There was a sense of the ‘back to school’ feeling as the drivers headed out together ahead of the race on Sunday for their annual photo call.
Overnight, mechanics changed Daniel Ricciardo’s gear box incurring him a five-place grid penalty. As the pit-lane opened and the cars made their way around to the grid, Ricciardo stopped on track, stuck in sixth gear, with an electronic sensor issue. His Red Bull was taken back to the pits on a flatbed truck and the team worked frantically to fix a hydraulic issue when the car was returned to the garage. The Australian got back in his car before the start of the race, but failed to make it to the end of pit-lane in time to make a pit-lane start.
There was a range of tyres used for the drivers’ opening stints. The top ten, as always, started the race on the tyre they set their fastest lap in Q2 on. Outside of the top ten, Antonio Giovinazzi, Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer began the race on the soft tyre, while Marcus Ericsson and Lance Stroll chose the super soft tyre for their first stints. All the other cars on the grid opted for the ultra soft tyres.
The cars set off on their formation lap, but as they reformed on the grid, the start was aborted. The reason for the aborted start was at first unclear, but Charlie Whiting explains that it was due to the marshal by Daniil Kvyat’s car triggering a warning button:
“I aborted the start because there was uncertainty, and I always want to be certain that all is well before pressing the start button. Firstly, Perez had pulled up in the wrong position but, after a few seconds in that position, began pulling forward. And, at the same time, the marshal responsible for the light panel beside Kvyat’s car pressed the yellow button which indicated a problem. Neither I nor my colleagues in race control could see a problem so I felt the safest option was to abort and send them off on another formation lap.”
As a result of the aborted start, the race length decreased from 58 to 57 laps. At the end of the second formation lap, the grid formed properly, the lights went out and the 2017 Formula One season well and truly got underway.
It was a fairly straightforward start: Lewis Hamilton hung on to the lead into Turn One, and the majority of the top ten stayed the same. Max Verstappen challenged Kimi Raikkonen for fourth, but to no avail. Lance Stroll, who started at the back, was lucky to not collide with anyone, as he locked up into Turn One. He later made a pit-stop on Lap Seven after flatspotting his tyre in the near miss.
Kevin Magnussen and Marcus Ericsson collided at Turn Three, with them both ending up in the gravel. Both managed to continue, though Magnussen returned to the pits to replace his broken front wing and Ericsson complained of a lack of downforce after the collision. The collision was investigated, with the blame being placed on Magnussen, but no action was taken. Sauber were unhappy with the decision, and team principal Monisha Kaltenborn said it was “incomprehensible” that the Haas driver was not penalised.
At the end of Lap One, the gap between Hamilton and Vettel was just seven tenths of a second – a marked change from Mercedes being seconds ahead at the end of the first lap. Bottas, meanwhile, stayed close enough to the leading pair, but not close enough to challenge Vettel. Hamilton began to complain that he was struggling for grip. Further back, the battle between Verstappen and Raikkonen continued.
Ricciardo emerged from his garage and he joined the race two laps down on the other competitors.
Stoffel Vandoorne, who celebrated his 25th birthday today, reported his MCL32 was ‘low on power’ and had to perform a full power-cycle of the car to reset it during his pit-stop. The time lost doing this cost him a position. Also slow was Palmer, who was suffering with braking issues in the Renault. He became frustrated that the issue wasn’t being fixed and, after a few slow laps, eventually retired on Lap 17:
“My race was going well. I made places at the start despite being on the hardest tyre, my pace was pretty reasonable and I could see Nico and Esteban ahead of me. Unfortunately, my brakes stuck on at Turn 14. We hoped it was just a glitch, but it happened again so we had no alternative other than to retire. It’s not been the start I wanted to my season, so we’ll put it down to experience and look forward to China.”
A further retirement in the early stages was Romain Grosjean. He pitted his Haas while smoke was escaping from the rear of the car. He stopped in his box and retired from the race.
