Our resident F1 fundi, Nick van der Meulen, shares an Australian Grand Prix Review.
The 998th Formula 1 Grand Prix began on a sombre note, with the shock passing of Charlie Whiting, long-time Race Director of the F1 circus, on Thursday. He began his tenure in the paddock as a mechanic in the now defunct Hesketh squad (he and Ross Brawn twirled spanners together) in the 70s, before moving to Brabham where he was part of Nelson Piquet’s two world titles. He moved to FIA administration (along with Bernie Ecclestone, who was his boss at Brabham) where he gained much respect from all the teams and drivers in the paddock over the years. He was 66 years old.
What is there to say about the race, though? It was… disappointing, to say the least. Where Mercedes was “at least 0,5 seconds per lap off Ferrari” after pre-season testing, they ended up 0,7 seconds faster in qualifying and the team romped to a 1-2 finish, miles ahead of everyone else.
Click here to read Nick’s F1 preview to see how correct he was.
It was Valtteri Bottas, though, who bolted into the lead at the start and was never headed, taking a brilliant victory ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton. The reigning world champion had issues of his own to deal with and had his mirrors full of Max Verstappen’s Red Bull in the closing stages of the race. Hamilton still finished second despite his problems, the warning shot fired from Mercedes echoing throughout the paddock…
Honda power was impressive and Verstappen rewarded the Red Bull Racing partner with a podium finish – the first Honda-powered podium since Silverstone 2008 – however, team mate Pierre Gasly was less impressive, finishing outside the points behind the Honda-powered Toro Rosso of Daniil Kyvat, who claimed the final point.
Best of the rest
Haas proved to be the best of the rest, with Kevin Magnussen finishing an impressive 6th, comfortably ahead of Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault who, in turn, led a train consisting of Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo, Stroll’s Racing Point, Kyvat and Gasly across the finish line. Watching this gaggle vie for position, it was clear overtaking was not a simple affair and spectators were denied a spectacle as a result.
The Aussie crowd was also denied a racer to cheer for as local darling, Daniel Ricciardo, lost his front wing while grass-tracking in the sprint from the start to Turn 1, immediately compromising his chances. Hats off to him, though, for managing to slow his Renault down and avoid a potentially disastrous incident.
What of Ferrari? They were painfully disappointing, to say the least. After looking so strong in testing, F1 fans were hoping for a closer battle at the front for the 2019 season. If this performance is anything to go by, Vettel and Leclerc, who finished 4th and 5th (57 and 58 seconds behind Bottas), respectively, will not have a big role to play in the championship proceedings.
This is only the first round of the world championship, though, and one can only pray fervently that this was merely a blot in the Ferrari copybook and they will be back stronger than ever. Toto Wolff seems to think so, as he feels Ferrari will be the team to beat over the next two rounds, downplaying his own team’s chances. I, for one, find it very difficult to believe Mr Wolff after his team destroyed the opposition in this manner.
It was interesting to see how the top teams were strategising towards getting the point for fastest lap in the closing stages of the race, but has this added to the spectacle? It is an interesting issue that fans can discuss post-race, however, it cannot detract from the disappointing procession witnessed this weekend. As it is at the beginning of the season, it is always exciting to see the new cars in action, but whether this race was worth losing sleep for remains questionable.
The next round at Bahrain is in two weeks: let’s hope fans can see more action.