Australian Grand Prix – Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel succeeded in their efforts to not conform to the anticipated status quo by beating Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton to the victory in Melbourne. But what were the main talking points from the season opener, and what stories look set to continue to Bahrain?
Mercedes are first to the ‘party’, but Ferrari get lucky
It was a devastatingly fast time from Lewis Hamilton in qualifying. Exactly how much of it was down to Hamilton’s undoubtedly brilliant execution – rather than the much-anticipated engine mapping “party mode – we’ll not know for certain, but Mercedes’ outstanding qualifying record in the hybrid engine era (2014-present) shows no signs of abating.
The question was whether their rivals could keep up with Hamilton during the race. The answer: They shouldn’t have been able to.
With increasing demands on power unit reliability for 2018 (teams can now only use a total of three power units instead of four for a season), it’s little surprise that Mercedes were keen to win the race by as smaller margin as possible, made evident by their just-break-the-DRS zone approach. It was only their errant software that gave Ferrari the chance to score a VSC-assisted victory and take an early championship lead.
Ferrari deserve plaudits for their tactics, they took full advantage of being able to split their strategy against Hamilton, who was completing a solo mission upfront for Mercedes.
Whilst Ferrari and Red Bull are promising to extract more potential from their cars, the fortunate victory for Ferrari feels a little bit like a freebie, like allowing your mate to score a sympathy goal first before you ultimately win 6-1. It is, however, far too early to write the season off, and it remains to be seen who can unlock more performance from their cars.
McLaren makes gains, but are a long way off Red Bull
McLaren were one the main beneficiaries of the virtual safety car period, enabling them to secure a very solid fifth place finish with Fernando Alonso, backed up Stoffel Vandoorne finishing ninth. However, the inflated result – coupled with Alonso’s bullish season targets – might give their fans premature optimism.
Whilst it can’t be denied that the Woking team have made a definitive step forward, the historical hype regarding their chassis development has generated the opinion that they could take the fight to Red Bull very early on. A relatively late switch in power unit supplier – from Honda to Renault – would have altered their chassis design and hindered that challenge.
However, their early contest seems to be against the Renault works team and their immediate race is to out-develop them, as well as the fast-starting Haas team, before turning their attentions to the ‘big three’ teams.
Haas denied best-ever result
Following their standout performances in testing, the American team were on course for their best haul of points in Melbourne. Both cars were running inside the top six when both were eliminated after leaving the pit lane with improperly attached wheels due to cross-threaded wheel nuts.
Given the resources available to the chasing giants of Renault and McLaren, how many more opportunities will Haas get to claim big points in the early stages of the season?
The vision for 2021
In the second half of the 2017 season, Liberty Media outlined their plans for the future direction of Formula One, this included the proposal to introduce a cheaper, less-sophisticated power unit. This has been met with staunch resistance from Mercedes and Ferrari and, whilst the rhetoric’s were fairly muted in Australia, more details of the blueprint will become known in a meeting between bosses around the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend. Expect the topic to crop up quite a lot over the next couple of weeks…