The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX: Australia: Deja Vu for Vettel

30-03-2018

Story by Jack Target

 

Sebastian Vettel used a strategic pit stop to get past Lewis Hamilton and win the first race of the season in Australia.

Hang on, I’ve written this before…

Yes it was a case of deja vu in Melbourne as Ferrari started off the season with a victory. The win came via a bit of misfortune for Haas who, after a promising weekend, saw both cars go out due to issues with wheel changes on their pit stops.

Ferrari took full advantage and ended the race with two drivers on the podium. Despite not getting pole position on Saturday, it was a near perfect weekend for Ferrari who showed some good race pace and looked once again like they could match Mercedes.

Tifosi were already hopeful that their team could take the final step towards a championship after finishing fastest in pre-season testing. That expectation would have grown during the early stages of qualifying. Kimi Raikkonen looked impressive as he was within three tenths of a second of Hamilton before Vettel topped Q2. The German looked to have had a great chance of getting pole but Lewis grabbed it with an incredible run, pulling half a second out through what seemed to be sheer determination.

Elsewhere on the grid the new Alfa Romeo Saubers predictably struggled, which was a shame for young Ferrari protege Charles Leclerc and fans of nice liveries.

After most of the inexperienced drivers went out in Q1, we saw the first glimpses of what is going to be a fascinating mid-field battle. Last year’s darlings, Force India, have seen the competition not just rise, but go past them as Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon qualified in 13th and 15th. McLaren, who now have Renault engines after the debacle with Honda last year, recovered from their testing woes to qualify just outside the top ten. The team with Honda engines in 2018, Toro Rosso, seemed to inherit McLaren and Honda’s problems with both cars going out in Q1. The surprise team of testing was Haas. They proved that the hype was real as they out-qualified Renault to top the mid-tier teams.

Q3 was looking like it would be a shootout between the Mercedes and Ferrari, but the silver arrows were dealt a blow when Valtteri Bottas crashed into the wall. The Finn just touched the grass through turn one and spun his car, ending his Saturday. Although his teammate got pole, the incident would not have installed much confidence in Bottas from the team who need him to deliver this year. It would also leave the Brit vulnerable to the two Ferraris come race day. He enjoyed his moment though as he remarked in the press conference after, telling Vettel he ‘was waiting to put a good lap together to wipe the smile off your face’.

However, Lewis got off to a decent start and kept a safe distance between himself and Raikkonen. Kimi impressed on the Saturday and did well to out-qualify his teammate, although the chatter of when Vettel would be let through had already started.

The biggest shock from the opening laps, apart from no one crashing out, was Kevin Magnussen passing Max Verstappen, proving the Haas could do it on a race day too. The Dutchman’s frustration grew as he couldn’t regain his place, nearly losing the car in the same manner Bottas lost his in qualifying, but he wouldn’t have to wait too long.

Sergey Sirotkin, the new Williams driver for 2018, and Ericsson were the first two retirements before disaster struck for Haas.

Magnussen came out of the pits very slowly after his stop as it soon came clear his rear left tyre was not fitted properly on his stop. After the overtake of Verstappen the Dane had been driving so well that he could have potentially achieved a great result for Haas. The American team at least had Romain Grosjean challenging until the exact same thing happen to him two laps later. The pit crew looked distraught as their chances of coming out of the gates with a good haul of points had slipped away in a matter of moments.

At the top end Raikkonen was the first the to go into the pits, looking for the potential undertake of Hamilton. It didn’t quite work as Hamilton pressed on with some pretty good times before coming in himself.

Then we had the Haas problems, with Grosjean having to stop on the track bringing out the safety car. Vettel had built up a bit of a lead and used this opportunity to get in the pits for a tyre change, coming out just in front of his rival in the Mercedes.

Hamilton sounded confused on the team radio after the overtake, wondering if it was him or the team who had messed up the strategy and timings. Everyone knew that the smile that had been wiped away was now back on Sebastian’s face.

After the race, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff claimed that the error came down to a system bug which said they had a bigger gap then they had. To me at least, this seemed a bit of a push. Ferrari were handed a gift and they played it superbly.

We then saw a couple of very good battles throughout the race. Daniel Riccardo had done well to overcome a three placed grid penalty to be hot on the tail of Raikkonen in 3rd. Fernando Alonso was having himself a very good race, sitting atop the pile of mid-field runners as his McLaren sat in 5th, holding off the Renaults and Verstappen.

It looked like we were going to get an exciting finish between the top two too. Hamilton was on the team radio asking if he could go after Vettel, then proclaimed he was going for it, only to make a mistake and lose a couple of seconds, costing himself the chance of a win.

The result mirrors the same result we had last year, with Ferrari starting with an important victory, heading to Bahrain with a great chance of making it two wins from two. For us Ferrari fans, we just hope the season has a different ending to last season, with a championship heading its way to Marenello.