German Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari has won the season opening 2017 Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne, being faster than Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.
Fans can now look for a close battle between Scuderia Ferrari and Mercedes, for the world title, after three years of domination for the latter. After winning the race, Vettel was quite humble about his victory, saying that Mercedes had “no weak link” and that “they will be the ones to beat”.
Many of the drivers discussed how the increased aerodynamics of the current cars makes it much more difficult to follow an opponent. According to Hamilton, last year one could experience turbulence when following the car in front at a distance of about a second, while this year the distance doubled.
Regardless of the above, Vettel could stick behind the Briton in the first part of the race, before overtaking him.
“He was relatively close,” Hamilton said. “And if the roles were reversed and he was ahead he probably would have pulled away.”
Because Hamilton’s tyres were starting to lose grip, Mercedes’ strategy was to change them in lap 18, one lap earlier than planned. Hamilton joined the race again 21.7 seconds behind Vettel, who spent 23 seconds to make a pit stop.
Vettel’s Ferrari and Hamilton’s Mercedes seemed to have similar performance, and it was hard for Vettel to gain a serious lead. After the pit stop, Vettel rejoined the race ahead of Hamilton and Verstappen and fought had to protect his position.
At one point during the race, Hamilton felt he was faster than the German driver.
“I didn’t know how long the tyres were going to last so I didn’t want to close the gap knowing I couldn’t overtake anyway and then run out of tyres and lose second place,” Hamilton said. “Once I came out behind Sebastian it was really damage limitation.”
“All things in perspective, to see where we have come from, massive rule changes and to come here and be battling so close for a win and missing out marginally, there are a lot of things to be proud of. Today we could have won the race but I gave it everything I could and you can’t do more.”
The race points out that overall, the two cars, Ferrari and Mercedes were just as fast. Mercedes used to have some problems with premature tyre usage in the past and this might be the case again.
On the other hand, Ferrari gained a lot in terms of engine performance, developing the same power as the German car. The chassis is great as well, as Vettel put it: “We have a great car – on straights and corners we are competitive.”
“Right now, it looks like we have equal machinery. I hope it turns out that way and we will see how it turns out but it’s obviously a lot of fun to race for victories against the best,” Vettel said.
The turbulence created by the car in front led to a lot of buzz lately. While Hamilton complained that overtaking might be a problem, Hamilton’s team-mate Bottas said that the extra drag might lead to some great racing.
Moreover, the tougher tyres mean drivers no longer need to be as protective with them, as they used to.
It is probably too early to make a judgement of the new F1 rules and cars. The next races, China and Bahrain will most likely clear the water.