It was a busy day in Melbourne as the 2017 F1 cars were driven in anger for the first time. Here’s a full round up of all the action from the the first Saturday of the 2017 Formula One season. 


Practice Three

The big news overnight was that Pascal Wehrlein had decided to pull out of the rest of the race weekend:

“My fitness level is not as it should be for a full race distance because of my training deficit. I explained the situation to the team yesterday evening. Therefore, the Sauber F1 Team has decided not to take any risks. It is a pity, but the best decision for the team.”

It is not the injury that has forced Wehrlein out of the Grand Prix, more his lack of training as a result of his injury. Wehrlein says he should be back for the next round in Shanghai, China in two weeks time. As Wehrlein made his decision before Third Practice, Sauber were able to replace the German with their reserve driver – Antonio Giovinazzi. Giovinazzi received the message that he’d be driving for the remainder of the weekend on Friday night, but didn’t see the message until this morning. The 2016 GP2 runner-up becomes the first Italian to drive in Formula One since 2011. He faces a challenge this weekend, having never completed a lap of the circuit before. He finished the session in last place, 1.2 seconds away from his team-mate Marcus Ericsson.

It was a relatively quiet Third Practice session, which started under dull skies. Sebastian Vettel broke the all time lap record with a 1:23.380, with the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas unable to get within four tenths of a second of his time. Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen encountered a puncture, which disrupted his running on the purple ultra-soft tyres.

Red Bull seemed to struggle, with Daniel Ricciardo unable to beat fifth placed Nico Hulkenberg who impressed for Renault.

Haas appeared with the T-wing re-attached to their car, having made changes overnight to make it more sturdy. 

With ten minutes of the session remaining, Lance Stroll slammed his Williams into Turn Ten bringing out the red flags. The crash forced the Williams team to change the gearbox on the FW40, incurring the Canadian a five-place grid penalty. The crash also brought the session to an early end.


SESSION DEBRIEF

If Hamilton looked to be in a league of his own yesterday, Vettel certainly did this afternoon. One sign of hope for Mercedes, is that Hamilton set the fastest time in the first sector. Also, plenty of drivers missed out on fast laps in the closing stages as Lance Stroll’s accident brought proceedings to an early halt. 


Full result from Practice 3:

  Driver Team Time
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari  1:23.380
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +0.479
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +0.490
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari +0.608
5 Nico Hulkenberg Renault +1.683
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull +1.712
7 Romain Grosjean Haas +2.201
8 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso +2.568
9 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso +2.669
10 Kevin Magussen Haas +2.758
11 Felipe Massa Williams +2.857
12 Max Verstappen Red Bull +2.889
13 Sergio Perez Force India +3.077
14 Fernando Alonso McLaren +3.176
15 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren +3.319
16 Esteban Ocon Force India +3.723
17 Lance Stroll Williams +3.947
18 Marcus Ericsson Sauber +4.022
19 Jolyon Palmer Renault +4.940
20 Antonio Giovinazzi Sauber +5.203

Qualifying

Q1

Vandoorne was the first driver to hit the track in Q1, while next door to McLaren in the pit-lane, work was still ongoing on Stroll’s car. The mechanics did well to get him out before the end of the session, but the teenager only managed to qualify in 19th, and will line up last on the grid thanks to his gearbox penalty. Stroll was disappointed to qualify so lowly on his debut, but thankful that the team were able to get him out for a shot at Qualifying:

“The day started off tough and it was hard to recoup from that. What happened in FP3 was a little touch and it led to a lot of things. The qualifying session was in a rush and we didn’t get to do what we had planned. However, the team did a great job to get me out in qualifying so a big thank you to them. I think we have to forget about today, especially as our pace was much better than that, and in FP2 we were over half a second quicker than in qualifying. Obviously it is a long race and, played intelligently, we can do something but we will work that out tonight and see about tomorrow. I now want to put the day behind me and move on to the race, which will be interesting starting from the back.”

If Lance Stroll was having a bad day, so too was Jolyon Palmer who seemed to not get back into the rhythm after his crash on Friday afternoon. The Brit qualified in last and was a second slower than Stroll. He was pretty scathing about the car to the media after the session saying that ‘the brakes are terrible, the balance is pretty horrible and the traction is terrible.’

“Today really didn’t go to plan. I didn’t have any grip and I struggled with the brakes so we need to know what went wrong. Yesterday the car felt much better and was faster on the soft tyres, with a much higher fuel load, so there’s something not quite right. It’s been pretty far from the weekend I wanted to start the season so far, but let’s see what happens in the race.”

