So the new F1 is different after all. And the hype around Ferrari was justified after all. The winner of the 2017 season-opening Australian Grand Prix was not Lewis Hamilton, not even one in silver. Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari won out – and did it on pure and simple pace.
Yes, pre-season testing this time suggested the Scuderia was strong, perhaps even on top. But we’re used to Merc prevailing somehow. We’re also used to Ferrari false dawns.
And the opening practice running in Melbourne suggested it was exactly that as Ferrari struggled. Come qualifying the red car was better but certainly not a pace-setter. All the while Lewis looked a stride ahead. The Englishman even led from the race start (avoiding his usual bugbear). But after that we got demonstration that the Ferrari was all that.
Vettel Turns The Tables
Vettel looked content early on to stalk Hamilton from second place. Lewis then started to bemoan a lack of grip and pitted early-ish. Ordinarily this would have been OK as he could have lapped quicker than Seb on his fresher tyres. But it reckoned without encountering traffic, which he very much did in Max Verstappen. The Red Bull wasn’t to be passed – and a possible downside of the revised cars is that overtaking is even harder than before.
A few laps later Seb pitted himself, having made some hay in his clear air, and retained his place over Lewis by a tiny, vital, amount. Once Max had finally cleared out of Lewis’s way Seb’s advantage was a full six seconds. From there Seb stroked it home just like one who knows exactly how to bring a car to the flag first. Which of course is precisely what he is.
Lewis had no response, rather he fell away further and indeed got hauled in by his new-to-the-squad stable mate Valtteri Bottas, although they finished in the same order, second and third behind the imperious Seb.
F1 Turns A New Page
Really not much about a Vettel win, nor indeed a Ferrari one, should surprise us. Neither in of themselves are close to being a new experience. But consider a few stats. Since the start of the hybrid era in 2014 no one other than Mercedes had led an F1 championship table. Moreover in that time pinpointing even individual examples of Mercedes losing a race by being outpaced is a trying task – there was the grand outlier of Singapore in 2015, as well as Malaysia earlier that year though that owed a lot to the peculiarities of tyres and high temperatures. All of these were scotched in the Melbourne season-opener.
Thus around F1 we have something unusual. Unusual for recent times anyway. A sense of more than one credible competitor team at the sharp end. And a related sense of not knowing who’ll prevail in the next race. Nor indeed of who’ll prevail in the championship. Mercedes won’t lie down; Ferrari and false dawns we’ve already mentioned. But such considerations can wait. For now, for the first time in too long, we have a competition for the F1 world title.
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