F1 2007 or 2017?
2017 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix Driver Recap
With only five total overtakes at Australia, it was the first time since the 2010 Formula One season that I could remember a race that had a perfect mix of strategy, drama, track action and boring periods. You see, the boring periods of the race make the rare entertaining moments extra special because you don’t expect it, like your jump scare in any Scream movie.
The 2011 – 2016 Pirelli tyres were much like the beginning of Heikki Kovalainen’s career, exciting at first but you got over it after that introduction phase. Whereas the 2017 Pirelli rubber is your red wine to the elegant steak that is a 2017 Formula 1 car.
This season also greatly replicates the 2007 Formula One Season’s pecking order. The two horse race between Mercedes and Ferrari clones the dramatic McLaren and Ferrari dual in ’07, along with the Red Bull to BMW Sauber comparison which is right there ready to clean up more errors than your defensive anchor at mid-field. Your mid-pack teams follow, along with the McLaren/Sauber to Super Aguri/Spyker clean up at the back of the grid.
A brilliant weekend from the German who returned to the blisteringly quick form he has shown throughout his illustrious career. After Kimi Räikkönen signed his contract extension in 2017, Sebastian looked out of place in a Ferrari that struggled to compete for victories against the dominant Mercedes FW07. I’ve always said that racing drivers sometimes need a reset/refresh epiphany to get back into rhythm. Whether that’s a pit stop for a fresh set of rubber, a new race or a brand new season, the German received that extra motivation heading in 2017 with the quickest Ferrari during his tenure with the team. He made the most of it, taking advantage of Mercedes’ early pit stop to blister into 2017 with a round one victory. As long as the dreaded finger doesn’t return, there are no issues.
After showing he could still compete with four time champion Vettel last season after his contract extension, Kimi could play a solid number two role for Seb this season if he maintains the same pace he showed in Australia. Whilst Sebastian powered his way to a front row start, Räikkönen qualified over half a second off his teammate and this was further replicated in the race when he finished 22 seconds off the pace. Nothing to panic about though, let’s see if Kimi can challenge his teammate in the next few rounds, but Vettel will be pushed enough by the Mercedes of Hamilton as it’s now a two team fight for the title.
After Lewis notified the team of his lack of rear grip, I was concerned that the team had gone into panic mode and pitted the three time world champion too early. Sergio Pérez in the Force India was on an identical strategy to Hamilton, however as a leader Hamilton is expected to preserve the tyres longer and better compared to a middle of the pack car. His pit stop at the end of lap 17 was only a couple laps earlier than his scheduled stop on lap 19 and with Vettel allowing Mercedes no breathing room for error, I would’ve expected Mercedes to stay out until there was a clear track advantage. Instead, the few seconds they had behind Verstappen were obviously less than adequate. Maybe the team didn’t expect Lewis to find it so difficult to overtake in 2017? Regardless of this, the Mercedes is still the faster car of the two championship challengers but the team now has no margin for error compared to their previous years of dominance.
The Finn stayed quiet all weekend (both metaphorically and vocally), nonetheless to only qualify just under three tenths from his teammate in his first race in a silver arrows was a solid performance from the 27 year old. He was close to catching Hamilton for P2 towards the end of the event, although Hamilton was much quicker throughout the overall race weekend. Valtteri still has some pace to find, Hamilton’s poor strategy and the fresher tyres for the former Williams driver helped make him look a little bit better. Hats off to the man for being classy and stopping for every fan as he left the track late in the night in front of us, brilliant man behind the scenes with a shy humble smile.
Red Bull Racing
Daniel is possibly the hardest driver to judge this weekend, as both he and Max were extremely close together based on lap times throughout all sessions. We didn’t get to see the full race potential from the Aussie after his sensor issues during the reconnaissance laps. His mistake in qualifying was also a rarity, signifying that the 2017 cars are indeed much tougher to drive. That isn’t the first and won’t be the last time we’ll see the rear of the car snap unexpectedly like that. It happened to Jolyon Palmer towards the end of practice two and will generally occur during mid-speed corners where you’re able to apply and increase throttle application mid corner (the weight will rapidly shift to the rear).
