Formula 1 Recap: March 2017 – Australia

The first race of the new era for Formula 1 with new owners, new rules, new opportunities.

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Introductory Note: I have decided to recap the seasons of those series I watch which make video available. Rather than do it by race I thought it would be interesting to look at it month by month to see the points change in that time. The focus is on track action and not news. It’ll make more sense in a month with more races. I hope it proves interesting.

2017 FIA Formula 1 World Championship

512px-F1_logo

2017 Rolex Australian Grand Prix

26th March 2017 – Race 1 of 20  Albert Park, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Recommendation:  Should you watch this race?  Yes I think so, it wasn’t filled with action but this was the first event with all-new machinery, watch the drivers get used to these wider, faster cars on a narrow, testing parkland track.

Video

FOM are doing a great job of producing video for YouTube this year, though they don’t allow embedding.

Click through to watch this 6m33s highlights package of the Australian GP.

Comment

The first race of the new era for Formula 1 with new owners, new rules, new opportunities.

The first GP turned out to match the promise of pre-season and in a great way. The higher downforce cars, compared to 2016, were very impressive. You could visibly tell the drivers could push them whereas in recent years they had to hold back to conserve the tyres. At last! An end to the nursing of terrible tyres.

The downside, the extra downforce had limited the overtaking opportunities. In some ways this was good – DRS was introduced with good intent but it led to ‘fake’ overtaking, drivers just pushing a button to pass with nothing their opponent could do about it. The best overtaking aids allow both drivers to have a fair shot, this is why I prefer ‘push to pass’ in other series. Albert Park has never been known as a great ‘overtaking track’. Already you could see the defending driver had the chance to make the other guy work for it – making the pass that much more rewarding and memorable.

Admittedly early on it looked a bit tedious. It looked like another slam-dunk Mercedes win, such as we’ve become accustomed to over the last few years. But no! Ferrari actually had a winning strategy.  They beat Mercedes by out-thinking them. It has been a long time since Ferrari out-smarted the opposition. As it turns out, at least at this track, it looks like Mercedes are better in qualifying and Ferrari are better in the race. The tantalising possibility of a two-team championship beckoned, after years of dominance by one team or another..

Home hero Daniel Ricciardo had a terrible day. First the car failed to start, then when he did join in, eventually found himself facing the wrong way. Max Verstappen had a better day and took 5th, catching Raikkonen towards the end. Felipe Massa was a distant 6th but clear of the chasers and the last unlapped car.

The rest of the top 10 was taken by Force India and Toro Rosso, very promising for those teams in terms of beating the likes of a resurgent Renault and an upbeat Haas.

Result (Top Ten)

  1. [5] Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
  2. [44] Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
  3. [77] Valterri Bottas (Mercedes)
  4. [7] Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
  5. [33] Max Verstappen (Red Bull Renault)
  6. [9] Felipe Massa (Williams Mercedes)
  7. [11] Sergio Perez (Force India Mercedes)
  8. [55] Carlos Sainz Jr (Toro Rosso Renault)
  9. [26] Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso Renault)
  10. [31] Esteban Ocon (Force India Mercedes)

Car numbers in square brackets.

Points

Drivers

Name AUS Total
Sebastian Vettel 25 25
Lewis Hamilton 18 18
Valterri Bottas 15 15
Kimi Räikkönen 12 12
Max Verstappen 10 10
Felipe Massa 8 8
Sergio Perez 6 6
Carlos Sainz Jr 4 4
Daniil Kvyat 2 2
Esteban Ocon 1 1

Constructors

Name AUS Total
Scuderia Ferrari 37 37
Mercedes AMG Petronas 33 33
Red Bull Racing 10 10
Williams 8 8
Force India 7 7
Scuderia Toro Rosso 6 6

Next

April is a busy month featuring the Chinese, Bahrain and Russian Grands Prix, the holy trinity of human rights… I’ll be posting monthly recaps every week until I catch up.

Thoughts on F1: 2013 Australian Grand Prix

F1 is back! I’m so glad the waiting is over. Apparently not glad enough – I slept through the first 15 minutes as I’m an idiot who can’t abandon a race in progress, I’d started following Sebring so I couldn’t stop, I had to see the end! At 2.45am. Not ideal when F1 started at 6am. I really did intend to watch F1 after a short sleep then go back to bed afterwards, but it didn’t happen.

