The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX: Australia: A Return to Winning Ways

29-03-2017

By Jack Target

We won! We actually won a race!

Yes, Sebastian Vettel in a Ferrari won the first Grand Prix of the 2017 season in Melbourne on what was an intriguing opening weekend.

All the talk before the season started was how quick the Ferrari’s were and how they would put up a good fight against the dominant Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton. Well the Mercs were still on the podium but neither Lewis or new teammate Valtteri Bottas stood atop it. Instead there stood a man in overalls we have not seen in such a place since September 2015. The famous red of Ferrari was once again on top.

What a difference a year makes for this team. In Australia last year, Vettel had a great chance of winning but was let down by a strategy error. This time around they played it perfectly, taking advantage of Hamilton’s early pit stop, building up a good cushion and pitting as Lewis was stuck behind Max Verstappen’s Red Bull. From there it was plain sailing. 

Let’s not kid ourselves, a Ferrari winning a race isn’t exactly an underdog story but it was very refreshing for most F1 fans. After years of Mercedes and before them Red Bull always winning, we had a different winner and one that will be in the mix for a title fight that will be contested by more than one team. 

As for the rest of the action, did we get what we wanted? Maybe not but it is very early days. Before the race new Chairman Chase Carey reiterated that this would be a three year turnaround, nothing will change dramatically overnight. That may be so but the signs are there already that we will see something a bit more competitive on Sundays. Not only do we need the teams and drivers to get used to this new era with these cars, but this was a track that is notoriously difficult to overtake. 

The chatter before Friday was about how quick Ferrari were and it ended on Sunday with how quick they are. What happened between that provided quite a few insights in to how this season could pan out. 

Ferrari were in the headlines for more than just what their German driver did on the track. The conspiracy theories were flying when it was announced that Pascal Wehrlein would not be racing for Sauber in Australia due to his injuries in the offseason. In stepped Antonio Giovinazzi who happens to be in the Ferrari young driver programme. And who supplies engines for Sauber? That’s correct it is Ferrari. Coincidence? Yes it is but it certainly didn’t hurt Ferrari to see how their young driver would do after being thrown in the deep end. The young Italian coped very well and only just missed out on beating teammate Marcus Ericsson in qualifying before ending the race in 12th.

What was very interesting about qualifying this year was the uncertainty on what was a good enough time to make it through to the next qualifying session. With the new cars setting quicker times, you could see some of the big guns putting in an extra lap or at least debating it, just to make sure they got through. This in turn caused the rather unusual sight of the five drivers going out in Q1 all racing for different teams. 

It was expected that McLaren would struggle and Stoffel Vandoorne did, but he managed to keep it off the back of the grid. The last two places went to the Williams rookie Lance Stroll and Britain’s Jolyon Palmer in the Renault. The former was just getting used to this level of racing, the latter however had very little right to describe his car as ‘terrible’ when he didn’t exactly help matters by putting it in to a wall in P3.

But look who dragged his car kicking and screaming in to Q2. Fernando Alonso put that awful McLaren in to 13th which was better than expected but any delight was quickly squashed when the Spaniard declared on the team radio that he could do no more with that car. One of the best drivers on the track pushed his car to the limit and qualified 13th. Once again Formula 1 has not been kind to a true great.

In Q3 Hamilton took pole but the Mercedes were split by Sebby. It was the first time a Ferrari had made it to the front row since Singapore in 2015. 

Romain Grosjean proved that he is in a really good place at Haas and impressed again by qualifying in 6th. However it was a tough weekend for local hero Daniel Ricciardo. He spun very early in the session and failed set a lap time before having to change his gear box, resulting in a five place grid penalty. Starting from 15th would have been hard for the Red Bull driver, but if Saturday was bad, Sunday was worse.

During the parade lap Ricciardo’s car was stuck in 6th gear and had to be taken to the pits. The race started without him and it looked like the fans wouldn’t even get to see him race, but thankfully the team got the car ready and he went on track two laps behind everyone. It wasn’t ideal but you knew it was going to be good to see him try and get some places back. A message on the team radio told him to go out and have some fun, a sentence that surely brought out a big smile from behind that helmet. However his car only lasted to lap 29 and he eventually had to retire. It was a such a shame for one of the most liked drivers in his home race.

The start itself wasn’t that dramatic as everyone pretty much stayed in order, except for Sergio Perez who took his Force India and passed Daniil Kvyat on his way to a fine 7th placed finish. Later on his teammate Esteban Ocon was involved in one of the most colourful and exciting moments of the weekend when he took his pink car past Alonso’s orange McLaren through turn one with Nico Hulkenberg also passing him in his yellow Renault. Pink, yellow and orange all side by side as they squeezed round turn one. 

There was one small difference from last year however. Once Hamilton entered the first corner in the lead, he did not streak away in to the distance. This time around he was being followed very closely by Vettel. The Ferrari wasn’t just keeping up with the Mercedes but it was almost outperforming it. Vettel set the fastest lap very early on and just kept at it, waiting for his chance to pounce. 

It was a delight to see the graphic in the top left corner showing the times for the battle for 1st place, when last year it was more common to see the same graphic for the battle for 8th or 13th. But Sebastian didn’t have to close the gap, he was given the opportunity to build up a lead. Hamilton was on the team radio quite a lot during the first half of the race to voice his worry about power or the grip on his tyres. Eventually he went in to the pits relatively early. Vettel stayed out and squeezed out as much as he could from his tyres whilst building up a decent lead over the Mercedes. Then when his time came he exited the pits just in front of Max Verstappen who was holding up Hamilton behind him. The over-cut had worked. Ferrari had the lead and wouldn’t relinquish it. 

After not winning a single race last year it was 1/1 for Ferrari in 2017. It is hard not to get carried away as it is one race, but when Sebby went past the checkered flag I couldn’t help but feel genuine joy and also something most Ferrari’s fans have not felt in a long time. Hope. There was a feeling of genuine belief that the title is a realistic goal.

We were not alone in our joy as Vettel jumped out of his car, named Gina this year, and began jumping up and down towards his team waiting for him. I like to imagine that his celebration was a nod to the Prancing Horse. Whatever he was doing, Ferrari fans everywhere will be prancing for the next two weeks with a big smile on their face.