With the Bahrain Grand Prix approaching this weekend, looking back, a lot of people thought that the Australian Grand Prix wasn’t that good. I actually found it quite enjoyable and for an opening Formula 1 race, it was pretty good.
Coming into the first race, I was less optimistic and I really thought Mercedes would take an easy victory. Lewis Hamilton had another outstanding qualifying lap were his car looked pinned in every corner and nailed to the perfect racing line. Despite the “party mode” I think most of his time was made in the corners where he just threw the car in and the car lived with it and produced the downforce that Hamilton needed to get around the corner in no time. A lap that should be right up there in terms of quality and determination.
Max Verstappen should have been on the front row if it wasn’t for a mistake into turn 13 were he was just too deep and ran wide. Instead, Kimi Raikkonen showed good form by outqualifying Sebastien Vettel which he needs to continue to do. A 3 grid place penalty for Daniel Ricciardo really dampened the mood and he just seems to have something that always goes wrong at his home race. For me, the penalty was fair because the FIA have to show that they will punish these things severely and you can’t just get away with it. It sets out a precedent for the rest of the year and because of this penalty, I’d put good money on nobody going too fast when a red flag comes out. It’s just a shame that Ricciardo had to be the “guinea pig” or the victim of this new rule and penalty. It could’ve been a 5 grid penalty but I think 3 is fair enough.
But, enough with qualifying and practice and onto the race were you actually get the points and the prizes. As Vettel said after qualifying “he (Hamilton) can party tonight but maybe we can party tomorrow.”
It was going to be a boring race which would have been hard to not fall asleep on but this all changed when Haas made their pitstops. After Hamilton and Raikkonen pitted, the Ferrari strategists did exactly the right thing by keeping Vettel out there for as long as possible and I was thinking at the time, they’re just hoping for a VSC (virtual safety car). It didn’t come when Magnussen stopped at turn 3 but when Romain Grosjean stopped in a pretty terrible spot on the exit of turn 2, the VSC came out and this is exactly what Ferrari and Vettel needed.
Now then, I think the Sky TV guys explained it pretty badly and if I had a skypad that I could use or if I could give you a visualisation then I could explain it quite easily, but I’m typing this so it’s going to be hard to explain but let’s have a go anyway.
Imagine this…a circle (don’t worry). The start/finish line and the pits is on the bottom of the circle. Hamilton is 12 seconds behind Vettel and catching and is at the top of the circle, Vettel is at 9 O’clock on the circle (12 seconds ahead of Hamilton). If it is a normal green flag situation, then Vettel will come to the bottom of the circle make his stop and Hamilton will go past the bottom of the circle easily because they’re going very fast. But if you slow Hamilton and Vettel both down (replay the visualisation again) i.e the VSC then when Vettel comes to the bottom of the circle to make his pitstop because Hamilton is going slower he won’t zoom passed the bottom of the circle this time because he can’t go fast enough and the 12 seconds that Vettel had just enough to make a pitstop and get out ahead of Hamilton because Hamilton couldn’t go at full race pace.
Lets say that you’re walking for 12 seconds, you will cover a lot less distance if you were running for 12 seconds wouldn’t you? That’s why the VSC makes such a big difference, you lose a lot less time when making a pitstop under VSC.
It’s not the first time that a race has been influenced by a VSC. Last year at China, Vettel would have gained massively from a VSC but a safety car shortly afterwards put pay to his hopes of winning. Without the safety car people would have been having this discussion ages ago. In 2016 at the US Grand Prix, a VSC came out and robbed us of a prospect of a fight between Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Rosberg, not remembered by many but should we have seen the problem of the VSC. Also that year at COTA, for the FIA World Endurance Championship, a Full Course Yellow (which is equivalent to a virtual safety car, except that it’s a speed limit) came out during the pitstop phase and it handed victory to Porsche when it would have been an epic fight between Porsche and Audi. I remember watching and being outraged!
In Formula 2 (used to be called GP2) you are NOT allowed to pit under a VSC, yet when current F1 driver Sergey Sirotkin did this in Hockenheim 2016, the pitstop didn’t count so he had to come in again and change tyres. Effectively, Sirotkin gave himself a drive through penalty under VSC yet he went onto win the race by over 13 seconds. It just shows the advantage of pitting under a VSC and how little time you lose. Should F1 copy its feeder series and not allow you to pit under a VSC? It would certainly make things fair but it would also lose a bit of unpredictability and I’m all for a bit more of that, especially because this isn’t an artificial method of making things more exciting. Of course, it can work the other way and it can rob us of a battle which I’m sure we will all complain about if a VSC does do this. I think we should just leave it as it is because this is motor racing and you need a bit of luck on your side at times.
