The 2017 F1 season got off to a brilliant start with the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, as Ferrari announced their reemergence as major contenders with Sebastian Vettel comfortably easing past the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas to take the season opening race.
Ferrari, who hadn't won a race since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix, looked impressive in pre-season but the real deal is whether you can live up to the promise on race day. And over the course of 57 laps at Albert Park, the Maranello-based team showed they have what it takes to push Mercedes all the way.
The Australian Grand Prix isn't renowned for many overtaking possibilities so it was going to be a tactical affair of timing your pit stops perfectly and that is exactly what Ferrari did with Vettel.
For Hamilton had started the race on pole and initially looked to be stretching his lead over the four-time world champion Vettel. But once Mercedes called him to pit on Lap 17 to switch to the soft tyres from the ultra soft he had started on, the real race began. For Hamilton was fifth, behind the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, who wasn’t making life easy for the triple world champ.
Ferrari held out for another seven laps, as Vettel looked to put daylight between him and the rest of the chasing pack and when he finally made a pit stop on Lap 24, he came out ahead of fourth-placed Verstappen and more importantly, ahead of Hamilton.
From then on, the German exuded calm and, as the rest of the front-runners made their customary pit stops, continued to extend his advantage over his British rival and with tyres that were clearly fresher.
For once, Ferrari had their pit-stop strategy spot-on and as the chequered flag was waved, a huge cheer went up as F’1s most iconic team celebrated their top-dog status after an extended period of severe underperformance. In fact, Ferrari’s last win at the Australian GP came in 2007, when Vettel’s current teammate, Kimi Raikkonen won the race enroute to his 2007 Championship title.
There were plenty of positives for some teams, not least Sahara Force India as Sergio Perez finished a creditable 7th but it was Sebastian Ocon who stole the show for the team with the pink livery with a 10th place finish, earning his first-ever points in F1 in the process.
And while Mercedes had to settle for second place, the fact that Bottas got his first-ever podium on his Silver Arrows debut, suggests they are still favourites for the constructors championship.
There were seven retirements however, and the biggest disappointment day had to be Daniel Ricciardo’s power unit failure on Lap 29. While chances of a top-10 finish were effectively over since he started two laps later from the pits, the fact that he couldn’t even complete the race was a big blow for the home fans. Apart from him, Romain Grosjean was the first retirement in the race, his Haas catching fire as it entered the pits on Lap 15, ending his race prematurely after showing some promising signs during qualifying and the early stages of the race.
The year 2016’s bad form continued for McLaren and Fernando Alonso, as the Spaniard was forced to cut his race short, with reliability issues coming to the fore for the Honda-powered team yet again.
The next race is scheduled for April 7-9, when the world’s fastest motorsport makes the long haul to China.
The top 10 drivers after 57 laps:
1. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3. Valterri Bottas Mercedes
4. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
5. Max Verstappen Red Bull
6. Felipe Massa Williams
7. Sergio Perez Force India
8. Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso
9. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
10. Esteban Ocon Force India