Ferrari sandwich – Australian Grand Prix 2018
The Australian Grand Prix kicked off the 2018 F1 Championship to a very interesting start. Not only did Mercedes NOT win the race, took home fewer points than Ferrari, we saw a long overdue return to form by a number of teams.
What was also quite refreshing to see was that all the teams seemed to have come to this season prepared as there were uncharacteristically few technical retirements.
Of course this was only the first race of the season (out of 21 races total) so one shouldn’t draw too many conclusions. Still, it’s nice to see the pack this tight this early…
- Sebastian Vettel – Vettel was undoubtedly on the receiving end of some good luck as the Virtual Safety Car allowed him to pit in front of Hamilton and still come out at front as well. Vettel didn’t choke while being chased by Hamilton either though, so all in all, the German can be happy with this result.
- Lewis Hamilton – Hamilton seemed poised for an easy victory but as mentioned above, the timely arrival of the safety car stole his thunder. Later, a failed overtake attempt seemed to knock the wind out of Hamilton’s car.
- Kimi Räikkönen – An A-OK performance from the Iceman. Kimi landed 3rd pretty consistently last season as well. Though he was closing in on Hamilton at the end, this happened way too late to make a difference.
The day was bittersweet for Red Bull. Daniel Ricciardo gave a solid performance and stayed on Räikkönen’s heels for the latter part of the race which scored him good points and a 4th place. Max Verstappen, who started from grid-4 experienced an embarrassing spin which dropped him 6th in the race and he was never really able to regain his pace.
The biggest champs of the day however were the McLaren team. Fernando Alonso reached the Top-5 for the first time since 2016 showing that the team has clearly gotten off to a much better start with Renault than with Honda. With Stoffel Vandoorne reaching 9th and bagging two more points, McLaren finds itself 4th in the constructors’ championship, whereas last year they failed to score points in the first four races.
Equally, Renault’s make team improved from the start with Nico Hülkenberg remaining 7th from the start and Carlos Sainz taking 10th and the final point for the team (albeit dropping from grid-9).
If there was a disappointment in the Top-10 it was probably Mercedes’ number-2 driver Valtteri Bottas. I’ll grant that after totalling his car in qualifying, Bottas had an uphill battle ahead of him from grid-15 but he didn’t rise nearly as quickly as I thought he would, eventually finishing 8th. Let’s hope this is a fluke and not a demonstration that Bottas has lost his will during winter.
Golden Pineapple Award: Sergio Perez, Force India
An uncharacteristically weak start to the season from Force India. Perez becomes the first name to be inducted into the Pineapple Hall of Fame this season. It really did seem like the team were just lacking pace. Let’s hope Perez can improve in the following races.
Drop-out count: 5
As is customary, the Australian race played host to technical difficulties for certain teams. Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, Williams’s Sergey Sirotkin and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly were all forced to retire with various technical issues.
However, it was the retirement of both Haas cars which was the most shocking and disappointing. Admittedly, I didn’t expect the American constructor to do as well as they did in the qualifying, starting from grids 5 and 6. However, as Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean came to the pits back-to-back both of their cars had their wheels put on incorrectly by a malfunctioning bolt-gun. Since Haas was fighting for positions and points in the Top-5, this was very disappointing.
Back of the Lot News:
The season is not heading for an auspicious start for Force India, Toro Rosso, Williams or Sauber it seems. At least, I hope today’s poor performances on Force India’s part were a fluke as Esteban Ocon drove probably his worst race performance since his debut Manor season.
Sauber was clearly having technical issues, so Charles LeClerc’s 13th place doesn’t really surprise me. Of course, Sauber’s all but admitted that they’ve done no improvements from last year, which is not a promising start for the team as well.
I’m also quite baffled by Lance Stroll coming in 14th and second-to-last. Let’s hope this is an issue Williams can improve on…
Dead Last: Brendon Hartley – Similarly to fellow Back-Lotters Williams and Sauber, Toro Rosso clearly had technical issues but Hartley was also the only driver to get lapped during the race. It’ll be a few races before we see if this was a fluke, a lack of effort from Hartley or, in the worst case scenario, a sign about Toro Rosso and Honda’s future this season.