First blood for Seb’s prancing horse
After three years of Mercedes dominance the new Formula 1 season began in Melbourne, Australia last weekend with a victory for quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel driving for the Ferrari team. As F1 enters a new era with more aggressive, faster cars and a new commercial rights holder, Liberty Media, it was refreshing for a Grand Prix not to be a predictable victory for Mercedes barring accident or mechanical issues and for at least one team, Ferrari, to show they have the pace to challenge the established masters.
There was drama even before the start of the race around the lake in Melbourne’s Albert Park as local hero Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull ground to a halt on his way to the grid, stuck in sixth gear. Emergency repairs back in the pit garages meant he was able to start two laps into the race, but his disappointing weekend was to continue when his car suffered a terminal failure mid-race.
When the red lights went out and the field charged towards the first corner it was poleman Lewis Hamilton who made the best start, leaving Vettel to fend off a challenge from Hamilton’s new team-mate at Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas. As the race settled following the frenetic opening laps Hamilton led from Vettel, Bottas and the second Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen.
There was disappointment for Haas driver Romain Grosjean, who after qualifying an excellent sixth on the grid crept to a smoky retirement on lap 15, and also for Brit Jolyon Palmer who was forced to retire soon afterwards with brake problems.
The leading Hamilton was the first of the front four to stop for fresh tyres, heading in for his only stop on lap 18, whilst second placed Vettel stayed out for a further six laps, going for what is known as the overcut over his arch rival. It worked too as Vettel emerged from his pit stop ahead of Hamilton who had faced a difficult time trying to pass young Dutch Red Bull ace Max Verstappen.
After Bottas and then Raikkonen made their stops the order out front was Vettel, Hamilton, Bottas and Raikkonen. On his debut for Mercedes the Finnish Bottas then started to close on Hamilton, but the triple champion always seemed to be in a position to resist any challenge.
Following some close racing amongst others further down the field the chequered flag flew after 58 laps and Vettel brought his new car, nicknamed Gina, home first to score a memorable and overdue victory for Ferrari, to the delight of his team members and many in the packed grandstands. Hamilton followed him across the line 10 seconds adrift, just ahead of Bottas, and a more distant Raikkonen. Verstappen claimed fifth place ahead of veteran Williams returnee Felipe Massa and it was a good day for the Force India and Toro Rosso teams with all four of their drivers finishing in the top ten points scoring positions.
So, let’s hope that after this excellent opening race we have a thrilling new Formula 1 season ahead of us during which we can at last enjoy real competition for victories by teams such as Ferrari and Red Bull as well as Mercedes. Just what we have all been waiting for.
Bring on the Chinese Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.
By Graham Read