Race Review: Australia 24th-26th of March, Round 1


Welcome to all and welcome back F1! It’s been far too long! But before we dive in to reviewing round 1 in Australia, let’s summarise how these race review posts will go for this season. As we all know the weekend is split into Practice, Qualifying and, of course, the Race. Whilst I also would wish to split the post into these sections, in the interest of my own ability to actually watch the weekend in a relaxed manner and not be writing throughout it, I will instead focus primarily on the race. However, rest assured I will not completely ignore the events of practice and qualifying: anything I deem note-worthy will find a way to be mentioned! Similarly to my posts on testing I will summarise each team in order of their live constructor positioning. Both drivers in the team will get a paragraph that analyses how they did individually, including a quick mention of their qualifying performance, then a final ‘summary’ paragraph will outline how the team did as whole over the weekend and what the future might hold. Following the final team there will be a review of the race as a whole, how enjoyable and how interesting it was. Then the driver and constructor tables will be posted. Lastly we will turn our gaze briefly to the next race. As ever, all of the photos are courtesy of their respective owners and I give my thanks, as I am not in a position to take them myself.

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel.

But now, back to Australia. Patrick Head, co-founder of the Williams F1 team said in Sky F1’s Australia preview that “Albert Park is not a classic circuit…Fast corners that really show up the aerodynamic performance of the car are not present. So, you can sometimes delude yourself…you have to be a little careful to read the whole season on the first race” and that pretty much sums up how this post will go. I will attempt to gain insight but this race review will be careful with my analysis of the car’s performances: this year is an more of an aerodynamics Formula and Albert Park may not showcase the full story just yet. If you missed the race and cannot find time to watch it in full, maybe this will help: or perhaps my guesses to what the figures and performances reveal will turn out to be enlightening later on this year. But whatever will be will be, Formula 1 is back and for that alone I am very happy to even post my thoughts on this first race. So let’s go through in the live constructor positions.

Ferrari (1st & 4th)scuderia_ferrari_logo_red-bgnd[1].jpg
Sebastian Vettel, P1: 

Well, well, well! Perhaps the hype is to be believed after all. Having qualified 2nd and 0.3 seconds behind Hamilton, I was expecting both Ferrari’s to to drop to 3rd and 4th respectively over the course of the 57 laps. But their race pace seems to be stronger than their qualifying pace and it allowed them to call the shots on strategy this race, which was incredibly important. Obviously it is very difficult to tell at this early stage whether or not the Ferrari is genuinely the fastest car; but Vettel seemed incredibly comfortable just sitting behind Hamilton and waiting for his opportunity to strike. Once Seb was in front on lap 24 he never looked back and the gap to the following Hamilton was consistent until the end, where victory greeted him. It perhaps says more of the Ferrari’s inherent pace that Vettel overtook Hamilton through an over-cut (waiting longer on older tyres before pitting) as well. Vettel was pretty much imperious it must be said and it bodes very well for his and Ferrari’s championship challenge at this early stage.

Kimi Raikkonen, P4:
On the surface and very much in reality, Raikkonen had a fairly quiet race and through the weekend as a whole, finishing where he qualified. On the plus side, Kimi did clock the fastest lap of the race and he did lead the race for a handful of laps but he hadn’t made a pitstop yet. But, Vettel’s apparent dominance over-him was quite clear: Sebastian not only won the race, 3 places above Kimi but also out-qualified him by a quite substantial half a second. Ferrari are rather infamous for having a “number 1 driver” policy and if Vettel is in the fight for the driver’s championship I expect Kimi to be in a firm supporting role, with less team focus around him. But, whilst he looked like was already practising for that possibility this weekend, this time last season saw a similar situation and as the season went on there were moments where Kimi’s pace was actually better than his team mate’s. If Ferrari seriously want to fight for the constructors as well, then Kimi has to bring his A-game as he did last year. I still believe in his abilities and so think he will be more on the pace as the season goes on and he gets used to the car.

