The 2018 Formula 1 season finally got underway at Melbourne with the Australian Grand Prix. Some teams and drivers performed as per expectations, while some didn’t. In any case, the season opener at Melbourne threw up a lot of insights. The first race provided valuable evidence to support the predictions and speculation of the pundits and fans alike. Let us have a look at some of the key takeaways from the first race weekend.
What We Learnt from the F1 Season Opener
The one thing that everybody unanimously predicted for the new season was that the Mercedes AMG F1 team would be the team to beat. So it proved to be at the Australian Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton continues with his dominant form, while Valtteri Bottas continues to struggle to match his high-profile teammate.
With the experience of one full year in a title-winning team behind him, Bottas was expected to be more of a match to Hamilton’s pace. But it seems the pressure is getting to him. Further into the season though, he can be expected to regain his phlegmatic character.
Scuderia Ferrari were expected to match the pace of Mercedes, but it seems that they are still a few tenths behind in qualifying trim, at least. The race pace still looks good. Kimi Raikkonen was expected to stick to his “No. 2” role but the veteran driver seems to have found his mojo back.
Sebastian Vettel continues with his strategic and sometimes wily ways on Sundays to eke out the results needed for a shot at the elusive fifth title. Even after trailing both Hamilton and Raikkonen in the first stint, he came out leading the pack after the first pit-stop cycle. Eventually, he also won the race.
The Red Bull Racing team look close to the front on race pace, but still a few tenths of a second further behind during qualifying. Both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen were feisty during the race, but were unable to overhaul the Haas cars for a long time.
Disruption in the midfield
The disruptions seen in the midfield was both surprising and heartening at the same time. The Haas F1 team has sprung the biggest surprise. The team has shown encouraging pace during the pre-season testing and was just expected to move up in the midfield. But what their cars did during the race raised more than just eyebrows.
Kevin Magnussen overtook Verstappen in the first lap itself. Verstappen tried with all his might, but could not find a way past. Romain Grosjean was also not too far behind. It was heartening to see such a young team with such limited resources ruffle the feathers of one of the big three teams. Sadly, their charge was halted by a double hara-kiri in the pit-stops. But the biggest takeaway from the first race is that the Haas F1 car is now the best of the rest, after the top-three.
The honour for this “best of the rest” will be keenly fought between Haas, McLaren and Renault teams this season. McLaren showed encouraging improvement over the last three years with a switch from Honda to Renault power. In the hands of Alonso, McLaren can fight hard in the midfield, if not for podiums. There is more work to be done by the Woking-based squad if they intend to push the Red Bulls. The works Renault team continue their upward graph but are still far away from regular podiums.
Force India, Williams and Toro Rosso fall back
The erstwhile strong midfielders – Force India and Williams F1 team seem to have been fallen back on the grid for the time being. Even Scuderia Toro Rosso, which seemed to do so well in pre-season testing, failed to live up to expectations. The Honda engine troubles continue for the fourth year in a row.
The drop in form of Force India and Williams is more conspicuous because they continue to use Mercedes engines and are expected to perform much better. All three teams need to buckle up, or else they will be left behind.
The Alfa Romeo Sauber team continues to languish at the back of the grid, even though they have shown improvement. Charles Leclerc seems to have started well in F1, though expectations are much higher.
Long way to go in the season
The season opener gives a good indication of the things to come, but the season has a long way to go. It is not always that the leaders and laggards of the first race will continue to be the same until the end. The fly-away races frequently have a different colour and spin compared to the European races. The battle lines have been drawn and the gauntlet has been thrown down. The fans just need to sit back and savour the budding rivalries.
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