There is always lots of talk in the months and weeks leading up to the start of the F1 Calendar and for the past 3 years, the talk always seemed to focus on Mercedes-F1 – will they dominate again and who can stop them?
Sadly for the sport, over the past few years this question was answered at the first weekend and resulted in another season of Mercedes’ domination.
In the build up to the 2017 season though, the same sort of questions floated around the media but this time, they had a little more backbone. This was as a result of some major technical changes to the cars which meant that all teams had the same starting point, when it came to aerodynamics at least anyway.
A brief overview of the changes including much larger tyres – 25% percent larger to be correct. Added to this, the cars are wider, more aggressive and lower, changes which mean that the 2017 Formula One cars should be able to lap up to 4 seconds quicker.
Ferrari were very fast in testing prior to this season, but they were also very fast during testing in 2016 so we can never really get a full understanding of who is performing and who isn’t. The cars might be running lower power settings or higher fuel loads, perhaps even both, often in order to bluff their competitors.
Qualifying, however, is where we can start to see who is performing and as expected, Ferrari has really upped their game for the 2017 season. It seemed as though Mercedes still lead the way in terms of outright pace with the team taking two places on the grid, but Ferrari were not far behind, a 300th of a second behind to be exact.
This past Sunday’s race was a clear indication as to which manufacturers have improved and which have fallen behind, qualifying is one thing but race pace is something totally different, something which the Melbourne GP demonstrated.
Ferrari’s woes of last season seemed long forgotten as Vettel followed hamilton around the Albert Park circuit for around 25 laps with a gap of less than 2 seconds, only then for Hamilton to try the undercut, but on his return to the track, he found himself stuck behind Max (the hooligan) Verstappen. Those few laps until Verstappen pitted proved vital as Vettel closed the gap, pitted and exited the pit lane a few car lengths ahead in front of both the Mercedes and Red Bull.
From then on it was pretty simple, Vettel cruised ahead in what looked a very comfortable car while hamilton struggled to generate enough pace from his soft tires and at one stage even had his new team mate clipping at his heels.
What happened this weekend may have just saved Formula One, I am a big fan of Lewis Hamilton, but I have to admit that watching that Ferrari cross the line in 1st place for first time since 2015 made me very happy for the sport. It seems once again that we have two legendary teams competing for the Driver’s and Team World Championships.
At times, the Mercedes seemed like it was less comfortable while driving in the turbulence of other vehicles, while the Ferrari seemed to make Vettel’s life very easy. So, we have a championship battle on our hands and four drivers with the chance of winning it. Red Bull Doesn’t seem like they are in a position to compete unless they make some drastic changes and bring big upgrades – they have a strong driver partnership and it would get fans frothing at the mouths to see 6 drivers all aiming for the world title. For now though, many seem excited with the prospect of a 4 time world champion in the shape of Sebastian Vettel and a three time world champion by the name of Lewis Hamilton battle it out with cars that seem on a very similar level. Lets not count Raikkonen and Bottas out though, they could cause a bit of a stir!