealed a software glitch meant Mercedes did not realise how much of a threat Vettel pitting behind the VSC was. Despite finishing 2nd, Hamilton will take heart from the fact these two finished in the same position last year and he won the title in 2017 while at present, the Mercedes is the quicker car.
Valtteri Bottas is in the final year of his Mercedes deal and this was not the best way to start convincing the Mercedes hierarchy to retain him beyond this season. The Finn started the weekend half a second adrift of his teammate in 2nd but that was the highest he would be on the timesheet all weekend. He did more running in the wet FP3 but Qualifying was a disaster. Having been 9th in Q1, going 3rd in Q2 suggested he could be in the mix for pole. However, on his first run, he lost the car on the grass as went a little wide on the outside of turn 1 going into two. The crash ended his qualifying and the damage meant Mercedes needed to replace his gearbox. Bottas started 15th after the resulting penalty and laboured his way up through the pack. It took him four laps to pass Stroll and was 13th after 10 laps. The Mercedes is seemingly still a difficult car to drive behind other cars as he experienced overheating issues. Bottas climbed into the points courtesy of staying out longer than those ahead and benefiting from pitting behind the VSC. That brought him up to 9th and upon the restart passed Vandoorne for 8th. He couldn’t push on and make a meaningful challenge on Hulkenberg for 7th as a train developed until the finish. Vandoorne only finished six tenths behind. Post-race, Bottas described it as a ‘firstrating day. I got some points but not as many as I was hoping for’.
Lewis Hamilton: Hamilton did everything right, dominated practice and qualifying on his way to a sensational pole and ad the race under control until the computer error during the VSC. 9/10
Valtteri Bottas: A costly error in Qualifying prevented Bottas from challenging for the big points and certainly not the start to the last season of his two-year deal needed. 5/10
Mercedes: A algorithm error in their computer system ruined what should have been a winning start 2018, not a great start for the team but they are still the team to beat. 6/10
Red Bull arrived in Melbourne fill with optimism after winter testing indicated they would make it a three-way fight for this year’s Championships. That optimism was reflected in the comments of their drivers. Max Verstappen was hoping Red Bull had made that step forward and be ‘competitive more from the start’ this season. Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo was feeling the pressure of being the home favourite but was optimistic that they could ‘get what we came for’ after a disappointing showing in 2017.
Max Verstappen had a very strong start to the Grand Prix weekend in Australia and at one stage seemed most likely to challenge the Mercedes having got been two tenths off Hamilton in FP2. However, the 20-year-old could not replicate that pace in Qualifying and eventually finished on the second row in 4th. Starting 4th, Verstappen went to have a look at the Ferrari’s into turn 1 but lost out. Not only was he unable to have a sniff at third, he lost 4th to Magnussen who went around the outside. Verstappen tried t regain 4th but pushed too hard. First, he ran wide and sustained damage which contributed to his spinning at turn 1 on lap 11. The spin dropped him to 8th. Red Bull pitted Verstappen on lap 19 and climbed to 5th during the Virtual Safety Car period and at one stage thought he had 4th but was forced to yield. He had passed Alonso as he was coming out of the pits at turn 1 and was instructed to give the place back. From the restart, the Red Bull driver tried all he could to regain 4th but ultimately trailed him home for the final 25 laps to finish 5th. Post-race, Verstappen was thankful he was ‘still able to battle after the spin’ but despite an impressive weekend up to the race, he will need to see improvement on race day if he is to be the lead Red Bull this season.
Daniel Ricciardo certainly gave the crowd something to cheer about at his home Grand Prix. It was for the most part a difficult weekend for the Honey Badger who trailed his teammate in Practice and Qualifying. His problems were doubled by the fact he received a three-place grid penalty for exceeding the speed limit under red flag conditions in FP2. So, qualifying 5th and 0.273 seconds slower than his teammate meant he started 8th. In the race, Ricciardo drove fantastically from 8th to finish 4th. He passed Hulkenberg on lap 5 and gained a place when Verstappen went for a spin 5 laps later. The catastrophic failure at Haas elevated him to 4th and from the safety car restart, he piled the pressure on Raikkonen for the final spot on the podium. Despite claiming over team radio he did not want to let the Ferrari driver breath, he just could not pass as ‘Kimi upped the pace too’. He had to settle for 4th in the end. Post-race, Ricciardo felt they could improve in qualifying then they could take the fight further. He had taken advantage of his teammate’s misfortune to bet him as he did so often last season and he’ll need some improved performances across the weekend as a whole to challenge. However, 4th is a solid start but means the wait for an Australian to finish on the podium at their home Grand Prix goes on and equals the best of 4th set by Mark Webber.
