Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Vettel And Ferrari Send Message With Season-Opening Win in Australia

Photo Credit: Ferrari S.p.A.

Serving as the opening season round of Formula 1 competition in 24 of the previous 26 seasons, the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne hosts 10 teams and 20 drivers all aspiring to put immediately place their best foot forward in 2017. A new season already promising to be one of intrigue, new vehicle regulations and driver lineups greatly buffers a transition from a 2016 campaign.

For the first time since 1994, a Formula 1 season will not feature the reigning champion in title defence. Skillfully capturing the 2016 Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship after a heated battle with favoured teammate Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg shocked the motorsport world by announcing his retirement from the series almost before the champagne from the celebration had a chance to go stall. Causing some reorganization within Mercedes AMG (one of four Formula 1 teams intending to maintain their driver lineup for 2017), popular rumours ended up true as Williams Martini Racing driver Valtteri Bottas was named to fill the vacated seat. The move led Felipe Massa out of retirement to retake a place in the second Williams-Mercedes race car alongside Formula 1 newcomer and 2016 Formula 3 champion Lance Stroll.

Beyond chain reaction caused by Nico Rosberg’s surprise pullout of Formula 1, changes made for the 2017 championship includes the addition of Kevin Magnussen to the now-sophomore Haas F1 Team, Nico Hulkenberg joins Renault while Pascal Wehrlein has found a new ride with Sauber in the wake of Manor Racing’s shutdown. Wider Formula 1 cars with an overall width expanded by 20 centimetres compared to 2016 rules are joined by tires with an increased tire width. Promising to deliver fast cornering speeds for 2017, the new cars are also features updated looks courtesy of new team colours. The most striking sights on the 2017 Formula 1 grid are the pink Force India race cars as the Australian Grand Prix prepared to be launched on the 5.303-kilometer race track for 58 laps.

For the fourth year in a row, the Mercedes AMG handled by Lewis Hamilton grabbed the first pole position of the Formula 1 season at Albert Park. Thanks to the new technical regulations, Hamilton obliterated his 2016 pole qualifying lap time by 1.649 seconds. The 1-minute, 22.188-second lap time that gave the #44 Mercedes AMG the top spot for the Australian Grand Prix was the Brit’s 62nd career pole position in series competition drawing his total to within three of Ayrton Senna and six of Michael Schumacher. In defiance to the common appearance of an all-Mercedes AMG front row, Sebastian Vettel piloted his new Ferrari SF70H race car to the second-fastest effort in qualifying narrowly beating Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes by a mere 0.025 seconds in Q3. Kimi Raikkonen recorded the fourth quick time resulting the first two rows of the 2017 Australian Grand Prix being shared by race cars from Germany and Italy. The third row of the first grand prix of the year was shared by Max Verstappen’s Red Bull race car and Romain Grosjean’s Ferrari-powered Haas F1 Team race machine.

Photo Credit: Andrew Hone/LAT Images/ Pirelli

Over the course of the previous three seasons, the Mercedes-Benz factory team had only lost eight grand prix events. The seemingly indomitable Silver Arrows have used victory at the Australian Grand Prix as the launching pad for year-after-year of dominance. After an aborted start caused by a mispositioned race car on the grid that saw a lap trimmed from the race’s running distance, Lewis Hamilton powered to an early lead. However, while the Mercedes AMG occupied the top spot, Sebastian Vettel maintained a tight interval with Hamilton. Within a second of the leader in the opening laps, the early pace of the Ferrari resulted in Vettel being able to rely on DRS. Under pressure, Lewis Hamilton still showed some of his trademark strength eventually pulling away from Sebastian Vettel’s car.

With Mercedes AMG and Ferrari showing themselves as frontrunners in the maiden laps in Australia, the appearance of a third team was lacking a second car. Max Verstappen’s Red Bull Racing RB13 ran strong but his teammate endured a frustrating outing in his home country’s race. Daniel Ricciardo crashed in qualifying and his race team rushed to have their driver compete for the Sunday event. Despite their best efforts, the Red Bull Racing team missed preparing Ricciardo’s car for the start of the race. After the second lap, Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull TAG Heuer vehicle was sent out on track to the delight of the Australian fans. Sadly, this outing was brief as Ricciardo and his team retired their race car after 25 laps. Understandably, Daniel Ricciardo regretted missing the opportunity to mount a good showing for his home nation’s fans. Expressing that he felt for the fans and that he was “...super grateful for everyone that came this weekend”, the Australian competitor responded fondly, “Even when I stopped they were still cheering and shouting my name”.

Daniel Ricciardo travelled further than Romain Grosjean, Jolyon Palmer and Marcus Ericsson who suffered early ends to their opening outings of the 2017 Formula 1 season. With the first grand prix of 2017, the trip to Melbourne was also the first-ever event for Canadian Lance Stroll in the world’s top open wheel racing series. Struggling in qualifying to dial in his Williams-Mercedes, Stroll started at the tail end of the starting field for the Australian Grand Prix. The race provided a better debut outing for Lance Stroll until a brake failure resulted in a retirement after 40 laps.