An extremely underrated race performance from the Red Bull young gun this weekend. The team may have set the car up for longevity during the race, but with a two tier fight quiet visible at the top of the pecking order between Mercedes and Ferrari, Verstappen was 6 seconds away from snatching P4 from Räikkönen. This reminded me a lot of the 2007 Bahrain Grand Prix when Nick Heidfeld snuck himself past Alonso and up into P4 despite being in the third best car on the grid by a long mile. Max had brilliant long run pace and I’m looking forward to watching the RB13 tip toe around Monaco in a few rounds time.
He basically received a free Formula 1 car that he doesn’t have to give back, was beeping his way leaving the track as if Brazil had just won the world cup and also performed outstandingly well to give Williams some optimism this season. Not much to say about Massa, the start was crucial in terms of getting past Romain Grosjean in the Haas and the 2008
almost world champion runner-up achieved the best possible result he could’ve this weekend.
Whilst any smart team principal or sports coach understands that you need to be patient with young talent to develop, the opening signs with Lance Stroll are not optimistic. As stated earlier, the 2017 cars are a different beast to handle and jumping from Formula 3 to Formula 1 may not be as easy as it was in the past, but the sample size to prove this point is obviously small at the moment. Massa had a tendency to spin a lot and make an abundance of mistakes in his early years in Formula 1, however Lance has been completely demolished by his experienced teammate which doesn’t support his case as a future world champion. He also looks nervous in front of the press and whether that coincides with his driving or not is difficult to perceive. Let’s see if Massa’s leadership along with the ideal mentorship supports the Canadian through his rookie season. If Jolyon Palmer managed to get a second season in the Renault, we can’t give up on Lance after one grand prix weekend (And all the drama from testing, I know…).
Pérez produced some thrilling overtakes this event, despite Force India going along with the same strategy as Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes (after the Mexican started from P11). His move around the outside of Carlos Sainz into Turn 3 reinforced the point that overtaking was difficult, but in a good way. By trail braking into the corner around the outside, he closed the door by only a whisker to get ahead of the Toro Rosso. It was a move that replicated Fernando Alonso’s around the outside of Lewis Hamilton during the beginning of the 2013 race. The aim is to now get ahead of Williams (and possibly Haas depending on whether or not Grosjean maintains his comfortability in the car this season) in terms of overall performance as it is extremely close in the mid pack.
Points for the young Frenchman in his first race with Force India is a great way to leave Australia with some ever so slight confidence. Most other young drivers / second drivers struggled to match their teammates and this was the case with Ocon. However despite the gap in qualifying between himself and Perez, Ocon made minimal errors and the late race battle between himself, Alonso and Hülkenberg was the vital point of the race. If Hülkenberg had managed to come out top in the three wide battle, Ocon would not have a world championship point alongside his name. It’s most important that Ocon steps up his level of improvement before the midway point of the season. If Bottas fails to impress on his one year deal, Mercedes need to be comfortable in his replacement when its contract time come the end of the season.
Grosjean may well have the Alonso factor to him in that he is one of the best on the grid in terms of extracting performance from a mid-pack car. P6 in qualifying and a potential P7 in the race before his retirement (due to a water leak) is mightily impressive for a team that enters their second season in the sport. A lot forget that the Frenchman was close to winning races and scoring consistent podiums in 2013 after rejuvenating his career from his miserable 2009 season, as well as his controversial 2012 campaign. If Haas can manage to avoid the brake issues they suffered in 2016, Grosjean in a comfortable car can score some good points in 2017.
