2017 Australian GP Winners & Losers/Team Mate Wars

In F1 the first driver you must beat is your team-mate.

FERRARI 

*Sebastian Vettel (P1) DRIVER OF THE DAY 1-0

Drove brilliantly all weekend to silence his critics, who denigrated him severely during his disappointing 2016. A definite championship contender. WINNER 10/10

Kimi Raikkonen (P4) 0-1

A tough weekend, where he blamed set-up and understeer issues. The Finn will hurting over his lacklustre showing, where familiar foe Max Verstappen threatened to pounce in the closing stages. LOSER 6/10

MERCEDES

Lewis Hamilton (P2) 1-0

Like last year, the Englishman stormed to pole (his 62nd of his career), but again race day saw his hopes of a winning start thwarted. Whilst last year was lost through a poor start, this year was lost due to his Mercedes pit crew committing a blunder in the timing of his only pit stop. With a car which still suffers in the wake of leading opposition, Hamilton openly admitted the race was lost there and then. LOSER 8/10

Valtteri Bottas (P3) 0-1

The Finn proved steady, if not spectacular. His opening stint was rather sedate, but his second stint proved he was capable of being more dynamic, if not rather obedient. WINNER 7.5/10

RED BULL

Daniel Ricciardo (Ret, Fuel Pressure) 0-1

Did anything go right? Crashed on his first flying lap in Q3, broke down on the formation lap with a jammed sensor and parked up adjacent to Turn 4 on lap 26. Although it’s not clear whether his qualifying crash affected any surrounding hardware within his chassis, Ricciardo is already ten points behind his highly-regarded Dutch team-mate. LOSER 4/10

Max Verstappen (P5) 1-0

A very solid drive from the prodigy hailing from Maaseik. WINNER 7.5/10

FORCE INDIA

Sergio Perez (P7) 1-0

A good performance considering the weight issues affecting the chassis. WINNER 8/10

Esteban Ocon (P10) 0-1

A decent debut outing, topped by his marvellous manoeuvre on Fernando Alonso, which saw him three-wide alongside Hulkenberg. WINNER 7/10 

WILLIAMS

Felipe Massa (P6) 1-0

After what appeared to be unremarkable final season in 2016, the returning Brazilian proved he’s still as good as ever, albeit assisted by the higher downforce levels he thrives upon. WINNER 7.5/10

Lance Stroll (Ret, Brakes) 0-1

An arduous introduction to the top tier of motorsport. Many believe he should be preparing for a season in Formula 2 and the 18-year-old French-Canadian did nothing prove his doubters wrong. A heavy crash during practice was followed by a cautious performance in qualifying, where his aim thereafter was to complete the race distance. If there is solace, former world champion Jenson Button qualified in the penultimate grid position on his debut for the Grove-based team. It’s a long journey to the top. LOSER 3/10

MCLAREN

Fernando Alonso (Ret, Broken Floor) 1-0

The wily Spaniard made no secret of his disgruntlement of the apparent decline in the team’s progress over the winter, but his race pace was as phenomenal as ever. P10 was looming until damage to his suspension saw him swamped by Ocon & Hulkenberg. WINNER 9/10

Stoffel Vandoorne (P13) 0-1

Finishing last was not what the 2015 GP2 champion had in mind for his full-time F1 debut. Appears to be unable to invoke enough temperature in this year’s Pirelli compounds, allied by a defective MCL32 chassis and oscillating Honda power unit. A laborious season awaits. LOSER 4/10 

TORO ROSSO

Carlos Sainz (P8) 1-1

Another promising drive of the Spaniard’s blossoming career. WINNER 7/10

Daniil Kvyat (P9) 1-1

Easily his beat drive since returning to the Faenza-based outfit. WINNER 7/10

HAAS

Romain Grosjean (Ret, Water Leak) 1-0

Decimated his new team-mate for pace and consistency all weekend, pulled off a fabulous qualifying result (P6), but saw his car crippled by all-too-commonly occurring mechanical gremlins. LOSER 6/10

Kevin Magnussen (Ret, Suspension) 0-1

Gunther Steiner signed the 24-year-old Dane because he felt K-Mag would be a more reliable bet for points than the heavily-maligned Esteban Gutierrez. However, Magnussen spent the weekend still learning how to adapt to VF-17’s brakes. His collision with Marcus Ericsson saw him lucky to escape a penalty in the race, before his failing suspension truncate a disappointing outing in the Dane’s debut for Haas. LOSER 2/10