Team Summary:
Ferrari will obviously be very happy with the result this weekend. However, at some points in practice and then in qualifying it did not look like they had the pace over Mercedes. They might also be a tiny bit concerned that Haas’ 2017 Ferrari engine gave up in smoke in the early stages of the race, but neither negative will damage the spirit for them tonight. As I said in testing, we still have to “watch this space” and I don’t want want to make too many rash predictions. Ferrari have made a great start, but as many have vouched in the paddock, this season will be a relentless development race through all the field: there is still a long way to go. Seb in the Thursday press conference said “We have tried to do our job back in the factory and in testing, but I think it matters much more what you show from here onwards” and he will be aware that his words will apply throughout the whole year: in order to remain on top they must keep thinking “from here onwards” regardless of their successes. However, unlike last season there seems a very real possibility that Ferrari are proper challengers and the sport is by far the better for it.

Mercedes (2nd & 3rd)

Lewis Hamilton, P2:
It has to be said, I feared the worst when Hamilton clocked pole on Saturday ahead of Vettel. It all seemed rather “here we go again” and as I awaited the start of the race I fully expected him to disappear into the distance, the feeling only intensified when Ferrari had a “steady” start in the words of Martin Brundle. However, even after pulling out of DRS range at around lap 9, Hamilton and Mercedes seemed incredibly flustered over the radio, unlike Ferrari who had near to relative radio-silence and just got on with it. Lewis’ team asked him for 1:28.0’s to pull away from Vettel, but in response were told “that’s not possible” and indeed it wasn’t, Vettel was constantly pressuring from the background. Hamilton pitted, in retrospect very early, complaining of a lack of grip which allowed Vettel clean air and a chance to pump in quick lap-times. Furthermore, Hamilton emerged behind a feisty Max Verstappen after his stop: the team told him passing the Dutchman was “race critical” but Hamilton said “theres no way I can get past” and so was further held up until Verstappen pitted. Hamilton could not put in the times on his new tyres and Vettel emerged in the lead from the pit-lane. That is how it stayed.

Valtteri Bottas, P3:
Bottas’ first weekend in a Mercedes was a solid showing and a good podium. Whilst he may be a little disappointed to not have qualified on the front row alongside Lewis, his pace especially at the end of the race showed him to be competitive. He reeled in Lewis slowly but surely after the pitstop, but in the end couldn’t make a move. Bottas will come up to speed as the season goes on, this is a new team and a new car with different characteristics both in regulations and philosophy to his Williams of last year. Lewis is a difficult driver to match, but Valtteri can be very happy with what he did this weekend.

Team Summary:
Mercedes will be concerned. Not overly concerned it must be said, their car will win races this season and it is still the favourite; fastest in all but one of the practice sessions and in qualifying. But their car is designed to run in clean air, at the front of the pack with complimentary aero, so it was clear to see today that when they were behind other cars they struggled more than the Ferrari. But more important is mentality: for the first time in 4 years they leave the opening weekend not looking over their shoulder at those chasing them, but instead staring at the back of another car. It is unfamiliar territory for Mercedes and it will not be enjoyable for them. On early suggestion winning either championship will not be the cake-walk routine that the team have enjoyed since 2014: for once their mettle might be tested and we shall see what stuff they are truly made of. I expect them to come back fighting and I still expect them to win both championships; but I hope they will be pushed hard to do so. I hope their sheer dominance is at an end and quite frankly it would be not a moment too soon.

Red Bull-Renault (5th & DNF)
Max Verstappen, P5:
In terms of his influence on the race, Verstappen had an eventful Sunday. Racing hard with Hamilton helped Vettel claim victory. But in and of himself, he qualified 5th and finished the race 5th and his session was largely uneventful. One might even accuse him of a bit of cheeky boredom; come the end of the race he came over the radio asking “what time is the fastest lap” as he searched for something to occupy himself. Red Bull also will be grateful for his 10-point haul, as their season got off to a bumpy start compared to where they want to be.