A weekend to forget for Magnussen, even Mark Webber couldn’t put effort into caring about his clash at the start of the race with Marcus Ericsson. Not only did he qualify 11 spots down on his teammate, he’s also a driver who has critical experience in F1 which means there are no excuses for qualifying dramatically off the pace. Years ago I predicted a McLaren lineup in 2017 to consist of Magnussen and Vandoorne, fighting for the title. We obviously know that didn’t pan out accurately. K-Mag has yet to get used to the Haas machinery, but so far he’s further cemented my analysis of the ‘first’ driver being far more superior to the ‘second’ in a team.
Carlos Sainz Jr
Quiet weekend for Carlos who mentioned he struggled with handling issues in the Toro Rosso this weekend. If that’s the case, it’s quite impressive he still managed to edge Daniil Kvyat who is yet to bounce back from his Red Bull to Toro Rosso demotion. These two drivers were the closest of any teammates this weekend from my analysis, swapping positions two times in the final stint as they battled for the bottom end of the points.
We will need to wait for the first few rounds of the championship to play out before we determine whether or not Daniil Kvyat has completely forgotten the depression filled Red Bull axing. So far he performed solidly at Australia but let’s assume Carlos wasn’t 100% this round and lacked pace, I doubt the Toro Rosso is finishing any higher than where they eventually ended up. Therefore Kvyat should be proud that he was driving around like a torpedo (probably to Vettel’s dismay) and scoring valuable points. He only scored 16 points last season when he switched into the Toro Rosso compared to the 42 points his teammate scored in their head to head battle. The Russian needs to ensure he isn’t on the back foot going into the European rounds of the season.
Quite a disappointing round for Renault who just didn’t have the overall pace to compete for points at Australia. Hulk was at touching distance of the final point in the thrilling three wide battle with Ocon and Alonso. I was standing over at Turn 1 watching the big screen expecting a simple move from the Force India, when I turned my head to the track to see three wide action along with sparks lighting the track up. I was as excited for an overtake for the first time since the 2010 Bridgestone days.
Struggle city is the title of this chapter for Jolyon Palmer’s Formula 1 book. Shall we maintain patience with the 2014 GP2 Champion? We can be lenient with his mistake at the final corner of practice two, the car snapped away and looked a handful to drive. However Palmer wasn’t at ease with the Renault this weekend and his errors in Q1 means he goes back to the drawing board to figure things out for China. He was running well in P14 before his brake issues forced him into retirement as the team also apologised. That’s a frustrating weekend to forget for the Brit who is under pressure to perform this season.
Do we potentially give Fernando driver of the day had he scored points? Even Fernando himself said this was one of the best race performances of his career. He has a history of saying this though and uses the phrase to let people know that ‘I drove my butt off and this car can’t do any better, so I’m going to hype up my performance to make myself look good’. Realistically though, it was impressive in comparison to the testing grief McLaren faced.
Yet again another number two driver completely demolished by their teammate. In all fairness to Vandoorne, although he finished last and behind the Sauber of Giovinazzi he still managed to complete 55 consecutive race laps in a car that couldn’t get anywhere near that mark during pre-season testing.
What more to say for Marcus Ericsson? Impressed the paddock by making it through to Q2 in a Sauber that was predicted to be the slowest car on the grid for 2017. Bill Belichick would be proud, the Swede basically ‘did his job’ this weekend and his contentions for a strong result were effectively over after the clash with Magnussen on the first lap, with his retirement on lap 21 the icing on the cake.
Initially Giovinazzi thought his race call up on Saturday morning was a joke, however his performance was far from that. To jump into the difficult 2017 machinery, let alone a Sauber and qualify only a couple tenths off his teammate is a solid performance to say the least. Pascal Wehrlein will obviously step back into the car for the rest of the season, however teams will now keep an eye on the Italian in the circumstances where there is a potential mid-season driver switch. The first seats to look at here are the McLaren seat of Alonso (if he leaves the sport) as well as the Renault of Palmer (if his performances decline further, as well as Giovinazzi’s financial situation).