Daniel Ricciardo: A silly mistake in practice hurt his weekend chances but showed the pace if the Red Bull by setting the fastest lap of the race and came oh so close to a first Australian podium at his home Grand Prix. 8/10.
Max Verstappen: Seemed the quicker of the two Red Bull ‘s for most of the weekend but then being caught at the start by Magnussen and then spinning saw his podium chances fade. 7/10.
Red Bull: A much better showing in Australia than they had in 2017 and their race pace with Ricciardo setting the fastest lap suggests they could well be able to make it a three-way battle with Ferrari and Mercedes. 7.5/10.
McLaren arrived in Melbourne setting out on a new era for the team as they reached with a Renault engine for the first time. Racing Director Eric Boullier spoke of his pride of seeing everything come together. `The McLaren broke down five times during winter testing and Boullier insisted, ‘all the issues we faced have since been addressed in the factory’. Both drivers were excited to get on the track with the new car with two-time Champion Fernando Alonso insisting they need to work hard to bring it all together.
Fernando Alonso had a very strong Australian Grand Prix weekend. The two-time world champion easily had the better of his teammate for all but the wet FP3 as he qualified ahead of the Belgian. His pace was in the top 10 throughout practice but ultimately fell 0.148 seconds shy of the top 10. There had been a small mistake in his final run but Alonso can’t be denied the fact he got everything he could out of the car. I the race, he started 10th thanks to Bottas’s penalty and from their held station at the start. Alsono fancied a look at compatriot Sainz in the Renault and seized his opportunity on lap 22 when the Renault driver went wide at turn 9. From there, the Mclaren driver was helped by the VSC and pitting then allowed him to climb to 9th. Coming out of the pit lane he was passed by Verstappen who having gained an unfair advantage had to give the position back behind the Safety car. After racing resumed Alonso fought fantastically to hold the Red Bull to the chequered flag. It was a fantastic result for McLaren and one Alonso felt the team should be proud of after a long winter and fitting the Renault engine late. He also warned the rest of the field there is more to come. Fifth in Australia represents Alonso’s joint best finish for McLaren since re-joining the team in 2014. The difficult years of Honda are definitely over.
Stoffel Vandoorne gave a solid showing in Australia even if he did spend most of the weekend slower than his teammate. However, his times in practice indicated he could be challenging for the top 10 in Qualifying but like Alonso, he fell in Q2. He was on;y 0.309 seconds off a top 10 spot in 12th but he was out-qualified by Alonso. In the race, the Belgian held station at the trusted and trailed Alonso until pitting on lap 25 as the VSC period began. At the restart, he was 8th and had Bottas behind in the Mercedes for company. The Belgian fought hard to keep the Mercedes behind but conceded position on lap 35. Despite that, the McLaren was able to stay with the Mercedes right up to the chequered flag as Vandoorne finished six tenths behind Bottas. Post-race, Vandoorne was bemoaning his luck with the VSC, ‘as I think we could have finished even higher up. But for the opening race, I think we can be very happy’. 9th is a solid start to the season but like his team Principal says, he needs to find a little bit extra pace, ‘earlier in the weekend’.
Fernando Alonso: A fantastic performance and nice to see Alonso fighting with the big boys where a driver of his talent should be, holding off Verstappen for 5th was a great result. 9/10.
Stoffel Vandoorne: Still lacking the pace to Alonso and in need of improving his qualifying pace but 9th is a solid start to the season. 7/10.
McLaren: A double points finish in their first race with Renault engines, decision to switch from Honda engines is at least more than justified. 8/10.
Renault arrived in Melbourne having gathered a lot of data from winter testing and have seemingly improved their reliability. Cyril Abiteboul, Renault’s Managing Director believes that the team have improved their ‘stability and consistency’, two factors he believes will be key in a season it’s speculated they could battle for 4th spot and best of the rest. They showed that in Melbourne.