Daniel Riccardio, DNF:
Poor Daniel. He had a simply torrid weekend at his home Grand-Prix. On Thursday he said “If anyone could win just one race they’d always say their home, so that’d be cool, it would be good” and he couldn’t have been further away. All seemed fairly decent going until Q3 on Saturday. The ‘Honey Badger’ dropped the car through the apex of the 3rd last corner and he was into the wall; left in P10 with no time. However from there his luck only got worse. The shunt in qualifying had ruined his gearbox, meaning that he replaced the part and so had to take a 5 place grid penalty: so now he was in P15. Unbelievably it got even worse; his car giving up the ghost on the lap to the grid; it was wheeled back into the pit-lane with a sensor issue where the team worked hard to allow him to start the race from the pit-lane. However, even an aborted start and subsequent repetition of the formation lap couldn’t help him: when he eventually emerged he was already two laps down. Furthermore, on lap 25 his power-unit once again gave up and he was left stranded at the exit of turn 3. A horrible weekend for Daniel Ricciardio and one he will want to move on from in a hurry.

Team Summary:
In all, Red Bull might be worried. Their Renault engine, or at least how they are using it seems not only unreliable but also quite slow in comparison: 5th placed Verstappen was a full 28 seconds behind Vettel at the finish. Red Bull would have been hoping for much more and it looks worrying for their hopes of a title challenge, albeit at this incredibly early stage. China cannot come fast enough for them to try to prove where they really are when they have trouble-shot some of their problems.

Williams-Mercedes (6th & DNF)
Felipe Massa, P6:
Massa himself also described his race as “very quiet” as he rather trundled to 6th place, nearly a minute behind 5th placed Verstappen; which is in all truth a huge gap. However, that is more a problem for the team to deal with. Massa himself will be very happy with his weekend’s performance following the rescinding of his retirement. An impressive trouncing of his team-mate in qualifying got him 7th place on the grid and although he only gained one place through Romain Grosjean’s retirement; 8 points will make Williams and himself happy. Felipe still looks competitive, or as Lance Stroll put it on Thursday “Felipe’s not here to be a coach me. He’s a competitor like everyone else and he has his helmet on racing like everyone else” and he looks years ahead of his team-mate as he probably should do given his vast experience, especially his formative years driving cars more closely resembling the current regulations.

Lance Stroll, DNF:
I don’t want to jump to conclusions on Lance Stroll, but he didn’t do much to aid his cause of righting people’s opinions of him following his spate of crashes during testing. A crash in practice 3 on Saturday ensured less than optimal preparation ahead of qualifying; but I do not think that alone can excuse the simply massive gap between him and his team-mate in pure performance. Massa out-qualified him by 2 entire seconds and 12 places, 7th to 19th. The race was admittedly rather more unfortunate as a brakes issue on lap 20 ended his day early; so perhaps he would have had a more decent showing. I said in my post on second testing that Stroll should be given time and that is still the case; he will get better and this is his first time driving these kind of “beast” cars. But in F1 everything literally moves at 180Mph and he needs to get up to speed fast. Whilst he brings a lot of money to the team, Williams are a massively respected outfit; with multiple championships to their name. They will want him to do better and quick especially if, as Paddy Lowe has said, their target is to challenge Red Bull.

Team Summary:
A middling weekend from Williams and I would have expected as much. I think that they are one of the few teams in the ‘midfield’ who, thanks to Massa, showed more or less what we can expect of them for this season. This season will be about fighting as high as possible and hopefully leading that mid-field pack; ahead of next term where Paddy Lowe’s expertise and influence on their core car will hopefully let them turn a corner into new-found competitiveness. It is early days, but Williams at this stage seem a sure bet for mid-field leaders.

Force India-Mercedes (7th & 10th)SaharaForceIndia.png

Sergio Perez, P7:
Perez did well this race and generally over the weekend. Whilst he might of wished to qualify a little higher than 11th, he got his elbows out to fight up the field and later further benefitted from retirements around him. He also had the beating of his team-mate Ocon all weekend, which is probably what he would expect. I said in my predictions that I expect this kind of finishing position to largely be Force India’s place this year. There have been some developments concerning sponsorship, which I will cover in the summary, that might let Perez hope more money will equal better results. This was a largely representative showing from Perez, but he will be hoping for more when the circuit shows up the car’s characteristics more favourably.