RENAULT

Nico Hulkenberg (P11) 1-0

With an extremely weak team-mate, it will be excruciatingly tough to track the German’s progress this season (unless Palmer beats him, then it will be clear that Hulkenberg is struggling). A solid debut for his new Renault, he will be disappointed that the thick turbulence in the wake of Ocon’s Force India prevented a points finish. WINNER 7/10

*Jolyon Palmer REJECT OF THE DAY 0-1

Palmer is clearly only in F1 because Magnussen accepted Haas’ offer to join them for 2017. Crashed in practice, blamed anyone but himself for an abysmal qualifying display and overheating brakes was the tale of the Briton’s sorry Melbourne weekend. LOSER 1/10

SAUBER

Marcus Ericsson (Ret, Hydraulics) (0-1 vs. GIO)

A reasonable qualifying result of P14 was scuppered when Kevin Magnussen smashed into Ericsson’s right sidepod at Turn 3 on lap 1. The consequent hydraulics-related damage meant the Swede retired on lap 21. LOSER 4/10

Antonio Giovinazzi (P12) (1-0 vs. ERI)

A sensational debut GP2 season, where the Italian narrowly missed the title to Pierre Gasly, was richly rewarded with a stand-in drive for the stricken Pascal Wehrlein. It was a performance where he proved his selection was richly deserved. WINNER 7/10

2017 Australian Grand Prix: A Measured Response

The new regulations presented themselves with a few pros, but some deeply stark cons. It was great to see the drivers enjoying the grip and sensation of pushing every lap, but agonisingly discouraging to see the cars struggle in dirty air once they reached within 2.5 seconds of cars in front of them. The new, wider, harder tyre compounds witnessed cars on the limit through every corner on every lap, but it meant the race was restricted to one stoppers, so strategy was indistinguishable throughout the field. Fernando Alonso stated the drivers had to be incredibly sharp in their responses to any tank slappers or slides, “So you have half a tenth of a second to react. Last year you had four seconds – in the corner you could take a coffee in those cars!”

Whilst last year’s narrow track chassis combined with fragile Pirelli compounds proved monotonous and frustrating for the drivers, at least spectators were treated to close racing with opportunity for passes albeit at corner speeds adjacent to Formula 2. This cars have not only seen dramatic rise in corner speeds, but also drastically reduced braking distances, much more aggressive steering lock approaches, earlier re-application of throttle responses on corner exits, increased acceleration out of braking zones and heavily multiplied drag levels.

So what is the solution? It would be egregious to return to last year’s slower regulations, that was dismissed by fans, drivers and personnel alike as mickey mouse-like and regressive. However, a number of options for 2018 need to be considered and these include:

  • An increased power unit capacity, with a switch to either 2.0L- 2.4L V6/V8 turbo hybrids or 3.5L- 4.0L V10 naturally-aspirated internal combustion engines (although the latter option has been ruled void by FIA president Jean Todt)
  • A removal of the multiple elements on the front wings, with a rule mandating that only two separate elements with a single slot gap separating them. This is highly recommended, as this is a probable solution to the issue of the dramatically increased turbulence the cars have been suffering in the 2017 specs
  • A narrowing of the chassis from 2 metres to 1.8 metres, in order to decrease drag and force the size of the wings to be reduced by 10%.

Some fans heavily bemoaned the durable tyre compounds reducing the number of pit stops to just one during this year’s Australian GP, but the sight of Esteban Ocon and Nico Hulkenberg having confidence in their tyres to endure moving offline to overtake an ailing Fernando Alonso without last year’s worries of regular flat-spotting was very promising.

However, there also needs to be a technical change which can adversely affect the balance of the cars. Of course, some may argue that the sight of drivers losing the rear end of the cars may occur more commonly, as seen by Jolyon Palmer’s and Daniel Ricciardo’s crashes last weekend. However, others have argued drivers will eventually become familiarised with the handling and the limits in which they can extend the boundaries of their machinery. With that in mind, it is highly likely the necessity for the drivers to attack to maximum will see the margins between the top drivers and the merely good extend to much wider in comparison to last year: the time gaps between Haas’ Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, Renault’s Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer & Williams’ Felipe Massa and rookie Lance Stroll are proof of how much talent and experience will count this year. This is something that will be welcomed by certain fans, who have admonished cars of the past five years as little better than souped up GP2 cars.

The sight of at least a dozen elements on the front wings has had some fans criticising the technical aspect of the sport having become esoteric. Former prominent F1 supremos such as Flavio Briatore have been openly scathing in their criticisms about these issues, stating clearly that the sport should prioritise entertainment for viewers over what he saw as a self-indulgent pet project for engineers. The loss of downforce through the removal of elements and narrowing of cars and wings could be compensated with the return of ground-effects, albeit with a FIA-standardised venturi-shaped floor which every team must fit to the underneath of their chassis.