In his second year with the team, Nico Hulkenberg felt Renault had ‘certainly made progress’ since he joined the team. There was proof of that progress in Melbourne as he improved on his 12th in qualifying and DNF in the race last year. That said, Hulkenberg’s weekend started slowly as he ran 13th in Friday practice leaving him with ‘a sweet spot yet to be found’. Going into Qualifying, they found it. After managing to get into Q3 by 0.148 seconds, the German driver out-qualified his teammate by 0.045 seconds. He started 7th due to Ricciardo’s penalty and remained there in the race; a result he probably would have taken going into the race. The result had more to do with the retirement of both Haas cars as he lost out to both Red Bull drivers on track. He kept Ricciardo behind for 5 laps before he had to yield to the Australian after he had made a move at turn 13, aided by the third DRS zone. Renault pitted him on lap 24, just before the Virtual Safety car was called out. Although he came out ahead of Vandoorne and Bittas, he possibly missed a trick as Alonso and Verstappen managed to jump him in the VSC stage. From the restart, he had an immediate look at Verstappen along the newly named Walker Straight into turn 1 but could not make it stick despite being ahead at one point. Hulkenberg settled for 7th as he was unable to challenge the Red Bull and kept Bottas in the Mercedes behind. Post-race, Hulkenberg described the car as ‘strong and competitive…and taking 6 points home is just reward for the team’s hard work’.
Carlos Sainz had an intriguing Australian Grand Prix weekend though not one he’d want to repeat. The Spaniard seemed to be having the better of Hulkenberg in the Renault throughout practice and qualifying. However, he could not get the temperature into the tyres when it mattered most in Q3. He was ultimately out-qualified by Hulkenberg and the 0.043 seconds difference meant he qualified 9th, two spots behind his teammate. Off the line, Sainz seemed to have the better start than Ricciardo but remained behind the Red Bull through turn 1 and instead found himself in a battle with compatriot, Alonso. A heavy front left lock under braking saw him go wide at turn 9 on lap 22 gifting 9th to Alonso. Renault pitted him at the end of that lap and the VSC a few laps later consequently allowed Bottas and Verstappen to remain ahead. A drinks problem saw Sainz battling nausea and stomach cramps as well as the field but he was able to hold off the Force India of Perez for the final points scoring position; 10th. Under the circumstances, it was a very credible result for Sainz to deliver the point and crucially the team ‘have something to build on ahead of Bahrain’.
Nico Hulkenberg: Out-qualified Sainz even though he was struggling for the sweet spot through much of practice, his race performance in keeping Bottas comfortably behind is a great effort. 8/10.
Carlos Sainz: Had the better pace through practice but could not deliver when it mattered in qualifying. His race performance was very credible considering his drinks bottle issue. 7/10.
Renault: A good start to the season with a double points finish for Renault but will be concerned they were outscored by McLaren who they beat in Qualifying. 7/10.
Both Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon were looking forward to the Australian Grand Prix with both drivers feeling they were in great shape. Perez was aiming for his ‘best year in Formula One’ and the podium this season while Ocon was hoping ‘we can fight for points in Melbourne’. Force India was never higher than 8th in the testing timesheets meaning it could be a whole before the can battle for the podium. However, Perez noted, ‘Often, just finishing the race is the key to getting a good result’ in the season opener. They finished and came close to the points but there is work to be done at Force India as they finished with neither car in the points for the first time since Monaco.
Sergio Perez, for his lofty ambitions in 2018 had a difficult weekend. The Mexican was never higher than 12th in Practice and eventually qualified 13th; four tenths off the top 10 and unable to out-qualify either McLaren. If that was mentioned to anyone at Force India last season, they would be gutted. He did at least out-qualify his teammate though in what should be a closely fought battle between the pair as it was in 2017. Perez started 12th after Bottas’s gird demotion. From there, he held station on the opening ap after having a look at Vandoorne. The Mexican held off Bottas brilliantly for 16 laps before the VSC was deployed. Perez had pitted the same lap as Grosjean so lost out as Bottas was able to pit during the VSC. That put Perez 11th. From the restart, he pressurised a rather unwell Sainz as best he could but could not find a way past, finishing an agonising 1.1 seconds from the points. Despite that, Perez was upbeat in his post-race comments, ‘I believe we will soon be in a position to battle for points. Hopefully out improvements will come as early as Bahrain’.
