Robert Nguyen profile picture Robert Nguyen 5 years ago
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#MotorsportTribune: Ferrari gaining the momentum Down Under

Ferrari - #MotorsportTribune: Ferrari gaining the momentum Down Under - Blog

Well, well, well… the start of the 2017 Formula One World Championship definitely started with a BANG. Not literally like Ralf Schumacher launched of the back of Rubens Barrichello in 2002 or more recently the massive shunt of Fernando Alonso and Esteban Gutierrez last year but still certainly a BANG for all of us watching from all over the world.

The new era of Formula One kicked off with Sebastian Vettel stunned the Silver Arrows as he took victory under the Melbourne afternoon. Kicking off a new season with plenty of hopes for the Scuderia after a strong pre-season testings campaign at Barcelona where they appears to have an edge to the German marque.

Both Ferrari and Mercedes appears to be closely matched during the Barcelona's pre-season testings
Both Ferrari and Mercedes appears to be closely matched during the Barcelona's pre-season testings

Although during practice and qualifying, Mercedes turned up a notch as they appeared to have an advantage in one lap pace, Hamilton was able to find a sweet spot in the car and converted into a pole on Saturday. Vettel was closely behind the Brit as Mercedes’s new recruit Bottas did a fine job to jump ahead of Raikkonen. There were much hype forthe Bulls from Milton Keynes as they are launched into the position to challenge the Silver Arrows but still lacking pace with Max Verstappen in fifth while Aussie homeboy Daniel Ricciardo crashed out in Q3 and started 10th (though later he would dropped to 15th because of a gearbox change), which became the downturn of Ricciardo’s weekend at home.

The battle for the supremacy in the midfield pack was a fight between Williams, Force India, Toro Rosso, Haas and Renault. But it appears Williams is having the upper hand, while McLaren and Sauber still appeared to be sluggish even though Honda gets their act right and for some apparent reason no engine problems was found during the weekend, much to the team fears as they might not even get to the finish line on Sunday.

The Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz dukes it out with the Force India of Sergio Perez
The Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz dukes it out with the Force India of Sergio Perez

Even the race could start, problems was detected with hometown hero Ricciardo as his Red Bull shut down on his way to the grid, he missed the race starts and got going again on lap 3, two laps behind the leader.

Hamilton actually gets a decent start and leading while Kevin Magnussen and Marcus Ericsson tangled at Turn 3 and straight to the kitty litter. The race deciding moment was around lap 18 to 24. Hamilton pits for a fresh set of softs and took the undercut while Seb stayed out. The Brit emerged behind Max Verstappen and true to the rumours, Lewis found it hard to pass the Dutchman as he stuck behind and lost around 2 seconds. Vettel dived in the pits on lap 24 and emerged ahead of Verstappen and Hamilton as he was able to build a gap around 6.5 seconds and never look back.

Vettel emerging ahead of Verstappen and Hamilton
Vettel emerging ahead of Verstappen and Hamilton

Nothing much happens except for a few drivers retired out of the race due to various mechanical issues, most notably was Ricciardo as he parked his Bull out of the exit of turn 3 on lap 29 due to a fuel pressure issue.

A disappointed Ricciardo walking away from his RB13
A disappointed Ricciardo walking away from his RB13

The only major moment was on lap 52 when Hulkenberg in the Renault and Ocon in the pink Force India made it three wide on the main straight with the limping McLaren of Alonso who was desperately holding for 10th. Ocon emerges as the victor while Alonso later headed for retirement with rear suspension issue.

Vettel kicks off the season with the win following by Hamilton, Bottas, Raikkonen, Verstappen completes the top five. The other point scorers are Massa, Perez, Sainz, Kvyat and Ocon.

Ocon and Hulkenberg blasting pass the McLaren of Alonso in the closing stage of the race
Ocon and Hulkenberg blasting pass the McLaren of Alonso in the closing stage of the race

Vettel’s victory down under was still a surprise to many even though even Lewis Hamilton claimed during the pre-season tests at Barcelona and during the race weekend that a fight for the victory with the Scuderia will be tough. Even though Ferrari is still flying on cloud nine, they still need to watch their back as the victory at Melbourne although was a great drive from Vettel himself, it relatively similar to his first victory for the Maranello squad at Sepang nearly 2 years ago.

How Ferrari's strategy helps Vettel claiming the win at Albert Park?

Ferrari - #MotorsportTribune: Ferrari gaining the momentum Down Under - Blog

With the low degradation of this year’s tires, Pirelli has previously warned that one stop race will be a common fixture this season. As the race proves that a set of ultra-softs compound can go to at least half race distant.