Stoffel Vandoorne had to settle for 18th in his first Australian Grand Prix qualifying session due to fuel pressure issues interrupting his first runs. Nevertheless, the Belgian was happy with his attempts:

“I had a fuel pressure issue in Q1 and had to abort my first two runs as the engine was running low on power. That was a shame – because, after FP3, everything was heading in the right direction and I was feeling confident. But it’s always difficult when you only get one opportunity to set a time because you can’t take risks and have to make it really count. Obviously, we still have a lot of work to do, but we can take some positives from the potential we’ve shown so far this weekend, and I think we can have a good race tomorrow.”

While Romain Grosjean was flying for Haas, finishing the first session in a respectable tenth, his new team-mate Kevin Magnussen seemed to have more difficulty unlocking the maximum potential from his car and made a similar mistake on both of his flying laps. He lines up 17th for the Grand Prix, but can take some confidence from the pace that Grosjean showed:

“Went off the track in turn 12 on both of my laps – really annoyed with that. The car was there in qualifying. My lap was good until I went off. Both times my lap was good. I’m disappointed with that. We should’ve been a lot further up the grid. Now, I have to fight quite hard in the race. There’s still a lot that can happen and I will give it my best tomorrow.”

The relative pace of the Sauber was somewhat surprising, given their off the pace showing in Winter Testing. Perhaps the star of Qualifying was Antonio Giovinazzi, who didn’t know he’d even be driving the car today until a few hours before the session. Remarkably, after setting a quicker initial pace than Ericsson, the Italian almost managed to get his car into Q2 and more than likely would have out-qualified his vastly more experienced team-mate had he not made a mistake at the penultimate corner on his final run. Despite the mistake, Giovinazzi has a lot to be happy about today:

“That is a special day for me kicking off my first Formula One Grand Prix weekend. I am really happy with my performance today, I was just a few tenths away from Q2. It will be a long race tomorrow; a lot can happen here in Melbourne. I will do my best to put in my maximum performance.”

At the front of the pack, Lewis Hamilton led the way, two tenths quicker than Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. On his first run, Verstappen locked up into Turn Six and created a flat spot on his tyre. He recovered to third by the end of the session. 

Q2

Marcus Ericsson was very lucky to not be embarrassed by his new team-mate in Q1 but nonetheless did a good job to get Sauber into Q2 – perhaps not where they expected to be this weekend. Australia could be one of the team’s best chances at points this season. Ericsson believes he could’ve gone faster without at mistake at Turn Nine:

“It was a decent first qualifying for us. Throughout the weekend we have worked hard to maximize our current package. I managed to set a good lap in Q1, which was enough to put us in Q2. The second qualifying session started off well, but then I went a bit wide in turn 9, so I lost some lap time there. P15 is a decent position for starting the first Grand Prix of the 2017 season.”

Force India had a rather quiet day, and both Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez were eliminated in Q2. Esteban Ocon gt himself into Q2 for the first time in his career, but feels there was more in the car:

“I’ve been on the learning curve this week in Melbourne and I’m not feeling particularly satisfied with today’s qualifying session. Yes, it’s the first time I’ve reached Q2, but there is more potential in the car. I learned a huge amount during the session and despite being far away from Sergio in Q1, I was much closer in Q2. Unfortunately I made a small mistake on my final run, so I missed the chance to be higher up the grid.”

His team-mate Perez was equally frustrated. He missed out on Q3 by just a tenth of a second. He is, however, in the luxurious position of being the highest starter to get a free choice of tyres for the first stint in the race:

“It’s disappointing to miss out on the top ten by such a small margin – less than a tenth of a second. However, P11 is not a bad starting position and we can certainly race for good points. All the teams in the midfield seem to be very close to each other in terms of performance and there are going to be very close battles in the race. Tyre degradation is very low and finding the right rhythm during the race will be a challenge. Overtaking is difficult here, especially with these very wide cars, but I will fight hard tomorrow. I am determined to start the season well.”

Had McLaren have been offered thirteenth on the grid after pre-season testing, they more than likely would have welcomed it with open arms. As ever, Fernando Alonso dragged every bit of performance out of the MCL32 that he could:

“After the difficulties we encountered in winter testing, we came to Melbourne without a clear idea of where we stood. But we’ve more or less run through all the sessions without trouble – which is better than we’d expected. I had sufficient sets of tyres to be able to enjoy my laps in both Q1 and Q2. I was happy with the balance of the car and was able to really push it. That’s useful because, at the moment, we need to extract the maximum out of the package we have.”

Nico Hulkenberg was the other driver to be eliminated in Q2. Ahead of the weekend Hulkeberg wasn’t too hopeful of scoring points, however his focus now seems to have changed: 

“That was a solid first qualifying session with the team. We were just tenths away from Q3 and it was definitely on the cards however I struggled a bit with the balance and grip on my fastest Q2 lap so it wasn’t to be. It is difficult to predict what to expect tomorrow; but what I do know is that the midfield is very competitive. It should be an interesting fight in the race and points are the target.”

