F1 near deja vu return to Australia

Ferrari wins again, with Sebastian Vettel taking the honor of 1st for the second year running at the Australian GP last weekend, Photo from F1 site.

F1 season is back with a somewhat familiar start, the halos are still really there, and the most news from the weekend resulted from ESPN’s technical difficulties with their inaugural broadcast.

But let’s get on with the weekend. Mercedes driver and as of the end of last year, four-time World Champion, Lewis Hamilton did the most predictable of things and nabbed the pole for Australia (which, if you didn’t know, he has been the pole-sitter for the Australian Grand Prix every year since 2014. 2013 belonged to Sebastian Vettel when he was driving for Red Bull with Renault).

But it would be Ferrari’s Vettel who claimed the P1 podium win in Australia last weekend, yet again, with Hamilton as P2 and instead of a double Mercedes podium, Vettel’s teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, was P3.

Hamilton did well to hold onto the P1 position after a great start (that was later re-aired so fans could watch it), until Mercedes indicated a problem with data that had miscalculated Vettel’s time to Hamilton, and after Hamilton’s pit, Vettel was able to get around the champion and steal P1–and keep it to the very end.

Hamilton tried to keep up with Vettel despite the dirty air that was creating problems for all of the cars on the track last weekend. However, with a few laps to go, as Hamilton was unable to pass, he went from just over .5 second behind Vettel to over 13 seconds behind the German driver at the finish.

The Mercedes champion driver claimed the over 13-second gap was due to his inability to get around Vettel, and once accepting it, aimed to conserve the engine, as the teams are only designated three engines for the entirety of the 2018 season. That may be the case, but the next few races may be better indicative of what may actually be going on if there are problems in the Mercedes garage, noting that Hamilton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas, finished P8.

In the other team garages, Haas was doing drastically better than the 2017 season (although not as drastically as McLaren). The Haas team, which was prone to suffering race-ending brake or engine failures, especially Kevin Magnussen, were keeping up with the Renault-dominated top-10 cars (noting that all six cars running on Renault engines were in the top 10, with only Ferrari and Mercedes as the other manufacturers in the mix). However unsafe releases toward the end of the race on both cars, with stripped bolt fittings, and more problems with Romain Grosjean’s car, ended those promising finishes early.

McLaren, the poor unfortunate souls of the 2017 season, who’s tragic season ended with a very public and painful breakup with the Honda developers, gained a new relationship with Renault (the power behind the Red Bull cars). After a season of riding the end of the positions every race or spending it in the garage, both McLaren drivers, Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne, were able to finish a race and place points. Alonso finished his first Australian Grand Prix since he joined the Mclaren team, in P5, with Vandoorne finishing P8.

In not-so-fortunate news, the McLaren-dumped Honda joined Toro Rosso, promising an incredible season during pre-season testing a few weeks back. However, Australia didn’t fare well for the cars, as Brendon Hartley managed a last place running car, P15, and Pierre Gasly’s car quit and ended his race as well.

These Honda-powered Toro Rosso cars were the same cars that ran the most laps during the first week of testing and were performing quite well, without the horrors McLaren was experiencing not only the year before with the Honda engine, but also their performance with Renault during testing. It’s a story we are all too-familiar with, the “Honda that Couldn’t.” The worry now is hoping Australia was more of a fluke and the pre-season testing cars will return for a better run in Bahrain.

And the fourth-place manufacturer of 2017, Force India, appears to be struggling much more than expected this season. Last year, the Mercedes-powered team not only had some podium potential (like Montreal…), they were running in the top 10, and sometimes the top-5 for the majority of the 2017 races. Sunday’s race was lackluster for the duo though, and not due to their infamous bumping into each other. Instead, Sergio Perez finished P11 and Esteban Ocon at P12. It’s not a dramatic drop, but after such a strong season the Pink Panthers were expected to perform a little better.

So, this may be a Ferrari-Mercedes Championship battle season again unless Red Bull and potentially McLaren make something happen. Seeing McLaren in the top 10 is renewing, and if the season ends rather mildly, watching McLaren return to glory will be worth the watch.

That is, if you can get around watching the cars and thinking they are flip-flops on wheels.

 

2018 Rolex Australian Grand Prix Results:
P1 – Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
P2 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
P3 – Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
P4 – Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)
P5 – Fernando Alonso (McLaren)
P6 – Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
P7 – Nico Hulkenberg (Renault)
P8 – Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
P9 – Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren)
P10 – Carlos Sainz (Renault)
P11 – Sergio Perez (Force India)
P12 – Esteban Ocon (Force India)
P13 – Charles LeClerc (Sauber)
P14 – Lance Stroll (Williams)
P15 – Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso)
NC – Romain Grosjean (Haas)
NC – Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
NC – Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso)
NC – Marcus Ericsson (Sauber)
NC – Sergey Sirotkin (Williams)

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