The anticipation is now over. Formula 1 is back with the opening race of the season in Australia. The hundreds of laps that the teams put in during testing are vital; as now the teams have to use that data plus the data they picked up in practice to have a reliable and fast car for the first race of the season. Lewis Hamilton made sure that he got the best out of his Mercedes. After what many described as a special lap from the Brit, he grabbed pole position. Kimi Räikönnen and Sebastian Vettel appeared to have their work cut out this weekend. With over 0.6 seconds a lap to find, the Ferraris needed to find some race pace to beat the Hamilton. An incredible effort from Magnussen and Grosjean puts the two Haas drivers in 6th and 7th. However, they would start a place higher as Riccardo had a grid penalty. After struggling with their new Honda power units in qualifying, Toro Rosso were lower on the grid than expected; the Faenza based team’s drivers in Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly qualified in 17th and 20th respectively. Sauber Who now have a new title sponsor in Alfa Romeo are hoping for an improvement on previous seasons in the V6 hybrid era of F1. However, their fans may have to wait, as Marcus Ericsson qualified in 17th and rookie Charles Leclerc in 18th.
So for the first time in three months the lights went out and we were underway. Hamilton from pole got off to a good start and defended his position into turn 1, Räikönnen and Vettel followed through followed by Magnussen; who had got off to a great start to pass Verstappen who started in 4th. A lap later, Toro Rosso decided to take a gamble, by pitting Hartley very early for soft tires. The New Zealander was in last place then for most of the race after this point sadly for him. However, nearer the front, in the Red Bull, ex-Toro Rosso driver Max Verstappen was being urged to re-take 4th place off Magnussen. He put Magnussen under lots of pressure, however Magnussen didn’t lose his nerve and was able to hold onto the place. At this point, there wasn’t much between Romain Grosjean’s Haas in 6th and Sergey Sirotkin’s Williams. That was of course until Sirotkin pulled off the track with a brake failure to become the first retirement of 2018 on just lap 6 of his first race in Formula 1. A lap later, Marcus Ericsson also came into the pits with what appeared to be a hydraulics issue. A shame for the first race with Alfa Romeo back in the sport.
Back at the front, Verstappen still hadn’t made his way past Magnussen. He was losing around a second a lap to the leaders because of being held up the the Dane. Meanwhile a little further down the order, Valtteri Bottas was making his way through the pack. He had crashed in Qualifying 3 which meant he was meant to start 10th but due to damage he had penalties which moved him even further down the grid. The Mercedes driver moved past Ocon into turn 3 which put him up to 13th place. By lap 10, Hamilton led from Räikönnen with Vettel in 3rd. Magnussen was in 4th, however he had Verstappen right on his tail. Magnussen’s Haas teammate Grosjean was 6th with Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly in 16th and Leclerc in 17th. Hartley was still in last after his early pitstop. Haas were having an extremely good race. Both cars were running in the points and the Ferrari powered team were having a much better time of it than they had been in races last season. This would only get better for them, as Verstappen had a big spin. He was able to carry on, but he was down in 8th place now. This meant that Romain Grosjean was up to 5th place. 5 laps later, Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly suffered his first engine failure of the season. After a poor three seasons with McLaren, Honda didn’t appear to be improving their engines. Now with Renault engines, the McLaren drivers, Alonso and Vandoorne, were in P7 and P9. A big improvement already on their previous seasons.
On lap 19, the pitstop window opened. Kimi Räikönnen was the first of the front runners to make a stop. He came out in 3rd place, ahead of Magnussen in 4th. A good thing as Verstappen was loosing about a second a lap to the leaders behind Magnussen. Hamilton then pitted a lap later to cover off Räikönnen. On lap 22, Verstappen pitted and came out in 14th. It was looking like it would be a difficult second part of the race for the Red Bull driver. It was on lap 23 however, when the drama started.
Kevin Magnussen pitted on lap 23. It was a good stop which meant he came out in 11th; well ahead of Max Verstappen. However he stopped on the side of the track soon after his stop, reporting an engine failure. His pit crew however, didn’t fit his rear left tire correctly which was also a factor leading to his retirement. On lap 25, Hulkenberg and Grosjean pitted. You might be thinking surely lighting couldn’t strike twice. However, it did. Almost immediately after coming out of the pits, Grosjean stopped on the side of the track. This time with a loose front left tire. So that brought a premature end to what had been an incredible effort from Haas. However, the show must go on and the virtual safety car was brought out.
Bottas, Vandoorne, Vettel and Stroll all pitted. Vettel was the. Vettel was winner in all of this; as he came out a head of his teammate and Hamilton to take the lead. This was due to both Hamilton and Räikönnen having to slow down under virtual safety car. This meant Vettel lost no where near as much time in the pits in comparison. Then the full safety car was brought out on lap 29. Now Vettel led from Hamilton from Räikönnen with Riccardo in 4th and Verstappen in 5th. However, Verstappen had overtaken Alonso under yellow flags which meant he had to give the place back to the McLaren driver. Leclerc was 14th and Hartley was 15th.
The safety car came in on lap 32, and I was getting ready for an exciting battle between 4 cars for the race win. However this is not what happened. Over the second part of the race Vettel was able to stay ahead of Hamilton for the rest of the race. Possibly Hamilton was struggling with dirty air. Räikönnen had a good battle with home favourite Daniel Riccardo for 3rd. He was able to hold off the Red Bull driver to get on the last step of the podium. Alonso was 5th after a driver of the day performance that had him holding off Verstappen, Hulkenberg and Bottas to level his best finish with McLaren Honda in McLaren Renault’s first race. A massive achievement. After a relatively poor drive from Verstappen, he was able to salvage 6th place with Hulkenberg in 7th and Bottas 8th. Vandoorne was 9th with Sainz 10th. A poor showing from Force India saw Perez and Ocon finish 11th and 12th respectively. Leclerc had a strong first race with Sauber. He finished 13th which hopefully shows that they could be making a return to the midfield. Hartley finished in 15th, after his early stop, he never was able to come back through the field.
Overall, the Australian Grand Prix was an ok opener to the season. There were a few overtakes at the start, there was drama in the middle. However the rest of the race really lacked in excitement. A good win for Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari with Räikönnen finishing on the podium puts them first in the constructors championship. Something they’ll want to hold on to for the rest of the season. It was a great shame for Haas, as they had a great race. However, this sport can be cruel. Two mistakes in the pitstops ended both driver’s races. I’m hoping for a better Bahrain Grand Prix in two weeks time.