“I suddenly lost a lot of power. I told the guys, then the next thing I knew I had to slow down the car. It’s a pretty disappointing result, but again, right now I’m hot and we’re all disappointed to lose a seventh-place position, but the car was there in qualifying in P6. The start wasn’t ideal, so we need to improve that. I felt I was faster than the Williams, so there’s huge potential in the car.”
The Frenchman’s retirement promoted Fernando Alonso into tenth for McLaren.
Back at the front, Hamilton and Vettel began exchanging the fastest lap time as the gap between the pair, which had been slowly but steadily increasing, got down to just one second. Hamilton was first to pit on Lap 17 and switched onto the soft tyre, while Vettel stayed out on the ultra softs. Hamilton began to set fastest sectors but soon came across the battling Verstappen and Raikkonen. The Mercedes driver could find no way past the Red Bull. Panicked radio messages from the three-time champion began to filter through. After his race engineer told him it was ‘race critical’ for him to get by Verstappen, Hamilton responded ‘I don’t know how you expect me to do that.’ While he lost time, Vettel maintained the pace at the front. By the time he pitted on Lap 23, Sebastian has eked out enough of an advantage to come back out in front of both Verstappen and Hamilton. It was now his race to lose as he was on a one-stop strategy.
Marcus Ericsson came to a halt on Lap 21. He stopped on track in the third sector as a result of his earlier crash:
“A very disappointing race for me. I did not have a good start, but then I was fighting hard in the first couple of corners on lap one. Unfortunately, in turn 3 I got hit from behind, which caused lots of damage on the right side as well as to the floor of the car. From that moment on, it was all about finishing the race. Later on, I had to stop the car on track due to a hydraulic failure caused by the incident on lap one.”
At the very front, after Vettel’s stop, Bottas led for a brief time before before pitting on Lap 26. The Finn passed the baton on to his fellow countryman Raikkonen, who led until he also stopped for soft tyres. Verstappen took a slightly different approach and opted to take the super soft tyres when he stopped.
Less than ten laps into his stint on the durable soft Pirelli rubber, Hamilton reported there was ‘nothing left’ in his tyres. He was soon informed the team were considering ‘Plan B’ which was presumably to switch to a two-stop strategy. By Lap 36, the team decided the tyres were holding together well enough for them to stick to Plan A. By this point, Vettel already had a luxurious eight second lead.
Ricciardo’s day went from bad to worse as he came to a halt at Turn Three. Christian Horner’s immediate assessment was that the car had suffered an engine failure. It was a heartbreaking day for the home favourite:
“Not the weekend I wanted at home. For all these things to happen at my home race that’s probably the most frustrating thing. We were on the back foot already after the crash in qualifying and then today we had an issue during the warm up lap followed by a second issue in the race. On both occasions the car just came to a stop so I couldn’t do anything else. But look, it’s the first race so hopefully we’ll move forward from this. Sure I’m disappointed now but it is what it is. I’ve been here before so I’ll wake up tomorrow and be motivated to get ready for China.”
On Lap 39, Stroll ran straight on at Turn 13 after failing to stop due a braking issue. He drove around to retire on the next lap. Despite his retirement, he was pleased with his pace in his Grand Prix debut:
“Today we were running a decent race and the pace was pretty good. I had a good start, which was risky although I didn’t plan on it being quite so risky! Some guys braked quite early in front of me and I managed to gain some places, but then I had a flat spot so had to stop early and, strategy-wise, we changed to a two-stop. Then we managed to have a surprisingly good race. It was my first race, and first weekend, so there are a few positives to take out of it. We had what I believe was a brake disc failure. I just hit the pedal, it went long and I was lucky it was in a place where there was a lot of run-off. Unfortunately, that incident yesterday cost us a lot of positions in qualifying, but today I enjoyed myself and so a big thank you to the team.”