Esteban Ocon, P10:
Ocon spoke of his position on Thursday, saying “I’m fully focused on this target, to do a strong job this season and I think it’s still early to speak about being a Mercedes F1 driver in the future” and whilst he is right to not think about any future Mercedes drive, which will undoubtedly be a competition with many drivers fighting for the right to the silver arrow- he did well this weekend to prove his credentials. Understandably out-qualified by Perez on Saturday, the Mercedes Junior driver rose through the field to 10th, over-taking a battling and wily Fernando Alonso for the last points position. It was his first race in a competitive car and he could have done a lot worse.

Force India’s bright new livery; but the changes to the team’s identity may not just be superficial

Team Summary:
Ocon was also asked about the major change at Force India since testing; their change of livery from a dull silver to a startling pink; in line with a title sponsorship deal with water company BWT. Ocon said “I think it’s a really good thing, overall, for the team…BWT makes money coming into the team and it can only make the car go faster” again the young Frenchman was obviously correct. As Ocon suggests, the sponsorship money will help Force India develop throughout the year to try and up their competitiveness. Vijay Mallya is a very smart man and he will know that Force India’s budget, despite even a great 4th place in the standings last season, is well below that of the teams ahead of them and the teams closing up on them like Williams and Renault. But if I can be so bold, I think such a drastic and complete change to the team’s identity, sacrificed to their sponsor, suggests something a little more: Force India believe they might struggle to emulate their goals. Whilst this weekend was a good start, maybe they fear this is the full extent of their pace; bringing in a lot of money will help to counter-act the limited budget of their core car with more additional up-grades. On the other-hand it also speaks a lot for Force-India’s desire to move away from being also-rans: they are taking drastic and total changes to their identity in order t improve beyond the superficial. This is all conjecture, of course, but perhaps it will prove to be accurate: only the following races will tell.

Toro Rosso-Renault (8th & 9th)
Carlos Sainz, P8:
It is somewhat telling of the events of the race that both Sainz and Daniil Kvyat finished the race in the same position in which they qualified. But more thoughts on the race as a whole later. For Carlos Sainz, he did well beating his team-mate in both sessions and getting as many points as he could: in his third year with the team he will know that Toro Rosso, with a limited budget, will savour everyone of them. He will also be glad that his car seemed to be reliable, when those around him were breaking down; it will mean that he might pick up more points in the opening races than he might other-wise achieve on pace alone. Carlos is as much of a talented driver as Max Verstappen and therefore should be getting a seat in a better team than Toro Rosso: I hope that he does and that the car underneath him this season can allow him show his talent to get a move sooner rather than later. He is under the same pressure at Toro Rosso as all before him have been, as I will explain in Kvyat’s section, but would be deserving of a seat in any front running team not just Red Bull.Daniil Kvyat, P9:
I have a soft-spot for Daniil Kvyat. Whilst he is not the most talented driver around, he is hardly a slouch and the way in which Red Bull treated him last year, is in my eyes highly questionable. He did beat another favourite of mine; the championship desiring Daniel Ricciardio in the standings during his first year with the senior team in 2015. He was also on the podium in the race before he got dropped in 2016. I think he was harshly treated and I am glad that he has made a decent start to the year at Toro Rosso. My hopes for him, now that the Red Bull seat seems to be out of the question, is that he can somehow break his contract to the energy drink’s driver programme and put in a good enough season that he can take a seat at a less cut-throat team. Whilst all teams in F1 are genuinely high pressure; I think Kvyat is a good driver and I wouldn’t want to see him ousted from F1 entirely. You only need look at the fates of Sebastian Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari and Jean Eric-Vergne, who are all very talented drivers in their own right and are without race-seats, to know that Toro Rosso is a revolving door if the Red Bull senior team deem that you will never drive for them. He has started well, but this year I fear will be make or break for his F1 career; Red Bull as ever have a replacement waiting in their ‘wings’ in the shape of Pierre Gasly. Kvyat needs to do well quickly, negotiate with another team and get out fast.