Esteban Ocon’s hopes of fighting for the points in Melbourne probably took a big hit in Friday practice when the best he could manage was 14th in the timesheets. The young French driver struggled for balance in Qualifying as he scrapped into Q2 by 0.029 seconds, qualified 15th. That was some 8 tenths slower than his teammate and 1.2 seconds away from the top 10 which was a really disappointing result for a team who were consistently in the points last season. Perhaps more embarrassingly, he had been out-qualified by Stroll in the Williams that had struggled all weekend. He made amends for that in the race by passing the Williams on the opening lap. The Force India could not keep the Mercedes of Bottas behind for too long and Bottas got passed on the inside of turn 3 on lap 9. Ocon remained 14th until the two Haas cars retired put him up to 12th and he was thankful for the Safety Car hunched the grid together However he could not challenge his teammate and finished almost 13.5 seconds adrift in 12th. Post-race, Ocon felt he ‘was close to making a move on Sergio’ and felt is race pace was better than his qualifying pace. However, this was not a great weekend for Ocon and he will need to see an improvement in Bahrain.
Sergio Perez: A poor weekend given his lofty ambitions for 2018 but a sign of where Force India are at but despite pushing hard, could not get passed an unwell Sainz. 6.5/10.
Esteban Ocon: Very disappointing in Qualifying coming in 15th behind Stroll and even though he passed the Williams and the benefit of the Safety Car still finished well behind his teammate. 5/10.
Force India: First time the team have failed to score points since Monaco and a sign that much work is needed. 5/10.
Sauber arrived in Melbourne excited to see how their car, under the Alfa Romeo title and 2018 Ferrari engine would perform. Australia also saw 20-year-old Charles Leclerc make his F1 debut which was the opening race ‘even more special’. He was certainly excited for the challenge and so to was team Principal Frederic Vasseur. Marcus Ericsson was intrigued to see where Sauber ‘are in relation to our competitors’. Where they are though is exactly where they were last season, toads the back though they can take heart from Australia.
Marcus Ericsson used his three years extra experience in F1 over his teammate to outperform him for most of the weekend. His lap in FP3 as the track dried to go 3rd now looks one of the laps of the weekend. Even then, he was still three seconds adrift of Vettel so maybe the use of 2018 Ferrari engines won’t drastically change the team’s fortunes. Ericsson out-qualified Leclerc by 0.080 seconds and was only an agonising 0.053 seconds shy of Q2 in 17th. The Swede started the race strongly and had already passed Hartley before he locked up lunging into turn 1. However, that was the only highlight of his race as it ended prematurely. A hydraulics issue forced Ericsson to retire on lap 5. Ericsson remained positive post-race, ‘we were in the fight and this is a positive so all I can do is look forward to Bahrain’.
Charles Leclerc had a slow start to his F1 career; nearly nine-tenths of a second shy of his teammate in Opening Practice. However, the 20-year-old closed the gap as the weekend developed and qualified only 0.133 shy of a place in Q2. He was out-qualified by Ericsson though into 18th. By his own admission, Leclerc’s ‘start was not ideal’. Consequently, he said he ‘had to catch up with the competitors ahead of me and slowly work my way forward’. On the opening lap, he held station despite being passed by Gasly owing to Hartley’s poor start. A fault on his steering indicator meant he drove conservatively as he did not know his fuel consumption level. The VSC hunched the grid together again and from the restart, he did very well to pass the Williams of Stroll and keep him behind until the finish for 13th. Reflecting on his F1 debut, Leclerc felt ‘we have made good progress since Friday and are at a good starting point’. Vasseur was happy for his young driver, ‘it is important for him to finish and he did a great job with tyre management and fuel saving’.
Marcus Ericsson: Did well in Qualifying to be so close to getting out of Q1 but ultimately counted for nothing in the race as a hydraulics issue forced an early retirement. 7/10.
Charles Leclerc: Came into the weekend as it progressed and just out out-qualified by Ericsson, a race finish in which he passed a Williams was a very solid debut performance. 7/10.
Sauber: They may well be around the back of the grid like they were last season but the gap does not seem so large this time around after a solid showing in Australia. 6.5/10.
Qualifying: Lance Stroll 14th, Sergey Sirotkin 19th
Race: Lance Stroll 14th, Sergey Sirotkin DNF
Points: Lance Stroll 0, Sergey Sirotkin 0
Constructor Points: 0
Williams arrived in Melbourne tensely awaiting the midfield battle. They had a new driver making his debut in Sergey Sirotkin who had been selected over Robert Kubica. Paddy Lowe, Williams Chief Technical Officer anticipated a tight battle, ‘it looks like there will be some tight competition as all the teams appear to have done a fantastic job over the winter’. Overall, the indicators are that a lot of improvement is needed.