Among the leaders, Bottas set the fastest lap to begin with, while Hamilton slotted in just 0.036 seconds slower. Vettel looked to set the fastest time, but backed off in the last corner and went fourth, behind his team-mate, who was less than two tenths away from the Mercedes pacesetter.


Q3

The threat of rain loomed at the start of the session, so plenty of drivers headed out early to get times in before the rain came. On the initial runs, Bottas made a small mistake into Turn One. A three way shoot out began between Bottas, Hamilton and Vettel. Hamitlon set the fastest time in the first sector, then went one hundredth faster in the middle sector. Bottas set his time, which Vettel then beat. As Hamilton crossed the line, he set the new fastest time by three tenths.

Next, it was the turn of the Red Bulls. As Daniel Ricciardo neared the end of his first lap, he lost control of his car, slid through Turn 14 and hit the barrier with the rear of his car:

“That was a tough one today. I don’t crash into the barriers often and the last place I want to do that is at home. But I feel I crashed for the right reason, as I was basically pushing and trying to find the limit and these things happen, so let’s say I’m not disappointed by the approach, it was just more of a frustrating outcome, starting 10th instead of being under the top 5. I feel for the mechanics, because they’ve had a long week and now they’ve got a long night ahead of them. I knew the crowds would have also preferred to see me further up the grid and it would have been nice to put on a better performance than that but tomorrow is where the points are. It’s a chance to create a bigger headline if I have a good race so that’s what will motivate me to do better tomorrow.”

As the session got back underway after a short delay, the dark clouds remained but the rain never quite hit the circuit.

Toro Rosso had a strong showing to get through to Q3 and slotted in eighth and ninth, with Carlos Sainz out-qualifying his team-mate by almost half a second. Daniil Kvyat thanked the team for their efforts since Winter Testing, and is hoping to finish in the points in Sunday afternoon’s Grand Prix:

“It’s good to get through to Q3 with both cars, we can be happy with our Saturday. We missed a bit of test time a few weeks ago in Barcelona, so we came here still improving through the whole of yesterday. We did a good jump overnight and we were able to put a good lap together in today’s qualifying, which was very tight! Q1 was difficult for everyone because the track always does what it wants here, so we had to pick-up information and learn very fast, which we did. The team has been flawless so far this weekend, so I’d like to congratulate everybody for the great job done so far. Therefore, I can say we’re pretty satisfied after today’s result; we’ve made a good step forward, the car gives us confidence, is quite fast and we can look forward to converting this into something positive in tomorrow’s race.”

Meanwhile, Sainz says he was lucky to get in to the final session due to how tight the midfield pack was in Q2:

“We can call today a good but not perfect day. We definitely started the qualifying session very far off from a balance point of view compared to yesterday; we lacked a bit of stability on the car and it wasn’t giving me as much confidence as on Friday. I therefore had to go little by little instead of pushing straight away from the beginning… That’s why it wasn’t the perfect start but it ended well. Getting into Q3 was difficult, as it was all very tight, but in the end it all came together and I’m definitely satisfied with our result. As a team, we can also be very happy because we got both cars through to Q3. To start tomorrow’s race from P8 is a very decent spot and I think it’s going to be a very exciting one… Bring it on!”

Felipe Massa will be pleased to line up seventh and beat his team-mate in Qualifying – something that he only did once last year. His decision not to retire looks like an inspired one so far, and he’s hopeful of being able to challenge further up in the race:

“It was a good qualifying session. I am happy with my qualifying and the laps I was doing. It’s the first qualifying session of the season and the first time I have used the new ultrasoft tyres, after missing some laps on those yesterday. All in all I was happy with qualifying. Sixth would have been a great position for us today but I think Romain did a very good lap, which I was not able to beat. That said, I am sure we can fight in the race and I’m really looking forward to making the first race of the season a good one.”

Romain Grosjean provided a brilliant start to the season with sixth on the grid for Haas. On a fully committed lap, the Frenchman exceeded all expectations. Haas, who are using the new 2017 Ferrari power unit, emphasise the gains made by Ferrari engine over the winter. Grosjean is wary of how the start will go, admitting that not all of his practice starts have been ideal:

“It was quite an unbelievable qualifying session for us. It’s a shame that we didn’t get Kevin there, but the car is looking good, even better than what we’ve seen recently. We’ve made some good progress over the weekend. There’s a lot more we can understand and analyze but, generally, it’s a great start for us. It’s always good to start with a strong qualifying session. It tells you that if you keep improving the car, you could be in a good place very soon. If that’s our baseline, and you can fight between sixth and 10th position, where it’s so tight, it would be great to be there most of the time and enjoy some good times. Tomorrow’s start is a big unknown. We’ve been practicing and some have been good, others not so much. Hopefully, we’ll get the first one right tomorrow.”