Toro Rosso’s glorious new livery. This may be Kvyat’s car now; but he knows better than anyone that at Red Bull it could change in an instant. 

Team Summary:
I have vaguely covered a lot of what I think of Toro Rosso in my prediction and the above sections on their drivers, but for the sake of completeness I will round this up swiftly. I think they will be very happy that they were one of only 4 constructors to actually finish both cars in the race; if they can chalk up some points whilst everyone else is struggling with reliability it will be of a massive help to them. Their pace seemed decent, but those struggling below them won’t be indisposed for ever, so they need to keep their heads down well for the first part of the season and hope it carries them through as the cars evolve.

Renault (11th & DNF)renault-logo-C600.jpg
Nico Hulkenberg, P11:
I was very surprised with Hulkenberg only qualifying 11th following his good pace in practice 3, where he finished 5th quickest. What I was not surprised by however is how totally he disposed of his team-mate. Jolyon Palmer was nowhere close and I would not be remotely surprised if that remained the same throughout the whole year. Hulkenberg was part of the three part over-take including Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon which provided most of the race’s immediate excitement on track. I will talk about that stuff more later, in the summary of the race as a whole. Whilst not entirely dreadful, Hulkenberg will be hoping for much more in future rounds having made the move from Force India this summer in expectation of fighting further forward.

Jolyon Palmer, DNF:
Now, I don’t want to be too harsh on Jolyon: it is true that his car had a lot of reliability woes in the race itself, with what he called “brake anchoring” or basically sticky brakes as far as I understand. It is also true that his qualifying preparation was hampered by a crash in Fp2, whereafter almost the entire car was rebuilt. But nevertheless he did qualify utterly last and a measly 4 seconds off Hulkenberg’s pace and in truth, the crash which caused these pace problems in the car was his fault. Jolyon is another figure in the paddock for which 2017 could be a make or break year. Renault pretty much toyed with his and Magnussen’s contracts last season, approaching a lot of other drivers before settling to renew the Brit’s deal. I don’t think Renault is the place for Palmer; they have their sights set on high places and I don’t think they want Jolyon along for the ride. I do hope he proves me wrong and that he can be successful along with Hulkenberg as Britain needs a driver long term should Lewis Hamilton retire sooner than expected, but Palmer should be aware that he needs to look for other options as well.

Team Summary:
Whilst saying that they have their sights set on high places, which should be obvious given that they are a constructor team, by no means did they do enough this weekend to convince anyone of their credentials. Outside the points and with only 1 car finishing is not a promising start for the team and they will know that and hope to do much better next time out. I put them 5th in my predictions as I think they will improve and bring themselves into play for building more promising seasons in the future, also bringing a tighter field as a whole. But they didn’t repay my confidence this weekend.

Sauber-Ferrari (12th & DNF)sauber.jpg
Antonio Giovinazzi, P12:
Drafted in on short-term notice on Saturday when Pascal Wehrlein deemed himself to be still too unfit to drive, Giovinazzi would have been forgiven for just making up the numbers then going home. None of it, in qualifying he was only a couple of hundredths off beating his more experienced team-mate into Q2. He only improved as the weekend went on, staying focussed enough to ensure he stayed out of trouble and rise to 12th. Monisha Kaltenborn, Sauber’s principal was very impressed; voicing on ‘Ted’s Notebook’ that “the car was very different to the one he drove in testing” and that she didn’t expect such a strong race. Hopefully we will see more of Giovinazzi in the future, his “first thought was: somebody is making a joke with me” but it wasn’t a joke Antonio and neither were you. Simply put a hugely impressive debut.

Marcus Ericsson, DNF:
The race, by comparison, was rather underwhelming and disappointing for Ericsson. A hydraulics issue forced him out on lap 21 but really there was no indication that he might have done any better than Giovinazzi. As a driver with big experience in backmarker teams he knows the curses of such bad luck, but also knows that other team’s unreliability issues won’t last forever and such good opportunities to get points won’t represent itself often.