At the front, a single pit stop among the leaders established the winner of the Australian Grand Prix. Coming to the attention of his Mercedes AMG team on lap 17, Lewis Hamilton was able to swap out his purple-sidewalled ultrasoft Pirelli tires in favour of yellow-sidewalled soft compound tires turning the lead over to Sebastian Vettel. Having not pitted, Vettel led five laps before what would be his stop for tires. When lap 22 arrived, the Ferrari driver made his one and only pit stop. The combination of an attentive service by the Ferrari pit crew and some traffic Hamilton contended with meant Vettel left the pit lane just ahead of the Mercedes AMG F1 W08 EQ Power race car of Lewis Hamilton. The pit exit win was the deciding move as the Ferrari would pull away.

Crossing the finish line 9.975 seconds in the lead, Sebastian Vettel won the Australian Grand Prix and the first race of the 2017 season. Vettel’s 43rd victory in Formula 1 competition, the German driver only previous win at Albert Park came in 2011 when he piloted a Red Bull-Renault. Sebastian Vettel becomes the first driver outside of the Mercedes AMG to lead the World Drivers’ Championship standings since the start of 2014.

Photo Credit: Daimler AG 

Going through the entire 2016 Formula 1 calender without a win, Ferrari returned triumphant with their new SF70H race car. After the race, Ferrari’s chairman Sergio Marchionne stated “It was about time.” for the race team to once again celebrate a win in Formula 1. Along with Sebastian Vettel’s victory, Kimi Raikkonen took 4th place in the Finnish competitor’s best result in the Australian Grand Prix since winning it in 2013. Collecting a total of 37 constructor points, Scuderia Ferrari leads the team standings.

Settling for second-best, Lewis Hamilton recorded his 105th podium result in his Formula 1 career. Graciously accepting his effort in Australia, Hamilton was happy with the start but realized the threat of Vettel’s Ferrari as the starting set of tires on his race car overheated. In his first outing with the Mercedes AMG Formula 1 team, Valtteri Bottas made an admirable on-track debut. Capturing the final podium spot, Bottas’ finished less than 1.3 seconds behind his teammate. Both Mercedes AMG team drivers cited grip issues on their ultrasoft slick tires at the beginning of the event but Bottas maintained on the race track eight laps longer than Hamilton before his pit stop. Mercedes AMG left the first race of the 2017 Formula 1 season with a respectable 33 points in the constructors’ championship.

Max Verstappen recorded his best career finish in the Australian Grand Prix in 5th place while Felipe Massa jumped one position from his starting spot to claim 6th place. Force India’s first outing with the eye-catching VJM10 race cars was a double point-scoring affair. Sergio Perez finished in 7th position while Frenchman Esteban Ocon grabbed his first-ever point in Formula 1 competition by crossing the finish line in 10th place.

Photo Credit: Zak Mauger/LAT Images/ Pirelli

Sandwiched between Force India cars in the final result of the 2017 Australian Grand Prix was Scuderia Toro Rosso. Starting his third season in Formula 1 by maintaining a perfect record of scoring points in the opening round, Spain’s Carlos Sainz Jr took the eighth spot driving the STR12 race car powered by a non-branded Renault power unit. All but one top-10 finisher of the 2017 Australian Grand Prix depended upon a single pit stop strategy. The only driver to crack the points-scoring positions using a two-stop plan was Daniil Kvyat finishing behind his Toro Rosso teammate in ninth place.

Heading to the Shanghai International Circuit for the Chinese Grand Prix set with an April 9th race date, the sampling of what could be in store for Formula 1 fans in 2017 presented at Australia may be indicating one of the most contentious seasons in years.


2017 Formula 1
Australian Grand Prix
Race Results

Pos # Car # Driver Team Engine

1 5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Ferrari
2 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
3 77 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
4 7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari
5 33 Max Verstappen Red Bull TAG Heuer
6 19 Felipe Massa Williams F1 Mercedes-Benz
7 11 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes-Benz
8 55 Carlos Sainz Jr Scuderia Toro Rosso Reanult
9 26 Daniil Kvyat Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
10 31 Esteban Ocon Force India Mercedes-Benz
11 27 Nico Hulkenberg Renault Renault
12 36 Antonio Giovinazzi Sauber Ferrari
13 2 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren Honda
14 14 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda
15 20 Kevin Magnussen Hass F1 Team Ferrari
16 18 Lance Stroll Williams Mercedes-Benz
17 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull TAG Heuer
18 9 Marcus Ericsson Sauber Ferrari
19 30 Jolyon Palmer Renault Renault
20 8 Romain Grosjean Haas F1 Team Ferrari

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