The 2017 Formula 1 season kicked off in anger this weekend, and I believe the new regulations have made things worse, with only one bonafide overtake during the whole of the Australian Grand Prix. The race was won by good strategy and the fact that overtaking is very difficult, with the former race leader getting stuck behind a slower car allowing for a change of lead through pure pit-stop strategy.
The race started badly for the hometown crowd with Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo stopping on track with a gearbox issue on the way to the grid. His car was recovered to the pits and Ricciardo eventually did start the race from the pit-lane on lap 3, starting the race one lap down, due to an aborted start on lap 1.
In my view, the most exciting part of the race was the first 15 seconds from the start. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton got away well into the lead from pole position, Vettel had a slower start allowing the second Mercedes of Valteri Bottas to get alongside going into turn 1, the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen got somewhat blocked by Vettel’s slow start allowing the Red Bull of Max Verstappen to get alongside. But, no change of position actually took place, the top five remained unchanged going into the second turn.
Hamilton and Vettel exchanged fastest laps during the opening stint with the gap yoyoing back and forth, but ultimately it remained status quo until the first round of pit-stops. Hamilton stopped first on lap 18 from the lead to change the ultra-soft tires he started with onto the soft tires and came back out in fifth place behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Vettel stayed out for a further six laps while Hamilton was held up behind the Red Bull, this allowed the Ferrari to leapfrog the Mercedes for Vettel to lead the race.
Vettel came out of the pits just ahead of the Verstappen / Hamilton battle and quickly started pulling away, while Hamilton remained behind Verstappen for another lap before the Dutchman pitted for tires. After the pit-stops were made, positions remained the same as before with the exception of Vettel and Hamilton switching positions, followed by Bottas, Raikkonen and Verstappen in 3rd, 4th and 5th.
The secondary story was the number of retirements, one-third of the grid failed to make it to the end. McLaren’s Fernando Alonso retired from the race, disappointing for Alonso who was running in 10th place until he suffered suspension failure on lap 54. In addition to Alonso, the list of retirements include Romain Grosjean, Jolyon Palmer, Marcus Ericsson, Daniel Ricciardo, Lance Stroll, and Kevin Magnussen.
My concern is that we find ourselves in the same situation as the early 2010’s where it was almost impossible to overtake due to “dirty air” coming off the rear wing of the car in front. The fact that there were only three overtakes, two of those caused by mechanical issues or mistakes, while the same race 12 months ago produced 26 overtakes, those are some ominous stats for the rest of the 2017 season.
F1 really doesn’t need to have racing dictated by grid position, starts and strategy only. Last season, I found myself watching highlights only as racing was so damn dull, and if it becomes worse this season, many might not bother watching at all. The only saving grace so far is that race 1 was won by Ferrari, a return to the winner’s circle after a drought of 18 months will do wonders for the sport. We’ll just have to hope and pray that this result was not an anomaly and Ferrari can challenge for the rest of the season.
Australian Grand Prix 2017 Results
1. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 1:24:11.672
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +9.975
3. Valteri Bottas (Mercedes) +11.250
4. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) +22.393
5. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +28.827
6. Felipe Massa (Williams) +83.386
7. Sergio Perez (Force India) +1 LAP
8. Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso) +1 LAP
9. Danill Kvyat (Toro Rosso) +1 LAP
10. Esteban Ocon (Force India) +1 LAP