Team Summary:
There is not much more to say on Sauber, other than the above: that they must make the most of early season unreliability in other cars and engines, use their year old more reliable Ferrari engine to good effect and finish in the points while they still can. Whilst Giovinazzi did very well to get 12th, they will hope that either Werhlein or Ericsson can go two or more better this season as soon as possible.

McLaren-Honda (13th & DNF)
Stoffel Vandoorne, P13:
‘A first weekend to forget for Stoffel Vandoorne’ would be a fair assessment. However, it is not really his fault. The last of the finishers of the race is actually not a terrible fate, given that I had not anticipated either McLaren managing to drag their Honda around the first few laps without it blowing up in their face; that being said I also wasn’t expecting the Honda to be quite as slow running at full pelt. Stoffel had a pretty dismal qualifying as well, placing a lowly 18th. This only could have translated badly into the race and that he was forced into an unscheduled pit stop in order to reboot his dashboard did not help. But his performance with the car in quali and the race is sadly probably more representative of it’s actual pace than Fernando’s positioning; Vandoorne has not had enough practice with these cars or underperforming Hondas to pull miracles like the uber-talented Alonso can. He will, like Fernando be hoping Honda get their act together fast and utilise the removal of the token development system to deliver a proper engine.

Fernando Alonso, DNF:
The saddest sight of the week for me was Fernando Alonso, a ‘could be’ 5 time world champion, desperately battling his under-whelming car to try and stay in the last points position by keeping the pink-clad Force-India of Esteban Ocon and the vibrant Renault of Hulkenberg at bay. Fernando is probably double the driver of either of those two and yet my heart sank as despite trying to wring every ounce of speed and strategically charge his battery power, the two chasing cars sailed past into turn 1 on lap 50. Fernando retired on that very lap, citing visible problems with the suspension which he had also been fighting for a couple of laps. After the race Fernando tried to remain positive when saying “I’ve never had such a an uncompetitive car, without any winter preparation, having to save fuel in a brutal way – I think we had to lift about a second per lap – and even so we were in the points…it was probably one of the best races I’ve had” but it must be hurting him. His talent was clear to see in qualifying as well: somehow getting that car around the circuit 13th fastest: but his position in the team was clear as he said “We will not be 13th all season. Or I will not be” showing a clear indication he could walk. Despite that he tried his best all weekend and the fact he nearly got points is a huge testament to his professionalism and his drive and talent to win. But time is running out for Fernando, luckily he only has one year left on his deal at McLaren and will doubtless look elsewhere in a last attempt to get a winning car, let’s just hope he finds a truly competitive seat in his last roll of the dice to get his third world title.

Team Summary:
Lets be honest it was always going to be this way for McLaren at Australia, given the terrible testing that they had. It will probably be like this for the next few races too; or at least unless Honda actually deliver on yet another new engine that they are rumoured to be concocting back in Japan to address the issues and increase pace. But they have promised time and time again that they will do better; and look at where we still are. McLaren’s biggest positive is that Fernando’s retirement was not engine related and that Vandoorne actually made it to the end. They were definitely on average the slowest team over the course of the weekend. Not good enough for such a noble, historic team.

Haas-Ferrari (DNF & DNF)imgres-4
Romain Grosjean, DNF:
There is not much to say about Grosjean’s race as it was so short, according to Ted Kravtiz he retired with a “water-leak” in the engine compartment, which is why he only made it to lap 13. What is more promising for him and the team is that he did incredibly well in qualifying; pulling the car to a hugely impressive 6th place, well ahead of his team mate Kevin Magnussen.

Kevin Magnussen, DNF:
Magnussen lasted little longer in the race than Grosjean, forced out on lap 17 with various issues. Magnussen’s qualifying was however pretty dismal, a lowly 17th and 1.4 seconds off Grosjean’s time. On his twitter he sums up thusly: “Frustrating first race weekend for me. The positive is that the VF17 is fast. Can’t wait to be back in China and do it properly” and that is fairly accurate even if he didn’t manage to show the cars pace.