Like Leclerc finishing for Sauber was important for his development, so as it was for debutant Sergey Sirotkin. Unfortunately, the Russians Grand Prix weekend did not go to plan. He seemed to have the pace to beat Stroll in Practice but when it mattered in Qualifying, he was disappointing. Sirotkin was 0.419 seconds off a Q2 spot and half a second down on Stroll. 19th was all he could manage. In the race, he held to 19th capitalising on Hartley’s poor start after being beating off the line by Gasly. His race was short as Sirotkin and Williams were the first to suffer a DNF in 2018 after a plastic bag got caught in his brakes causing them to fail. It was not the result Sirotkin was ruing the most in his post-race comments, it was the lack of experience in doing a full race distance and ‘the learning, which we didn’t get’.
Lance Stroll had a similarly tough F1 debut last season and this year feels like it will be a struggle for the Canadian too. When a driver says post-race, they were ‘basically trying to get the car to the end of the race instead of racing’, you know a team is struggling. The Canadians pace in practice suggested the Williams could be struggling to get out of Q1. He achieved that by 0,068 seconds and qualified 14th ahead of Esteban Ocon in Q2. Despite being more than half a second faster than Ocon in qualifying, Stroll lost out to the Force India on the opening lap due to his engine being in the ‘wrong mode’. Bottas came through on lap 4 meaning he had now lost two places. From there, he did not lose any further positions and pitted twice during the VSC and Safety Car period. Upon the restart, Stroll then lost 13th to Leclerc which he explained as being down to having ‘none of the extra power we need for the safety car restart’. From there, Stroll limped home to finish 14th in a race Williams just wanted to finish.
Lance Stroll: Did well to out-qualify the Force India of Ocon in Q2 but the race was a struggle as he finished 14th. 6/10
Sergey Sirotkin: Baptism by fire for the Russian who performed poorly in Qualifying before a very brief race was ended by a plastic bag. 4/10.
Williams: A poor weekend for Williams where they finished behind even a Sauber but their struggles are typified by Stroll’s comments that they weren’t racing. 4/10.
Qualifying: Brendon Hartley 16th, Pierre Gasly 20th
Race: Brendon Hartley 15th, Pierre Gasly DNF
Points: Brendon Hartley 0, Pierre Gasly 0
Constructor Points: 0
After a positive winter testing with Honda in which they did 816 laps indicating an improved reliability, Toro Rosso arrived in Melbourne eagerly awaiting to see how the Honda engine would perform in race trim. Would it still be down compared to the other engine units on the grid? Brendon Hartley was eagerly awaiting his closest thing to a home Grand Prix and was excited at the prospect of ‘seeing a few Kiwi flags’ in the stands while Pierre Gasly was racing in Melbourne for the first time.
The inexperience of Albert Park probably showed in the end for Gasly. That is not to say he had no promising moments either. The French driver went 11th in opening practice t suggest the Toro Rosso could be in the midfield battle. However, the positive was followed by going into the gravel on his final Q1 run resulting in him qualifying 20th and last; nearly eight-tenths of a Q2 spot. That poor performance was met by a strong start off the grid as he climbed to 17th on the opening lap but then his problems came at turn 12. At this point, in his own words, ‘the engine switched off, it came back on again but I was really slow and couldn’t upshift’. The promising start would count for nothing as Gasly was forced to retire on lap 5. Post-race, the driver expressed ‘it’s a shame, especially since we didn’t have anything go wrong in testing’. Honda had 16 retirements with McLaren in 2017 and after a retirement in the first race of 2018, it looks like this year could be just as bad.
Brendon Hartley had his promising moments during the Australian Grand Prix weekend too as despite being outpaced by Gasly in practice, the New Zealander came closest to getting out of Q1. He qualified 16th and just 0.029 seconds shy of Q2 as a result that meant he comfortably out0qualified his teammate. However, he would certainly want to forget that start. The second phase of his start was poor which saw Ericsson get ahead going into turn 1. Hartley broke late to try and get the position back but too late resulting in locking his front left tyre which he described as ‘probably the largest flat spot I’ve ever had’. Toro Rosso had t pit Hartley at the end of that lap and Hartley was now last. He pitted again on lap 22 after he suffered a puncture. The Safety Car allowed him to unlap himself however he was lapped again by the leaders 10 laps form the end. Hartley claimed the car suffered in performance due to the puncture with ‘a little bit of damage on the rear’ which meant his race was ‘driving around by myself all day’. Hartley finished 15th, last and the only driver to be lapped.