The conspiracy theories of the Ferrari B-team (Haas) intentionally destroying their own race are just stupid, in my opinion. Haas desperately needed good results on the board early on in the season to try to beat the likes of McLaren and Renault and there’s no way that they would sabotage their own race to help Ferrari. They could have been 2nd in the constructors’ championship had they taken a 4th and 6th in the race. I just feel so bad for them and it could bite them back on the bum when they look back at this race at the end of the year. I feel especially bad for the pit crew who must be having nightmares of both of the pitstops. The team was fined 10000 euros but the pain of having an incredible weekend was the real punishment. Cross-threaded wheel nuts was the problem and Gunther Steiner said that a lot of practice will be put into the pitstops during the Bahrain weekend. Just heartbreaking stuff, but they have shown that there is huge potential for the American outfit and that is a big positive.
Quite a few people said that Vettel was very lucky to win on Sunday. I agree. He was outqualified by Raikkonen and was struggling a little in the first stint. But, he wasn’t that far off the pace to not take advantage of the VSC and when he did inherit the lead, he didn’t make any mistakes and didn’t buckle under the pressure. He’s an excellent front-runner and I thought that Hamilton would have overtaken the German. It wasn’t the case and Vettel executed the final 27 laps of the race absolutely perfectly.
Vettel though was more positive about the seraintly on his of his team’s performance;
“Today has been our day. The Safety Car helped of course, but apart from that, I think we did everything we could do as a team. So when something happened, we were ready to react. We did our job before the race, evaluating different scenarios, and then in the race we had the pace as well. Lewis was under pressure, he was fast, but not as much as he needed”
Hamilton was on it as soon as the safety car came in and I have to say fair play for really giving it a good go. I found it enthralling absolutely fascinating that we saw the Fight for Five start immediately in the very first race of the season. No mistake could be made and it was Hamilton who made the crucial error when he was driving the wheels off the car. Had the error not been made, I think Hamilton could have had a really good go and even have won the race because the lap he made the mistake was the lap he was closest to Vettel.
A lot of fans complained that the overtaking situation is as bad as it has ever been. I remember these remarks being made this time last year. That’s why for Hamilton to have stayed within 1 second of Vettel for so long was incredible and it really showed that the Mercedes is far superior than the Ferrari. But back to the racing situation we currently have in F1 today, we saw Bottas only move up to 8th place and we also saw Ricciardo and Verstappen struggling to overtake Raikkonen and Magnussen respectively even though they were clearly faster. It’s these reasons why the 2021 regulations must help the racing we have in F1 because it’s simply not good enough. If you do want to see some good racing though, I suggest that you just watch other motorsport categories like myself. For F1, the Hamilton vs. Vettel battle we saw was quite good, we don’t often see battles like that were the 2 best drivers drive away from the rest of the field and duel for the win. I found it relatively exciting for a F1 race.
Lets not forget that there were more overtakes than least year’s race and Albert Park is one of the most difficult tracks to overtake on. Expect a lot more overtaking in the next few race, then judge on how bad the situation really is.
What I do worry about for the rest of the season is that for Hamilton to do purple sectors on his in lap and for him to be all over the back of Vettel in the last part of the race suggests that the Mercedes car is going to be very difficult to beat in the hands of Hamilton. Ferrari beat Mercedes in Australia last year on genuine pace, whereas this year was on luck. Ferrari were on par of Mercedes this time last year and they lost both championships, now they’re behind so it suggests that there’s no way that they can win the championship this year. Vettel did say that he “needs to understand the car and find the right balance” which is promising because it means there’s a lot of time to be found in the Ferrari. Daniel Ricciardo did the fastest lap of the race as well when behind Kimi Raikkonen which shows that Red Bull are in a good place. An uncharacteristic mistake from Max Verstappen cost them a better result but a 4th and a 6th isn’t too bad.
I know I’ve not talked about lots of teams in this review of the first race of the year, I will discuss them soon but the big story was the VSC and the consequences of it which is why I focused on that a lot. Stay tuned for my thoughts on the other teams within a couple of weeks.
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