 Team Summary:
As is said above, the Haas is much quicker than expected and it looks like they might rubbish my prediction for them. However, if they can’t sort out their reliability issues early they too will miss out on any opportunities to be in the points where others drop out. I think they will be midfield now, but true to my word I won’t change my prediction; who knows I still could be right.

Race Review & Analysis

Now we move on to talk of the racing and race as a whole, which I can sum up in one word really: dubious.

It was exciting that Vettel took the fight to Hamilton and that bodes well; I also enjoyed the strategy games the teams were playing. I loved that somehow the fans got on to the track on the cool down lap, it looked like images of old-gold F1: but it was probably an error and won’t be repeated. The speed was insane and the cars looked like proper F1 cars again.

Now for the negative. It is very true that there were sections of cars with large gaps in between; a very genuine front-field, midfield and back-field: Massa finishing a minute and a half behind still in the lofty position of 6th is a testament to that. But that’s not the main problem: how many times have I said “he finished where he qualified” for this weekend? A lot: in truth, I can only remember one clear moment of exciting overtaking; Ocon and Hulkenberg on Alonso.

As many feared, the increase in downforce may be damaging for the actual close racing as the car behind cannot follow in the aerodynamic wake of the car in front. Hamilton’s comment when asked to overtake Verstappen of “There is no way I can over-take this guy” was not calling into question his own ability; there was physically no way that he could do it without a mad lunge or the aid of DRS. I will hope for more over-taking from the races to come, but I am not sure if the regulations will allow it and I think that a lot of the ‘over-takes’ this year will be through strategy instead of driver skill on track. That is interesting in a way, but really this is a driver’s championship and we want to see drivers up against each-other.

However, whilst this is not a popular opinion due to bad history, something could solve the overtaking problem: the reintroduction of ground effects (aerodynamics on the bottom of the chassis) to the regulations. Currently the majority of the downforce on each individual car is created by utilising the airflow that passes over the car to push the car into the ground, creating grip. The problem is that the air is then chucked out and back over the car, creating ‘dirty’ air which then cannot be effectively used by a following car to generate grip, making overtaking on corners very difficult. Ground effects are designed to suck each individual car to the road, meaning they have grip regardless of whether they are in ‘dirty’ air or not: the cars can then follow each-other closely.

Ground effects have been banned as far back as 1982 and they were further limited by the introduction of a ‘skid-block’ after the seismic shock of Ayrton Senna’s death in 1994. The flat “plank” section under the car was brought in to limit cornering speed. But now, all these years later with the development of such complicated aerodynamics that has caused a problem. The cornering speeds in F1 are now huge anyway, so ground effects can’t logically be rejected on safety grounds in terms of speed. The cars, the circuits and most importantly down the years the understanding of F1 cars has also got a whole lot safer and sterile: ground effects need not be dangerous if handled correctly.

The other, perhaps simpler, option of course is to limit the amount of sections a front-wing etc can have, thereby reducing the airflow kicked up by a car. However, that in my view is not what F1 is about: it should be pushing the boundaries of technology and human ability. With this theoretical re-introducing of ground effects you could keep the push for aero expertise on the body-work and also open up new areas of technological expertise under the car.

Next Time Out: Chinese Grand Prix

There has been plenty of food for thought created by this race: can the cars follow closely? Are Ferrari truly and genuinely ahead of Mercedes, just level, or did Hamilton being stuck behind Verstappen ruin his race? Will McLaren, or more importantly Honda, ever sort it out? How many times will they be mugged down the back-straight in China this year? Again I return like a circle to Patrick Head’s quote at the start of this post: “Albert Park is not a classic circuit…Fast corners that really show up the aerodynamic performance of the car are not present. So, you can sometimes delude yourself…you have to be a little careful to read the whole season on the first race”….So if we are to take that view, any ‘conclusions’ I might of drawn might actually only be ‘delusions’ and if that is the case then we will be in for a lot more revelations next time out. I can’t wait, hope to see you then.


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