Formula 1 is back, and the 2017 Australian Grand Prix provided an intriguing race won by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. But what can we take away from the event?
The Liberty Effect is Taking Shape
F1 has new owners in Liberty Media, and they have emphasised that their vision of the sport is not something which is going to happen overnight. But we are starting to get at least a glimpse of what is to come from the sport in the near-future as part of their five-year plan.
Altered graphics have come in, with useful little pieces of information which will be ideal for fans trying the sport for the first time. The statistics which appear at the bottom of the screen periodically are also nice. Expanding on the timing in qualifying (taking pages from what Dorna has done with MotoGP) is something great for the more hardcore fan as well.
In addition, the F1 YouTube channel has been far more active this race weekend. Session highlights have been uploaded, as well as driver interviews. There has also been a fans’ forum streamed live through that service. Teams are also allowed to upload their own short clips onto their personal accounts now as well, and Lewis Hamilton has also taken advantage of this through his own accounts. This is the social media interaction that F1 was so drastically behind on in recent years.
We even got to see the drivers’ championship trophy at the front of the grid before the race. It’s a small change, but a really neat one.
Ferrari is back! And we have a Major Battle Ahead
This is something we have been craving for years now. A straight battle in cars which are relatively equal between two giants of modern day F1 – Hamilton and Vettel. The Briton and the German have seven world championships between them, and approaching a century of race victories, but bar 2012 in qualifying (which were some great battles in the unrestricted DRS era) we haven’t really seen the two lock horns on track so much. We got that today.
Ferrari appear to have a little bit of an advantage in race trim right now, especially when it comes to making the tyres last. Mercedes having tyre problems is not an unfamiliar problem to them. However, it still seems as if the Silver Arrows has a bit of a gap in qualifying. Therefore this is shaping up to be a duel from the era of Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari and Mika Hakkinen’s McLaren. Red Bull and Adrian Newey has a lot of work to do, but they are still within striking distance. This is what neutrals are so desperately craving from the sport.
The development race is going to be critical this year, and we may well see the advantage swinging from one team to another across the year. Australia isn’t always the most representative race, but the groups of cars seem clear from what we saw today. If Red Bull does find a few tenths of a second on the guys at the front, then they cannot be ruled out either. The gap between the front three teams and the likes of Haas, Toro Rosso and Williams however, is massive.
Overtaking is Difficult, but not Impossible
We did not get a huge amount of overtaking during the grand prix, but that is okay. What overtaking we did have looked as if the driver attacking really had to work for it, DRS or not. We saw some great lunges and passes into some corners, as opposed to moves being done and dusted well before the braking zone as we saw at some rounds last year. Again, Australia isn’t the most conventional circuit, so this may be a bit of an anomaly, but the signs are positive. Following cars looked difficult with the dirty air, but it did not look as bad as some feared. The Mercedes struggled in the dirty air more than the Ferrari (again, a common trait of Mercedes F1 cars) and this was a defining factor of the race.
McLaren are Improving, but still too far Behind
McLaren completed a race distance with Belgian rookie Stoffel Vandoorne, although his race was not without issue. Fernando Alonso was having a stellar run in 10th for much of the event, but an odd suspension problem ended his day early. Reliability has definitely been worked on, but odd sounds when changing gear as well as a generally poor-handling car implies that there is so much work to do still. Alonso dubbed this car as “last” in terms of outright performance. This is going to be another long season for the team.
Antonio Giovinazzi Deserves a Proper F1 Shot
Italy has not had a full-time F1 driver since 2011, and GP2 series runner up from last year Giovinazzi became the first Italian to start a race since then. He did a solid job all weekend, replacing the unfit Pascal Wehrlein. He made a small error in qualifying which could have seen him outqualify his vastly more experienced team mate Marcus Ericsson, but kept it out of the wall on both Saturday and Sunday. He did well when it came to blue flags, and brought the car home in 12th place thanks to the many retirements from the race. A superb sub and a fine debut. Ferrari has a very capable reserve driver in their armoury.
The 2017 cars are Monstrous and Spectacular
The five-seconds a lap quicker than 2015 thing which was the main intention for these cars didn’t quite happen this weekend, although they seemed to get pretty close to that. However, the outright lap record was still obliterated and we saw that these cars give a real sense of speed now. The tyres also look absolutely beastly, which is not a bad thing at all. These cars look amazing to watch. Ignore the racing for a second and ignore any comments about the sound. These cars simply look jaw-droppingly stunning to watch. Hamilton’s pole lap gives the vibe of a pole lap from dozen years ago. F1 has certainly got its ‘wow’ factor back with this generation of cars.
The 2017 Australian Grand Prix will not go down as a classic but it is the dawn of a drastic change on and off the track for F1. 19 races are still to come, and many more stories such as the ones from today will emerge. Hopefully there will be this Ferrari versus Mercedes talk all year long, and maybe Red Bull can throw their hat into the ring as well. The cars look different, there are different names in different places, but the sport appears to finally be heading somewhere towards the right direction. F1 is back, and more aggressive than ever.