Vettel played it cool as he tucked behind Hamilton and saved his tires while the Brit constantly complaining about his tires with Mercedes forced to pit him early in order for him to undercut Vettel, that proves fatal when Lewis stucked behind Max and Vettel with clear air hammers down and stretched a lead large enough to emerge right ahead the Mercedes of Hamilton.

Back in 2015, the second race of the season at Sepang, when a safety car was called out, Mercedes opted to pit both Hamilton and Rosberg for a free pit stop while Ferrari told Vettel to stay out for clear air and take the provisional lead. As Lewis and Nico had to slice through the pack, Seb stretched the lead and was closer to the Mercs than the German marque expected. When Lewis pitted for the last time, he was too far to catch Vettel with the German claimed his first victory for the red scuderia.

Vettel's victory at Albert Park has some similarities to his first victory for Ferrari back in 2015 at Sepang
Vettel's victory at Albert Park has some similarities to his first victory for Ferrari back in 2015 at Sepang

But that is still a part of the factors contributing towards Ferrari’s victory, what also happened?

Is Mercedes having the same problem like 2013?

Ferrari - #MotorsportTribune: Ferrari gaining the momentum Down Under - Blog

A little bit back in time again, this time we go back to 2013. That was the first season that Mercedes showed that they are a true contender for the future. Often blistering with their one lap pace with 8 poles but only managed 3 wins and a total of 9 podiums.

Though they were quick in their one lap pace, tires degradation often the caused of the flattered performance during raceday, this might be the same with this year’s W08. During the race Hamilton told the team through the radio that he has problem with his tires. The first one was during lap 5 and later when he was behind Seb. Now it might be an indication of Lewis’s driving styles but still a case for Mercedes to see. With this year’s tires has less degradation, it might be a hole that other teams can exposed Mercedes’s weakness.

Although the problem is not as big as back in 2013, but still a major red flag for Mercedes. If Lewis stayed out and pit around a lap or two in front of Vettel, he might have the win but it is not clear what will happen because of the problems challenging drivers of overtaking with this year’s regulations or how Vettel’s race would have played out if he stuck behind the exhaust of Hamilton after the pit stop and in the dirty air of the Brit.

Will Mercedes finds out the problem or they might have another similar situation back in 2013?
Will Mercedes finds out the problem or they might have another similar situation back in 2013?

Winners and Losers out of Albert Park

Ferrari - #MotorsportTribune: Ferrari gaining the momentum Down Under - Blog

Definitely the winners of the week is going to be Ferrari and Vettel, I don’t need to get into that again.

Valtteri Bottas did a solid job in his debut for Mercedes, although trailing behind the Brit. The ice cold Finn was on par with Hamilton on raceday and was closing quick on his world champion teammate during the later part of the race. This will certainly helps him in his quest to retain his seat at Mercedes for 2018

Special mentions go to Antonio Giovinazzi who was a last minute call up to replace an un-well Pascal Wehrlein and finished in a decent 12th on his debut. The other being Esteban Ocon who kept his nose cleaned and got his first point after being denied during the last lap at Interlagos last year. Giovinazzi in the mean time can assured that both Ferrari and Sauber (many more time as well) are watching him and he may get a full time drive in the future.

Antonio Giovinazzi is certainly a star in the making, he just now needs a full time drive
Antonio Giovinazzi is certainly a star in the making, he just now needs a full time drive

The biggest losers of the week must be Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull. Being pinned as the kryptonite that will bring down Mercedes, Red Bull fails to be on par with Ferrari and Mercedes and a horrid week for homeboy hero Ricciardo.

Haas and McLaren are also two other losers. Although a brilliant effort from Grosjean to qualified 6th on Saturday but both Haas’s cars retired with mechanical issues, denied them a strong start of the season.

McLaren, as expected still struggles. I was about “not” to put them in my losers pick only if Alonso could have gotten the point. Still the engine is still massively the dead weight as Vandoorne struggles all weekends. Although the engine survived the weekend, but still the Woking based team will be in another dreadful season. As they need to find a solution soon as the McLaren and Honda partnership might be a thing in the past soon.

Lastly is Jolyon Palmer, constantly outpaced by his new teammate Hulkenberg and a crash in FP2 with being last in qualifying is not helping him to retain his seat for next year.

McLaren REALLY needs to find a solution soon.
McLaren REALLY needs to find a solution soon.

Thank you for reading and I hope to see you guys again after Shanghai next week.

A motorsport blog

by Robert Nguyen

Hanoi, 30th March 2017