Practice on Friday saw Mercedes domination, which many saw as sad harbinger of what may follow this season. Non-Mercedes fans’ worst fears of a fourth consecutive seasons appeared depressingly real, but Saturday displayed the hallmarks of a Ferrari challenge. Although Lewis Hamilton grabbed the 62nd pole position in his 189th attempt, Sebastian Vettel hauled his scarlet Ferrari within 0.268 seconds of the Mercedes. It proved to be a miracle as qualifying was ran in mild conditions, with a sprinkle of rain appearing in the early minutes of Q3, which had threatened to kill off competition for pole ten minutes early.

Sunday saw Daniel Ricciardo ominously break down in front of his home crowd on a warm-up lap, thanks to an electronic sensor locking his transmission in sixth gear. He was fortunate the rescue crew extricated his stricken Red Bull and returned it back to the pits, but when he re-ignited his Renault power unit, his car had already been lapped twice. Toro Rosso stablemate Daniil Kvyat faced the threat of an extraordinary third consecutive DNS in-as-many-events at Melbourne due to a fire extinguisher emptying itself, but his mechanics saved his bacon in prompt manner. Nico Hulkenberg embarrassingly parking his Renault two inches ahead of his demarcated grid slot, enforcing a second formation lap, which may have frayed a few anticipatory nerves. The race start was clean, but the collision between Magnussen and Marcus Ericsson at Turn 3 was the result of the Dane clipping his rear right tyre over the kerb, causing a sudden tank-slapper that left him nowhere to go but clobber the startled Sauber driver.

The race for the lead was a cat-and-mouse affair between Hamilton and Vettel. Taking a cue out of the 2016 strategy book, the Briton pitted early on lap 17, as the Mercedes tacticians naively believed the undercut would work like last year despite Hamilton still having 30% tread remaining on his first stint compounds. With clean air to scythe through, Vettel duly capitalised, whilst Hamilton emerged behind a beguiled Max Verstappen, who made his struggling Red Bull as wide as possible for five laps before the Briton inevitably used DRS to speed past. Unfortunately for Mercedes, Vettel pulled enough of a margin so that when he cleared a confused Lance Stroll and pitted, he had a comfortable enough margin which he never relinquished. Hamilton would spend the remainder of the race complaining of dirty air, something which his Mercedes cars of previous years undoubtedly proved inferior in terms of dealing with in comparison to the opposition (but rarely mattered due to its absolute domination). With the improvements Ferrari have made intertwined with the new regulations, this is an issue which will provide many headaches at Brackley during breaks between races.

Valtteri Bottas fell progressively behind in the initial stint, but his second stint proved more productive, where he eventually finished less than 1.5 seconds behind his illustrious team-mate. Kimi Raikkonen, sadly, seemed to flounder as the race progressed, as fifteen laps from the race’s end his arch-nemesis of last year, Max Verstappen, closed in ominously, but could not even attempt to facilitate a consideration to overtake the embattled Finn due to the excessive turbulence in following the wake of the rejuvenated Ferrari package. The Iceman’s P4 is a solid start, but already his critics were condemning his performance, slamming it as half-arsed, lazy and other slurs which have become all-too-commonly aimed at the 2007 world champion.

An “un-retired” Felipe Massa drove as if he’d never retired, as he brought home a vital 8 points. Motivation will be key for the 35-year-old Brazilian, as Williams cannot be sure his dilettante team-mate Lance Stroll is capable of scoring points whatsoever judging by his underwhelming Grand Prix debut. Running 13th, the young French-Canadian eventually parked his car in the pits with failing brakes, but whether this was a genuine mechanical gremlin or a result of his inexperience with handling carbon F1 brake discs remains to be seen.

Despite an overweight new VJM10 chassis, where drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon were forced to lose weight before the race, they respectively finished 7th & 10th, proving the Silverstone squad had not regressed on last year’s remarkable results. Toro Rosso debuted their STR11s with drivers Carlos Sainz & Daniil Kvyat finishing eighth & ninth, however both questioned the handling and balance of their chassis throughout the weekend, so tweaks could be forthcoming.

