Australian Grand Prix

Bottas supreme in season opener

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Valtteri Bottas claimed a surprise victory in Australia, with Mercedes showing unexpected post-testing pace, while Max Verstappen edged out the Ferraris to round out the podium.

Despite claiming pole position, Lewis Hamilton made a poor start and fell to P2, before sustaining some damage to his floor that affected his overall pace. After an early pitstop from Ferrari, Hamilton was brought in to cover off a potential under-cut, but with a long second stint ahead of him the potential to challenge for the win quickly faded.

Ferrari seemed to be caught off-guard by Mercedes’ pace, mostly scrapping with each other more than those around them. At the first turn, Leclerc found himself on the outside of Vettel and ran wide, before recovering in the middle phase of the race to be on his teammate’s tail. After asking the team whether he should attack or hold position, he was instructed to fall back. This brings into question Ferrari’s claim that the two are “free to race”, considering team orders were imposed without the championship, or even a race victory, at stake.

Red Bull rounded out the podium with a strong showing from Max Verstappen, delivering Honda’s first F1 podium in 11 years. Pierre Gasly however disappointed during qualifying, being eliminated in Q1, and struggled to make his way through the midfield. Following a pitstop for Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat, it looked like Gasly might jump into the points after emerging ahead of the junior team driver. But a determined Kvyat reclaimed P10 and held off Gasly to claim the final points paying position, justify his reinstatement but causing headaches for Gasly.

Haas showed that their performance during testing was genuine, easily out-pacing their nearest rival Renault. Despite a retirement for Romain Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen delivered a strong haul of points.

Daniel Ricciardo in particular suffered from the home-race curse on debut for Renault. After being forced onto the grass at the start and bouncing over uneven ground, he emerged without a front wing. Pitting for a new nose left him at the rear of the field with almost no hope of points.

Despite the indignation upon it’s introduction, the battle for the Fastest Lap bonus point proved noteworthy. Max Verstappen claimed the Fastest Lap in the late phase of the race as he closed the gap to Hamilton ahead of him, but Bottas snatched the accolade with a blistering lap that denied all challengers any chance.

Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner admitted that they were considering pitting Gasly as a sacrifice in the attempt to deny the Mercedes drivers the bonus point. By claiming the Fastest Lap, Gasly would not have been eligible for the point as he didn’t finish within the top 10, but it would have robbed the front-runners. Ferrari also had a chance to pit Leclerc (and if they wanted to also Vettel) to try to claim the extra point, but decided against it, a decision they are reviewing post-race.

In what Bottas called his “best race ever”, he leaves with the odd stat of having the greatest points lead in F1 history over the next driver after round 1. Interestingly, 26 points isn’t the greatest number awarded in a race, that honour going to Lewis Hamilton who claimed all 50 points on offer when double points were available in Abu Dhabi for the final round of the 2014 season.

Australian GP: Winners and Losers

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F1 is back, and the opening race has already fuelled the passions and set the stage for an epic battle between two of the sports' best drivers against each other.

Winners

  • Sebastian Vettel draws first blood in the season the media are hyping as the "Battle to 5" world championships. On the back of a calculated strategy call by his team, he got the performance out of his tyres and stretched his opening sector that put him in the race-winning position when the Virtual Safety Car was released.
  • Fernando Alonso held off a sustained threat from Max Verstappen to claim P5 in McLaren Renault's first real test. It was nothing special, but given his sufferance during the Honda era, and a troublesome pre-season, it was enough to earn Fernando the Driver of the Day award.
  • Daniel Ricciardo recovered from an average qualifying, worsened by a harsh penalty, to finish ahead of his teammate and challenging for a place on the podium.

Losers

  • Haas threw away the opportunity to leave Australia with almost half of their total point haul from the 2017 season. Two pitstop incidents saw the team lose both top-10 positions and fined by the FIA for releasing a car in an unsafe condition. After demonstrating that their pre-season form was true, they could have a battle with McLaren and Renault on their hands for 4th in the championship.
  • Valtteri Bottas arrived in Australia under a cloud, with questions about his contract for 2019 being raised. His slip-up in qualifying left him with too much to do during the race, and with Hamilton vulnerable to the Ferrari's it's arguable that if he'd played wingman to Lewis the result could have been very different for Mercedes.
  • Williams saw only one of their cars finish the race, and as good as last for what it's worth. With the "worst driver line-up on the grid", it's hard to find positives for the team that is likely to continue to slip down the grid, with McLaren, Haas and Renault all likely to finish the season ahead of them. 

Have your say

Tell us your Australian Driver of the Day

 

 

Vettel claims Australian victory after Mercedes pitstop bungle

Sebastian Vettel has claimed a upset victory in Melbourne after a strategy blunder from Mercedes have him the lead, and Lewis Hamilton was unable to chase down the Ferrari while managing a slight performance issue. Valtteri Bottas held off a distant Kimi Raikkonen who was a distant 4th. 

The battle for the lead remained close in the opening laps, but by the end it was the gap to the rest of the field was more than 10 seconds. 

The highlight of the race came in the dying laps when Esteban Ocon and Nico Hulkenberg both caught an ailing Fernando Alonso at the end of Turn 1 with the cars approaching the corner three abreast. Alonso retired shortly after, but Nico and Esteban continued fighting for the final championship point on offer right the chequered flag.

