The season opening Rolex Australian Grand Prix was a dramatic tale of two halves and the team at the centre of this piece of theatre was one that is not used to taking centre stage.
A perfect start from Lewis Hamilton, who held off a spirited attack from Kimi Raikkonen was followed by 30 or so laps when the world champion and his number 44 Mercedes seemed to be calmly easing to a predictable victory under the Melbourne sun. Indeed, the British driver seemed to be coasting and certainly not putting his Silver Arrow under any kind of pressure.
There was a frisson on lap 10 when Max Vertappen’s supersoft tyres and his Red Bull Racing wandered over some of the circuit’s artificial grass, with the resulting 360 degree spin costing him four places to his nearest rivals, after he rejoined the track, with his engineers advising him to look after his rear tyres.
By lap 25 three drivers had returned their cars to their garages: Sirotkin, Ericsson and Gasly all retired, but the real drama was about to come.
From here on teams started to bring their drivers in to change tyres and that is when Hass made its unwitting bid to be the story of the day. Roman Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen came in quick succession, and one after another the pit crews failed to secure one of the tyres. Both drivers pulled away, unaware of the problem, only to have to stop soon after. Guenther Steiner, Haas’s team principal was a picture of disbelief, while the slo-mo shots of the pit crews, as they realized their mistakes, were instead pictures of anger and frustration.
On came the yellow lights to indicate the virtual safety car, and as one of the Haas could not be moved quickly off the circuit, the real safety car was deployed.
This was the race changer, as Sebastian Vettel took the led from Hamilton, never to relinquish it until the chequered flag. This time it was he who held the led firmly in his gloved hands, steadily adding seconds to his lead on the Mercedes, who by the finishing laps was nearly prey of the second Ferrari and Raikkonen.
In front of a crowd of 94,500, the German national anthem was played for the Constructor’s Title, but the accompanying Driver’s Title was the Italian one, lustily sang by the Ferrari mechanics massed under the podium, rather than the British one.
Not the perfect start for Mercedes, but a great one for Ferrari, and for the upcoming season.
Home hero Daniel Ricciardo finished a strong 4th, having climbed up from 8th, enough to give the home crowd much to cheers about. And much cheer was also present to welcome the FIA F1 Future Stars, 20 young Australian karters, boys and girls, who stood proudly in their karting overalls in front of the 20 best drivers in the world, today’s heroes and, who knows, tomorrow’s too.
Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Ferrari, said:
“Obviously we were a little bit lucky today. Lewis had a great lap yesterday. He deserved pole position. He drove a very good race; controlled it in the beginning. As I say, we got a bit lucky, but we’ll take it. We put a flag up in Maranello for every win and I asked them to do that this morning back in Europe. We’re not yet there where we want to be. I’m not yet exactly there with the car, you know. If I don’t feel what I need to feel then it’s a bit tricky. I think we all know. But I think it gives us a good start, a good wind and fresh motivation for the coming weeks.”
Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix Final Classification:
The total attendance of the weekend was very close to 300,000 spectators (295,000), with an impressive 52,500 crowd on Thursday (+14.5%, compared to last year, highest Day One attendance since 2006) and 74,500 on Friday. Unfortunately, the heavy rain on Saturday morning partially limited the attendance for the day so that the weekend’s overall attendance was just marginally lower than 2017.