Red Bull will be somewhat disappointed with their qualifying showing. After Ricciardo’s uncharacteristic crash, Verstappen lines up fifth, unable to challenge Ferrari, and over a second off the pace of the pole-sitter; 

“It’s been a bit of a tough weekend in general, I haven’t done as much running as I would have liked. Qualifying was pretty much the first time I managed to string some laps together uninterrupted. This morning we didn’t have the balance and therefore couldn’t find the rhythm, so we tried a few things that unfortunately didn’t work how we would have liked. Heading into qualifying we found some positives and built it up lap by lap, after that I kept improving, the balance got better and I managed to have a fairly good qualifying. The car is better balanced now but it is clear to see we still a have to gain a bit. It’s not just in power; we built a car that is efficient on the straights but it means we lose a bit of grip in cornering. I am not disappointed as I think this is about where we expected to be at race 1. Tomorrow it is important for me to have a quick and clean start and let the guys in front battle it out. That could then lead to some opportunities. We will keep working this evening to improve and find some more pace ready for tomorrow’s race.”

Raikonen couldn’t match the pace of the top three, and wound up fourth with a 1:23.033. He was still within a second of the pole time. He qualified in the same position here last year and was in second position by Turn Two. The Finn appears to be excited, or at least relatively excited, by the pace of his car:

“I made life complicated for myself right from the first session: I never managed to put all the sectors together and that cost me lap time. But the car feels strong and I just have to do better. Apart from that we have a really good package, it is a very special place here. Hopefully this year we can bring the results. Last year people were questioning lots of things but I’m sure we’re doing things right it’s just a matter of time.”

3rd: Valtteri Bottas

“Third position is not ideal. I couldn’t quite get a perfect lap in, so I’m not quite satisfied with the result. But what I’m really proud about is the team of people who built this car. I only saw a very small part of the preparation for this new era of Formula One – but it’s really nice to see that all of the work has paid off. Tomorrow is the day that matters and my race starts have been quite strong, so hopefully we can keep that going.”

2nd: Sebastian Vettel

“If we look back 12 months, the progress we have made is clear to see. We are working well as a team, having had a great winter; a winter of changes, but all for the best.” 

Pole: Lewis Hamitlon

“It’s been a fantastic weekend so far. It’s amazing to be here for the 11th time. It feels like only yesterday that I came here for my first race in 2007. I’m just incredibly proud of the team. The rule change has been huge – it’s been such a massive challenge and the guys have worked so hard to get the car to where it is today. To be up here representing them is fantastic. I’m looking forward to the race. I think it’s close between us and Ferrari. Tomorrow is about putting all of the work that’s gone on over the winter and over testing into practice. I think Valtteri did a fantastic job in his first qualifying session, which is great for us.”


In the interview area after Qualifying, a journalist asked Hamilton if he was aware that Vettel had been touching his car in parc-ferme. Lewis jokingly shouted over to Sebastian: “Hey, Sebastian! I’ve heard you’ve been touching my car? Looking or touching?” To which Vettel replied, with a grin: “Both!”

A fascinating Sunday lies ahead.


Full Qualifying Result:

  Driver Team Time
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:22.188
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:22.456
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:22.481
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:23.033
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:23.485
6 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:24.074
7 Felipe Massa Williams 1:24.443
8 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:24.487
9 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:24.512
10 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull No Time
11 Sergio Perez Force India 1:25.081
12 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1:25.091
13 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:25.425
14 Esteban Ocon Force India 1:25.568
15 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:26.465
16 Antonio Giovinazzi Sauber 1:26.419
17 Kevin Magussen Haas 1:26.847
18 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1:26.858
19 Lance Stroll Williams 1:27.143
20 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:28.244

THE QUESTIONS TO BE ANSWERED IN THE 2017 AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX

  • Who has the best race pace – Mercedes or Ferrari?
  • How will Antonio Giovinazzi perform in his unexpected Grand Prix debut?
  • Will Lance Stroll be able to keep it out of the barriers?
  • Will McLaren’s power until last until the end of the Grand Prix?
  • Will Daniel Ricciardo pull off a great comeback drive?
  • Can Valtteri Bottas hang on to a podium place finish in his Mercedes debut?
  • Will Romain Grosjean’s impressive Qualifying pace translate into the race?
  • Can Force India challenge for points?
  • What can Nico Hulkenberg do from twelfth on the grid?

 The 2017 Australian Grand Prix begins at 6am BST on Sunday 26th March. Lights Out will have live coverage on Twitter, and full post-race coverage here on the blog. 

Nicky Haldenby is a 23 year old Formula One blogger from Scarborough, North Yorkshire. Having grown up with F1 often on the TV on Sunday afternoons, Nicky has been following the sport avidly since 2006. He graduated from the University of Hull in 2015 with a First Class degree in English Language and Literature. He founded the Lights Out F1 Blog in March 2016.

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