Brendon Hartley: Great effort in Qualifying to be so close to Q2 undermined by a poor start and bad luck with a puncture later in the race and Honda power meant he finished a lap down. 5/10.
Pierre Gasly: Going wide in Qualifying meant he started last and after a very good start a Honda engine failure brought his race to a premature end. 5.5/10.
Toro Rosso: The decision to go to Honda power looks costly, it is still an underpowered unit and despite a positive winter testing reliability still seems to be an issue. 4.5/10.
Qualifying: Kevin Magnussen 6th, Romain Grosjean 7th
Race: Romain Grosjean DNF, Kevin Magnussen DNF
Points: Romain Grosjean 0, Kevin Magnussen 0
Constructor Points: 0
Haas arrived in Melbourne having performed very strongly in Winter testing to the extent many in the paddock believe them to be the dark horses of 2018. Team Principal Guenter Steiner had certainly set lofty expectations, ‘Double points is always the best finish. Getting into Q3 with both cars, that is our aim this year’. Romain Grosjean was optimistic of a good result in Australia claiming, ‘it’s great we’ve done well in Australia over the past couple of years, it shows that the car I well built and ready to go’. Post-race, Haas could really be the 4th quickest team after they secured their best ever qualification result (6th and 7th) but a cross thread wheel nut issue saw both of their cars fail to finish having just come out of the pits costing their team a huge amount of points.
Kevin Magnussen surprised me in Australia. The Danish driver was behind his teammate in terms of pace all the way through practice and into qualifying. However, he went faster than the Frenchman for the first time in Q2 before putting his car 6th in Q3. That was his best qualifying since joining the team last season and in fact, the first time he got into Q3 in the Haas. That became 5th after Ricciardo’s penalty was applied. From 5th, Magnussen had a fantastic start capitalising on a Verstappen being forced out of a battle for 3rd by going around the outside of the Red Bull at turn 1. He demonstrated the pace of the Haas by keeping Verstappen comfortably behind before he went for a spin on lap 11 and pitted on lap 22 in 4th. That is where it all went wrong. His rear left tyre was not properly attached and he was forced to pull over at turn 4 to retire the car. Magnussen summed it up pretty well post-race as ‘a very tough oil to swallow…it’s just heartbreaking to finish like that’.
Romain Grosjean seemed to have the measure of his teammate in Australia as he seemed most of the weekend most likely to extract the maximum potential from the Haas. However, when it mattered most in Qualifying, he missed out to Magnussen by just 0.148 seconds. Grosjean started 6th due to Ricciardo’s penalty and although he had a clean start, he did not have any of the highlight grabbing moments that his teammate did. He was best placed to take 5th from Verstappen when he spun on lap 11 but having had to take evasive measures to avoid the Dutchman, did well to defend from Ricciardo behind who had sensed his moment. Grosjean pitted from 4th two laps after his teammate where the same wheel nut issue struck. This time it was with the front left tyre and a disappointing double DNF was secured for Haas. Post-race, Grosjean was optimistic, ‘it is a lot of points lost today but if we can repeat that performance over and over, we’re going to forget this very quickly’.
Romain Grosjean: Had the better of the pace for much of the weekend until it mattered in the latter part of Qualifying but still did well to hold Ricciardo behind for what should have been at least a top 5 finish. 8/10.
Kevin Magnussen: Came into the weekend well and out-qualified his teammate in his first Q3 appearance for Haas and started from the teams best ever grid slot; 5th and did well in the race to pass Verstappen and hold 4th before the pit stop that caused his retirement. 9/10.
Haas: Equalled 6th in Qualifying in Australia last year, best grid slot achieved in F1 plus good pace in the race but the pit stops that were their undoing need practising. 4/10
Haas and Ferrari
The performance of the Haas team in Australia raised eyebrows among some of their midfield competitors. Force India’s Deputy Team Principal said, ‘”I don’t know how they do it, it’s magic. It’s never been done before in Formula 1. I just don’t know how it can be right that someone who’s been in the sport for a couple of years with no resource could produce a car… does it happen by magic? If it does, I want the wand’. Meanwhile, Zak Brown, McLaren Executive Director said, ‘something that needs to be looked at closely’ as while ‘We all know they have a very close alliance with Ferrari and I think we just need to make sure it’s not too close’. It perhaps is something that could be looked at after McLaren driver Fernando Alonso described it as a “Ferrari Replica’.
