Australian Grand Prix- The Same But Different
The rules changes for 2017 have a been a contradiction to the last decade of F1 as the FIA seemed to do everything they could to slow the cars down and make them more uniform in design. To our welcome surprise, the 2017 cars are faster with wider tires, better aero and better flexibility for engine development.
The cars are as aggressive as they ever have been in the last decade #supermacho! The larger tires and wider and longer stance of the cars looks menacing, just like F1 cars should look (says us). The 2017 rule changes promised much, but its never certain until the cars on track. Yes, Mercedes is still strong, with both drivers finishing on the podium, but already, we can smell that change is in the air (at least we hope that's what were smelling) as Ferrari showed that in 2017, they are ready to challenge Mercedes for the title.
Six laps decided this race. Hamilton pitted first and Vettel stayed out for a whopping 6 laps until his pit stop. when he came back out into the fray, he came out in front of Hamilton. That alone would have miffed Hamilton, but his frustration was undoubtedly doubled by the fact that he was stuck behind young, and slower, Max Verstappen. To Hamilton's credit, he let his self preservation instinct take over and avoided making any desperate moves on Verstappen that might have led to an early retirement. Those 6 laps had a throwback feeling as Hamilton attempting the undercut and Vettel attempting the over-cut as they both put down blistering lap times, each one calling out a challenge for the other. Vettel would pit and come out again in the lead, and never looked back, scoring the first Ferrari win since Singapore in 2015.
Other notable notes from the race include new Benz teammate Valtteri Bottas claiming the last podium spot in his maiden drive after the retirement last year of Niko Rosberg. Not too shabby to score points, a podium and one-up his rival team's #2 driver all in one race. If he can manage to avoid giving Hamilton as many "teammate" moments as Rosberg gave Hamilton last year, Mercedes will have yet another points filled year. There was some good racing throughout the pack, though no performances notable enough for us to report for this post (sorry Fernando, you were soooo close). On that...er...note, we think it's probably worth mentioning that there were 7 retirements in the race including hometown hero Daniel Ricciardo, who started a lap or two down from his pit garage and "exited" the proverbial building after completing only 25 laps.
The Mercedes dominance over the 2015 and 2016 seasons was so complete, that to see anyone else on the top step of the podium is miracle-like. Is that an indication of changes in F1, or a sign that we are in for more of the same with Mercedes holding second and third place?
In 2015 we published a story that Ferrari had finally found its way out of the doldrums. Alas, we were wrong in so many ways, and the limited success at the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2015 was not an indication of what was to come. Ferrari seems stronger this season but one race is not a season, and it's hard not to notice that Kimi was not on the same plane as Vettel.
We remain cautiously optimistic that the this season isn't more of the same. Though Vettel finally found the winning formula the rest of the grid looked very much the same as years previous with Mercedes at the top and the rest fighting for scraps. Having said that, it's completely possible that Hamilton might have been able to run away with things if he hadn't come out of the pits in Verstappen's vapor trail. We've been F1 fans for a long time, Hamilton's complaints about tires might just have been bluster to mask his inability to get past the somewhat unpredictable youngster. Discretion, they say, is the better part of valor, and Hamilton has shown nothing but maturity in his driving (not so much his radio traffic) over the last couple of seasons, so he may just be getting ready for a long and challenging season of steady driving and absolute domination. We'll see.
Finally, we can't help but have sympathy for Alonso. Currently, McLaren produces the top tier of limited edition road cars of the modern era, but their F1 campaign has become a complete failure. The only thing they have going is Alonso as he takes a last place car and pushes it near the points until something mechanical fails. Its hard to watch someone with passion for racing and unmatched skill languish in a car that couldn't make the podium in a GP2 race.