Magnussen also retired on Lap 46 with a right rear suspension failure. After a promising day for Haas on Saturday, there was disappointment on Sunday, as both cars ended up retiring. However, there is reason to be optimistic – the car has good qualifying and race pace – as Magnussen explains:
“I had contact at turn three. I had Ericsson on the outside and I understeered into the side of him, which was unfortunate. I lost my front wing and damaged the car a little bit. We changed the front wing and then I went for a long test session to feel the car and learn a bit more about it, which was good. It feels good and the car is fast. That’s the really positive thing from this weekend. The car is there. We just have to make it finish and score points.”
As Hamilton complained that his power was ‘dropping in and out’, Bottas began to close in on him, and got to within two seconds but was unable to get close enough to really challenge him for second. Bottas was pleased with his performance during the second stint:
“From my side the main issue was the first stint. I felt like I was always sliding around on the UltraSoft tyre – missing front and rear grip – especially after 10 laps. That wasn’t easy. But once we stuck on the Softs I had a great feeling with the car. It was behaving really nicely and it felt really nice to drive. It’s a shame it was just a bit too late. But overall this race wasn’t a disaster. It’s good to start with a podium with a new team and every position is important for the Championship.”
With six laps remaining Esteban Ocon began to challenge Alonso for tenth place. As they rounded Turns 15 and 16 Ocon clipped his rear wing against the McLaren’s tyre. There was no damage and the pair, with Nico Hulkenberg in hot pursuit, sped down the main straight. The pink Force India pulled out to the right of the orange McLaren and went for the overtake into Turn One. At the same moment, the yellow Renault of Hulkenberg, having used DRS and the tow of the two cars ahead, pulled around the pair, and also attempted a manouvre, making it three-wide into the first corner. Both Ocon and Hulkenberg got around the McLaren in the colourful battle. Ocon was pleased to score the first point of his Formula One career as a result:
“Scoring my first point in Melbourne is a very nice reward after what has been quite a tough weekend. I spent almost the entire race fighting against Fernando because we were side-by-side for the first lap of the race. He was able to stay ahead and I had to chase him for the rest of the afternoon. It was a hard fight because Fernando is a tough opponent and it was so difficult to get close and overtake. Eventually I found a gap in the last few laps and took my chance going into turn one. It was a big moment for my race and took me into the points. I’m happy with the result and I feel I’ve learned a huge amount from my first race weekend with this team. I hope this is the first point of many this season.”
It was a strong day for Force India, with Sergio Perez also finishing in the points. He had made a robust overtake on Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz into Turn Three earlier in the race.
After his fierce battle with Ocon, Alonso reported suspension problems, saying that his car was pulling to the left, and retired from the Grand Prix with just four laps to go. Despite the issue, the Spaniard was relatively pleased with his race and called it one of his best races:
“In terms of driving, I probably had one of my very best races today. I was able to drive the car at my maximum; I felt confident, and I enjoyed driving the car throughout the race – I was able to push. With such little degradation from this year’s tyres, it’s enjoyable to be in the cockpit again. However, that enjoyment is less for us, because we are not fighting at the front. Our car is obviously not very competitive at the moment, so being able to keep the car in the points was a little surprising.”
The chequered flag fell for Sebastian Vettel, who makes the perfect start to his 2017 campaign. He took his second Australian Grand Prix win, and Ferrari’s first at this track since Kimi Raikkonen won here in 2007. It’s Ferrari’s first season-opening win since 2010 and this is the first time a non-Mercedes driver has led the Drivers’ Championship since 2013.Vettel was pleased to take his 43rd victory after an ‘intense’ winter:
“It’s been a great day for us. The team has been working so hard at the track as much as back at the factory. It’s a great feeling. “Grazie mille”, you can’t say much more. The last months have been really intense, it’s been tough to get into the rhythm. It’s just the beginning and there’s still a lot of work going on. This is one of many steps and we have to enjoy what we do. It’s great to see people smiling. Now we have to reset to go to China and try to do a good job.”
On the slow down lap after the race, fans invaded the track in the final sector, leading to scenes slightly reminiscent of Nigel Mansell at Silverstone in the late eighties and early nineties.
The 2017 Formula One season has arrived, and it’s looking like it’s going to be a tight battle throughout the year.
Full 2017 Australian Grand Prix Result: