Listened to the race on the radio, but I do plan on watching the highlights on Channel 4. The first half sounded exciting, the second half settled (or boring, perhaps). From a betting perspective, it was quite nice as my three tips came off. Credit also to Mr. M for his 10 tip on Raikkonen for fastest lap (I got on but only at 8), and commiserations for those bets that didn’t come off.
Even before the start, there was drama. Ricciardo’s Red Bull stopped on the way to the grid, some sort of electrical fault. In the end, it was mended, but he had to start two laps late and from the pit lane.
There was also an odd false rumour that Kvyat wouldn’t be able to start because his fire extinguisher had gone off and regulations dictate every car must have one in working order.
Off the line, it was mostly formation flying at the sharp end. Grosjean lost a place to Massa, and further down the field Stroll gained several places with a splendid start. Magnussen and Ericsson (unsure if this was right at the start or a smidgen after) came together, which forced Magnussen to pit for new tyres (commentary believed it was the Dane’s fault).
The front two charged off, leaving Bottas and Raikkonen in their wake. Contrary to expectations, Vettel spent the first few laps very close behind Hamilton, who couldn’t (initially) break free of the DRS gap. However, a few laps later the Briton managed to eke out a gap. It was nip and tuck, Hamilton faster this lap, Vettel the next, but the gap gradually rose to a couple of seconds.
Then, a strange thing happened. Mercedes panicked. Hamilton did seem to be struggling a bit more on tyres (both men on ultrasofts, of course) but pitted earlier than expected. The undercut may still work in theory, but that theory presupposes not coming out right behind Verstappen on a circuit where passing is very hard. The Mercedes was trapped behind the slower Red Bull, and Vettel, as yet unpitted, was driving between half and one second a lap faster.
Ferrari almost contrived to cock it up by pitting Vettel a little earlier than necessary. It was close, but the German just about emerged ahead of the Flying Dutchman to retain (effectively) the lead. He then drove off into the sunset whilst Hamilton struggled in vain to pass Verstappen.
Remarkable to consider the Prancing Horse took full and cunning advantage of a daft strategic error by the Silver Arrows. [It emerged at the press conference that Hamilton made the tyre call, but the team must have known the risk].
Late on, Verstappen was closing on Raikkonen, and Bottas on Hamilton, but neither could get past (Bottas finished just over a second behind his team mate). There is a suggestion there might have been floor damage on Hamilton’s car, which would explain why he was utterly unable to stop Vettel extending and maintaining a large gap.
The best latter stage battle was Alonso fighting to defend 10th from Ocon, with Hulkenberg right behind (the three entering a corner abreast at one point). Ocon got it in the end, and Alonso was forced to retire shortly thereafter as the McLaren kept pulling left.
Further down the field, cars were dropping like flies. Grosjean had been in 7th, when his engine decide to billow smoke like a chimney. Later, his team mate Magnussen had to retire, making it a horrendous first race for Haas.
Ricciardo, pretty much doing extra testing given how he started, had to retire with a separate issue from the one that had afflicted him before reaching the grid.
Palmer had brake issues (they kept sticking on) and had to retire, as did Stroll, and Ericsson.
The top five were Vettel, Hamilton, Bottas, Raikkonen and Verstappen. Sixth was Massa, who had a splendid day not being retired. It’s a shame Stroll didn't finish as it would’ve been interesting to see where he would have ended up.
Force India had a strong start to the season, Perez performing well to claim 7th, with his team mate Ocon getting 10th. Given Perez was saying post-testing that the team had some problems but had identified solutions and would be bringing them to the first few races it’s possible that Force India will soon be the fourth fastest team.
Toro Rosso also had a great race, with a double points finish. Sainz was 8th and Kvyat 9th. Fast car, competitive drivers, and a strong result.
Renault must be disappointed. The race had its usual high attrition rate but Hulkenberg could only manage 11th. He wasn’t miles away from nabbing the final point, but you don’t get points for near misses.
Giovinazzi had a very impressive debut. He finished 12th, didn’t really put a foot wrong all weekend (if we’re being ultra-harsh then he did cock up a fast qualifying lap and perhaps should’ve been ahead of his team mate on the grid), but for a newcomer who only learnt he’d be racing on the morning of qualifying day, he performed extremely well. If I were Sauber, I’d be wondering whether or not to give Wehrlein a few more months to get himself better.
Vandoorne was the last of the finishers. Given McLaren’s reliability, maybe they would’ve taken one car reaching the end of the race intact. But the season of 2012, when they had the fastest car for much of the year (albeit hampered by poor reliability) feels a very long time ago.
So, a very good race in betting terms. Three tips offered, and all came off, as did Mr. M’s long odds suggestion of Raikkonen for fastest lap.
We should be wary of drawing firm conclusions from a single race. Australia is a particular type of circuit, not as fast as many, not as downforce dependent as some other street circuits. However, we do have a much clearer idea of the pecking order.
I also wonder if Mercedes’ old tyre problems are back. Both their drivers lacked a bit of grip and were sliding about. On race pace, I think Vettel is better than Hamilton (in Oz, at least). The German could stick to the Briton fairly closely, the reverse was not true (I may amend this view if it turns out the Silver Arrow did have floor damage).
Red Bull is in a clear third, but there’s a massive gap between the top three and the midfield. Williams, Toro Rosso and Force India appear to be the chaps likeliest to scrap for the back end of the points.
An interesting thing I realised some time after the race was a slight pattern of the start. Verstappen got close to passing Raikkonen, Vettel was a little sluggish against the Mercedes, Grosjean lost a place to Massa and Stroll leapt up the order. Maybe the Mercedes engine is a bit better at starts than the Ferrari? Might just be coincidence, but something to think about.
I have seen some grumbling about lack of overtakes, and it’s true there weren’t many. However, it’s too early to say if this will be a season-long problem, and it’s worth noting there are never that many at this particular circuit.
Anyway, very nice to see a more competitive sharp end of F1, and bets coming off is always good.
The next race is in a fortnight, in China.