Stand-in Antonio Giovinazzi drove an impressive Grand Prix debut, admitting he had pace to spare after finishing P12 due to lack of experience with this year’s durable Pirelli compounds. Hulkenberg tried to overtake Ocon in the closing laps, but yet proved an umpteenth driver unimpressed with the dirty air produced in the wake of a fellow competitor. Stoffel Vandoorne finished P13 and last, clearly unable to adapt to his MCL32’s dreadful package, as his far smoother driving style could not correct the understeering tendencies which his illustrious team-mate Alonso has famously combated with stunning success thanks to an infamously aggressive initial turn-in. The Spaniard had been running an awe-inspiring P10 before debris caught under his car’s floor would leave him as a sitting duck for the advances of Ocon & Hulkenberg. A resultant broken floor would force an unsurprising retirement from Alonso, who made no secret of his frustration at McLaren & Honda’s apparent regression in development over the winter.

The Turn 3 incident between Magnussen & Ericsson would see the Dane retire 11 laps from the end with suspension damage, whilst the Swede would soldier on with hydraulics damaged in the incident that failed after 21 laps. Daniel Ricciardo would see his car retire after 25 laps, thanks to a fuel pressure issue unrelated to his pre-race electronic sensor failure or his crash in qualifying the previous day.

Jolyon Palmer, who had the weekend from hell, retired with his brake-by-wire system failing to register his car’s electronics and hydraulics together properly after 15 laps. Star of qualifying Grosjean saw a water leak end his day with just 13 laps completed, having started 6th, an all-time best for Haas.

2016 Australian Grand Prix Winners & Losers

GRAND PRIX RATING: 7/10

DRIVER/TEAM OF THE DAY

Romain Grosjean (Haas, P6)

What an astonishing drive. After a shoddy qualifying for the new boys, Haas took advantage of the red flag caused by their driver Esteban Gutierrez’s horrendous collision with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso. Race strategist Ruth Buscombe pulled off a brilliant decision to place Grosjean on new medium tyres, vaulting their French superstar above those many who took on used mediums or later made a second pit stop to unsuccessfully take advantage of soft compounds in their second stints.

WINNERS

Nico Rosberg (Mercedes, P1)

Rosberg’s start was poor, but nowhere near as poor as Hamilton’s. His performance proved Mercedes’ great longevity on the medium compounds.

Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull, P4)

In spite of a grimly underpowered power unit, Ricciardo successfully pulled off a four tyre compound strategy (used super-softs, new super-softs, new softs & used super-softs). The Red Bull RB12 chassis appears to be the gentlest on its tyres in race-trim, allowing the local boy to set the race’s  fastest lap of 1:28.997.

Kevin Magnussen (Renault, P12)

The Dane drove a steady, determined race after his first lap incident which damaged his car significantly. To finish just two seconds behind Palmer, having driven more than half of the race on used mediums bodes well for K-Mag.

REJECTS OF THE DAY

FIA, F1 Strategy Group & Bernie Ecclestone

The most laughable qualifying session took place on Saturday and proved many within the FIA are not fit to govern the premier class of motorsport. The F1 Strategy Group itself should refund the fans who were subjected to such a pathetic farce. As for Bernie, he is finished.

LOSERS OF THE DAY

Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes, P2)

Once again the Blessed One courted bad publicity during the mid-week, breaching the dress code of a Auckland casino and then taking a selfie on his motorcycle, thus attracting police attention. In the race itself, Hamilton dropped to P6 at the start and struggled to overtake the Toro Rossos in the following stints. In the end, it was damage limitation and the Briton was fortunate Sebastian Vettel took a trip to the grass in the closing laps whilst pursuing him.

Ferrari (Vettel, P3/Raikkonen, DNF)

The boys from Maranello threw away a very likely victory with a poor tyre strategy for Vettel. There seems to be a lack of confidence in the prowess of the SF16-H to run consistent laps on the medium compounds. A turbo failure and a “small” fire for Raikkonen and a slow 5.6 second pit stop for Vettel’s 2nd pit stop was inexcusable. Operational errors need to wiped out immediately.

Williams (Massa, P5/Bottas, P8)

An incredibly disappointing performance for the Banbury squad, who appear to be divesting funds to their 2017 car. For Massa to finish nearly a minute down on Rosberg, despite having used the optimal new medium compound at the restart, was more than underwhelming to say the least.

Toro Rosso (Sainz, P9/Verstappen, P10)

A questionable decision to not change tyre compounds during the red flag proved costly, as both Sainz and Verstappen fell out with their engineers on the radio.

Sergio Perez (Force India, P13)

Anonymous and comprehensively beaten by Hulkenberg.

McLaren-Honda (Button, P14 & Alonso, DNF and alive)

A slightly promising performance in qualifying turned horribly sour in the race itself. The MP4-31 does not look drivable on used compounds at all.

Pirelli

Please give the teams at least 18 sets of tyres for the weekend. 13 sets are far too insufficient.