Daniel Ricciardo’s race was over before it began with the Australian breaking down on his way to the track, beginning the race from the pitlane and eventually starting two laps in arrears of the leaders. Red Bull’s deficit to Mercedes and Ferrari was evident in qualifying, and with the race a total write-off he put on the most crowd-pleasing testing session of all time.

Haas were unable to deliver another fairytale for Romain Grosjean following an admirable qualifying performance. It's clear Haas will be mixing it with the midfield of Force India, Williams and Toro Rosso throughout the season.

 

Hamilton on pole, Ricciardo tumbles to 15th after gearbox penalty

Following his mistake in qualifying that likely cost him six grid places, Daniel Ricciardo has been dealt a further blow with confirmation that the team will need to replace his gearbox for the race demoting him to 15th for the start.

“I felt when I turned in the rear was a little bit light, but it snapped a little bit later," explained Ricciardo.

"I didn’t get the impression it was going to go, and then it was like ‘it’s going’ and then i tried to catch it but it was too late.”

“I had a good look now at the replay and the data. I mean I was pushing but I actually didn’t enter the corner any quicker than what I did in my Q2 lap. I was pushing but I wasn’t over-driving to an extent where I feel like I influenced it more than I should have.”

The top three was largely as expected, with the exception that Sebastian Vettel split the Mercedes drivers with Valtteri Bottas still feeling his way in a new team and the revised performance of the cars.

Hamilton set the fastest ever lap time of Melbourne on way to pole position, and in doing so became the clear favourite for the race victory.

"The laps are never perfect, there are little bits of time here and there," said Hamilton.

"But very, very happy with how it’s gone and it puts us in a great state for tomorrow. So, now it’s really about focussing and making sure we do our homework tonight."

Although most expected Valtteri Bottas to be a couple of tenths behind Hamilton, a less-than perfect qualifying lap, combined with the genuinely threatening pace of Ferrari, means the Finn is already feeling the pressures of joining the reigning constructors' champions.

"I think as a team what we don’t want is to get another car from another team in between us," explained Bottas. "I’m always optimistic, for a little while I can be disappointed."

"I know we can do good things tomorrow and it’s tomorrow that matters. But just my own performance. I set the bar very high; targets very high, I didn’t quite meet those today but a long race ahead of us tomorrow.

Earlier in Q2, Hulkenberg missed out on advancing to Q3 and will line up on the sixth row showing that the car is capable of more than we saw last year, while teammate Jolyon Palmer suffered from a horrible car set-up that was influenced by his crash during practice. Fernando Alonso also performed admirably and wrestled everything he could from the car before retiring with a power issue.

In the first qualifying session, Antonio Giovanazzi made an impressive debut after placing his car with two tenths of a sec of his vastly more experienced teammate after only one hour of preparation.

Gionvanazzi stood in for Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein who had been declared fit by the FIA’s medical officers, and took part in the first day of practice, but could not withstand the stresses of driving after an interrupted pre-season due to a back injury.

“I’m so happy," said Giovinazzi. "Yesterday I was in the Ferrari garage, and now I’m here in the race.”

“I still can’t believe it to be honest!”

Antonio was reported given the good news via text message, but having already gone to bed for the night he didn't realise until the next morning. 

Australian Grand Prix pushed back to April for 2016

If you're coming to Melbourne for the GP next year and need to book flights, accommodation or tickets to see the Eagles cover band at Crown, this news is for you.

Melbourne's Grand Prix weekend has been pushed back a few weeks and will run between 31 March - 3 April. Only once before has the Melbourne Grand Prix been run in April, and that was in 2006 to accommodate the city hosting the Commonwealth Games... I mean, can you imagine? You thought it was hard to hail a taxi on Grand Final Day.

Curiously, that year it lost its spot as season opener with both Bahrain AND Malaysia jumping ahead of it. However a press release from the Australian Grand Prix Corporation suggests that the season will instead be "condensed" and wrap up in November.

The question remains whether Australia will hold it's place as the season opener, with a few more calendar changes expected. Certainly Australian Grand Prix Corporation CEO Andrew Westacott believes our place as curtain raisers is secure.

"It's fantastic that Melbourne will again play host to the opening round of the FIA Formula One World Championship™. Over the past 20 years Melbourne has become synonymous with the start of a new Formula One season, and we look forward to again welcoming all the teams and drivers to our great city in 2016," Westacott said.

Despite the skepticism on twitter, Westacott seems pretty certain, and I wouldn't expect such an emphatic insistence if it weren't set on stone.

If the April - November timeline is correct it will mean quite a grueling schedule for F1 teams. Although we're coming off a three week break at the moment, and the absurd situation ahead where - following the absence of the German Grand Prix - fans will be treated to only one race in a seven week period, these issues shouldn't trouble punters in 2016.

Not only is the German Grand Prix expected to return (unless that's the rumored "shake-up" that folks are tweeting about) but the Azerbaijan event in Baku is expected to be announced when the full 2016 calendar is officially released.

So, as far as next March is concerned, anyone jonesing for a uniquely Melbourne coffee fix will just have to wait that little bit longer.