Defending his team, Guenther Steiner declared, ‘We have a team that can be proud of what it is achieving at the moment. We are not doing anything we shouldn’t be doing or not allowed to do’.
Whilst I Initially thought it too early to comment on as Haas have performed well in Australia anyway. Romain Grosjean finished 6th in the team’s debut race in 2016 and qualified 6th there last season. In Australia, they qualified 6th and 7th for the teams best ever grid slot which became 5th and 6th after the application of Ricciardo’s penalty. I wanted to leave it until after Bahrain and China to see if the accusations remain. However, FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting spoke insisting, ‘We know exactly what’s going on between Haas and Ferrari, which is completely legal. Last year we had one team expressing some concerns, but we’ve not seen anything that concerns us’.
Despite reported concerns of some teams, no one has submitted formal complaint yet so for now, that is case closed.
Another one I want to wait and see what happens in the next two races in the ‘Party Mode’ debate regarding the Mercedes team and their engine settings. It revolves around an engine setting they reserve for Q3 in which it gives them an extra dose of power which rivals Red Bull and Ferrari feel are giving them an unfair advantage. After Hamilton’s storming pole position lap it is easy to see why it was spoken about in the press conferences in Australia but if it remains the same in appearing to be a determining factor in Qualifying then will be the time to discuss it further.
Oh, the Halo
Before the Australian Grand Prix weekend, Haas driver Kevin Magnussen spoke of his concern that the Halo device on the cars this year would make it difficult for spectators to tell who was who. He told Motorsport.com, ‘There’s definitely a problem in recognising the driver,” he said. “I went on track as well, I’ve been watching Formula 1 my whole life, and I couldn’t tell who was driving. That’s not great. It’s going to be the same on television. When the whole field is going into the first corner you’re not going to have a clue who is who’.
The Halo has only seen one race on the F1 cars but it passed Magnussen’s concerns. As a fan watching on the TV, I had no issue making out which driver was which. Granted, Halo has not seen a wet race or faced a major incident so the jury is still out on that but on the face of it, it passed its first test.
How did Vettel Win?
The defining moment of the Grand Prix was how Ferrari utilised the Virtual Safety Car Period to get Sebastian Vettel out of the pits in front of Lewis Hamilton had led from the start. How did it happen?
Hamilton had a 12-second advantage over Vettel in third when he went into the pits on lap 19. Ferrari had pitted Kimi Raikkonen the lap before to get that reaction while they kept Vettel out in the hope of prolonging his stint. Then out came the Virtual Safety car period when Grosjean pulled up on lap 24. That meant the drivers on track had to stick to a minimum lap time. The pit lane is not included in this speed restriction so drivers stay to the pit lane limiter at 80km/h. Ferrari utilised that to try and bring Vettel further into play but managed to get him out in front of the Mercedes.
Should the pit lane speed change in the VSC period to avoid an unfair advantage? It is a potential option but that is one for the FIA to consider. One fan suggested it could be closed during the VSC on a Q&A hosted by Formula One but you would then you would need to do it during the actual Safety Car. I think keeping the pit lane to the same average speed would have the complete neutralising effect. However, you would then lose some much-needed unpredictability to F1.
This has only come up because it decided a race win. Pitting under the VSC has changed races since it was introduced last season for better or for worse depending on the driver. The main reason it cost Hamilton though was closer to home. Mercedes algorithm was at fault. Hamilton was well within the minimum time set by the FIA for the VSC and ‘It was down to a software bug or an algorithm that was simply wrong’ according to team principal Toto Wolff.
Table and next time…
As a result of Vettel’s victory in Melbourne he leads the Championship after the first race for the second year in a row and like last year, Hamilton is 2nd on 18 points. The top 10 is locked out by Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren Renault. Those five teams consist of the top 5 in the Constructors with Ferrari leading on 40 points to Mercedes’s 22 points. Red Bull collected 20 while McLaren outscored Renaut 12 points to 7.
Next time out, it is the first doubleheader of the season. First, the teams travel to Bahrain for a night race this weekend with another fly away round in China the following weekend. Due to making preparations for a job interview, I have not found enough time to preview the doubleheader so my F1 posts will return with a review of this double bill.