Never mind. I watched the extended highlights instead. The name ‘highlights’ does it a disservice, there wasn’t much cut out of the Sky show I watched and even less from the BBC show I watched just minutes ago before writing this post. I do think the BBC version was superior in every way, but Sky’s show only had half the time to prepare it as it went out at 11am rather than the BBC’s 2pm. We have an interesting choice between speed and quality, and I do like competitive choice.

Was the race any good?

It wasn’t a classic race but it wasn’t boring by any stretch. It was interesting, in the same way I said Sebring was interesting – for racing geeks like us there was enough to think about. For casual fans it might’ve been easy to think it was just cars going around, but for the rest of us, if you followed what was going on it was a very interesting race. Races can be very interesting without being nail-biting and this was one of them.

There was passing too, in the early phase of the race, through the midfield during the race, and not only on the victims of the current supplier’s tyre degradation.

When Vettel and the pair of Ferraris scampered away into the lead I thought the race was already over. Oh, ye of little faith. Within a few laps, the Lotus of Kimi Räikkönen closed in on them. It turns out at this track in these conditions the Red Bull wasn’t a match for the Ferrari on tyre degradation and both were outclassed by the Lotus, specifically that Lotus because the other one wasn’t anywhere to be found. I was so pleased Kimi started reeling them in because then I knew we’d have a decent race.

Felipe Massa had a great day. If he is able to carry this on in to the next races, suddenly we might have two Ferraris in contention for regular podium finishes if not wins and that’ll transform the Constructors’ battle too.

Adrian Sutil was the other man I was very impressed with, I’d never rated him highly and I’ve been proven wrong. To take a year out and then not only put in a solid drive but also race hard, fair and professionally with those around him – a good drive slightly ruined by the red supersofts suffering higher degradation than the team expected on a rubbered-in track at the end of the race.

Finally a word for Jules Bianchi, the man I thought should’ve been in that Force India seat was easily the class of the ‘young teams’.

Early Form

Sam Collins of Racecar Engineering mentioned in the RLM F1 preview that he was very impressed with the Lotus and they’d not only win races but the Championship, too. I scoffed at such ideas and I still think a title, either title, is a long shot. I’m not scoffing any more at the thought of multiple race wins – sure I thought one or two, but now.. unless RBR and Ferrari get a handle on tyres Lotus could bag a few more at the other street-based venues. We must wait to see the form on a permanent race track.

The McLaren seems to be a dog of a car, for a McLaren. I’m astonished they turned out a car this bad. Early indications are that the Mercedes is pretty good relative to last year and Hamilton seems very comfortable with his new team – I bet that’s aided by seeing his old one struggling so suddenly.
The Force India is looking promising as well, they just need to sort out the tyre strategy. Sauber seemed to be nowhere but we only have one car to guide us after Hülkenberg’s DNS, all we can say is Gutierrez received practically no TV attention at all. Toro Rosso seem to have a strange car, Ricciardo was dreadfully slow early on but then he and Vergne both set Fastest Lap later on, again we’ll have to see how it behaves on a more normal track. Williams really are in the deep doo-doo.

We have to be careful, though. This was only one race and Albert Park is a famously unreliable barometer of performance. This weekend is the vastly different challenge of the Sepang circuit, a very fast, wide, flowing circuit in the damp heat of Malaysia with the potential (certainty?) of wet weather in late afternoon, when the F1 sessions will be running.
Even at Sepang we may not get a true picture, it’ll be clearer than now but we’ll have to wait until China for a true picture, perhaps not until Bahrain, then when the teams get to Europe there are usually a host of upgrades in time for Spain and Monaco before the real order is established.

Next Up

The Malaysian GP at Sepang is this weekend. Don’t forget the opening round of IndyCar also this weekend.

Reaction: F1 Australian GP 2012

It was an enjoyable first race of the year, though perhaps not as exciting as some people claimed. Though I enjoyed it I wasn’t on the edge of my seat. I am not sure if this was tired grumpiness after 3 hours sleep following Sebring, only to be confronted with ad-ridden dodgy internet feeds. I don’t think so because I watched the BBC recap and didn’t feel hugely different.

The Race

The DRS was used to good effect in Melbourne. Whilst I don’t agree with it being used at every race, it was clear there wouldn’t have been a lot of overtaking here without it. Most passes I saw involved DRS on the front straight or the run between turns 2 and 3. Mind you, turn 3 is traditionally the best passing place on the circuit so perhaps it is harder to tell than is apparent.

There was some great racing in the field. Sebastian Vettel was forced to race rather than drive off imperiously, despite his critics saying he can’t pass he did exactly that.

I like McLaren and both of their drivers so colour me happy they were fast and up front! It was also a really nice change from blue. Albert Park is a quirky circuit and McLaren are always quick there – the question is still open as to the real form on a wide open course as we’ll see at Sepang. I also have a feeling Mark Webber will again make life ‘interesting’ for Sebastian Vettel as he did in 2010. I don’t think we’ll see as much of a McLaren walkover this season as this GP suggested. Even if they do we’ll have a real fight between Jenson and Lewis. We’re in for a fun year.

I was impressed by the pace of Mercedes and I think they are going to have a very good year, the achilles heel seems to be reliability. That could be down to the decision to skip the first test, less time to iron out the bugs. If they can make the car last the distance they will be on the podium often this year and could well score a win or two.

All credit to Fernando Alonso for dragging what is reportedly a dog of a Ferrari to 5th place as if they were still as relatively good to the opposition as they were last year.

Positive Movement

I said it in my pre-race previews here and on the Sidepodcast megamix – the press may be all over Raikkonen, but watch Romain Grosjean this year. What a different driver he is nowadays. Despite being taken out of the race early he showed a lot of people his true talent right the way through last weekend.

Williams! Wow, I’d hoped they would improve from 18th or 20th but I expected something like 12th-14th,  not a solid points run! But then the curse of Maldonado struck and he crashed, on the last lap would you believe it. Senna fared even worse. That doesn’t really matter though – they demonstrated a major improvement and that is very, very promising. Thank you Renault.

Great to see attacking drives from both Sauber guys being rewarded with a deserved double points finish. The car seems upper-midfield in race pace, if not qualifying pace, which is nice to see.

Caterham. I expected more from them than to still be a few tenths off the bottom of the midfield. That said, the signs are that Petrov is already better at dealing with life back here than was Trulli.

Marussia, despite being last they were only lapped twice (including the lap they were gifted back thanks to the Lucky Pack of Dogs) which is a glimmer of an improvement in speed compared to 3+ laps of the last two years. The real improvement is in getting both cars home at the first attempt after doing no pre-season testing, I give them a lot of credit for that. HRT were in the same boat and didn’t even qualify. It was nice to see the stewards actually apply the 107% rule for a change.

Coverage

The BBC coverage of the weekend was excellent. I only have complaints about some action that was cut from the highlights but firstly I am a racing geek who wants to see it all, and secondly cuts were expected to happen. On the whole they showed a creditable amount of the race (and qualifying) for what are highlights shows.

The commentary line-up is already ahead of the terrestrial line-up of the past several years, Ben Edwards proving exactly why he should’ve been the one to pick up the baton from Murray Walker all those years ago. Fair enough he does dumb things down a little bit but that’s entirely due to the audience he is talking to – the casual, non-geek F1 fan. His predecessors did the same thing. What he adds is an extra level of excitement added to the gravitas of a professional play-by-play commentator. I prefer this to the conversational style of Brundle and DC last year. DC himself seems more at ease than I’ve ever heard him, partly I think due to the slightly more clear-cut analyst/colour role, and partly due to this being his 3rd season behind the mic and the growing confidence that brings.

The pre- and post-race segments weren’t long enough but there were never going to be in this format. The real test of how the BBC has changed its’ game in 2012 will be their first live race at the Chinese GP. As for their highlights shows, to attract viewers with this format they needed to produce some of the best quality content they’ve put together yet – so far, they’ve achieved it.

I do not have Sky Sports F1 and haven’t had the opportunity to see very much of it, so it would be unfair of me to comment on it. There is a chance I will find out for myself for the Malaysian GP.

Next Race

This weekend; Malaysian GP, Sepang, KL, Malaysia.

A very different prospect to Albert Park. Long, fast sweepers in high temperatures asking a lot of tyres, chassis, engine and aero performance. Add to this the potential for rain (even thunderstorms) and we have another hard-to-predict weekend!