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2017 AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX

 

Ricciardo had a horror weekend in OzVettel restored some joy for FerrariKing Fernando - From the depths, came magestyDanny’s really hard woe.

 

   That’s as good as I can do with a play on words describing Ricciardo’s miserable AGP. As testing hinted the Red Rag is not yet quite on the pace and while trying to drag out that last ounce of performance Daniel stuffed it backwards into the concrete wall during qualifying to begin what would be probably his worst weekend in his F1 career.

 

  It seemed that he may have gotten away with no major damage but on Sunday morning the news filtered through that he would need a replacement gearbox and therefore cop a five grid place penalty which should have seen him line up in 15th place. But then the new gearbox decided to give him nothing but neutrals on the warm-up lap and his car hame to a halt around the back of the track before he even got to the grid. With about ten minutes to go before the start his car was brought back to the pits on the back of a truck and the team got to work to fix the issue. Sadly not quickly enough. The race was two laps old by the time he made it out onto the track to the cheers of the assembled multitude but then his woe was complete after just 25 laps when the Renault engine said, nah – no more, and the car silently rolled to a stop, giving him another long sad trek back to the pits. Ricciardo’s Albert Park luck is starting to look a bit like Webber’s. If it ain’t bad, he doesn’t have any.

 

  Having somewhat more luck, in that he had no real problems all weekend, was Dan’s former team-mate Sebastian Vettel. A solid showing through Friday and Saturday saw him line up on the front row and hound Hamilton throughout the opening stint. His slice of good luck came when Lewis had to pit relatively early for fresh tyres and became stuck behind Max Verstappen for six laps. When Vettel had completed his tyre stop he rejoined just metres ahead of the Silver Sling and with Albert Park being what it is, the race for the win was effectively over unless the Ferrari konked out. It didn’t. Seb won their first race in eighteen months amid joyous scenes in the Ferrari pit box. It seems that their testing pace was real and that we may just have a real inter-team battle for the championship this year. I just hope Red Bull can join in the fun at the front.

 

  There has been much speculation about the new breed of cars. (1)How much faster would they look? (2)Would they give us good, close racing? The answers were (1) A lot. The grip now on hand meant that the turn-in to some corners looked brutally fast and the accidents to Ricciardo, Stroll and Palmer showed that if you crossed that fine line, there was absolutely no chance of saving the slide before you bit the wall, or more accurately, the wall bit you. (2)Possibly not, but this was Albert Park which has never been a circuit given to overtaking so no real conclusion can be drawn at this time. China and Bahrain should give us a better indication. I like to think that I am a proud Australian but really – as a “race”-track, Albert Park blows chunks. It almost certainly won’t happen, despite the rumours, but bring back Adelaide. Nicer city. Better atmosphere. Barossa Valley vineyards. Way, WAY better racing.  

 

  The rest of the form did, for once, appear to confirm the relative testing pace from Barcelona. Mercedes are still quick but will not dominate as they have recently. Lewis was easily on pole with new-boy Bottas starting third. Their race-pace is not as impressive though and over a long stint they would appear to be just shy of the Ferraris. So Ferrari 1st and 4th. Mercedes 2nd and 3rd is a pretty accurate guide at this point. Red Bull were easily third quickest but have about a second to make up to really join the fray at the front. Williams are next, although Stroll did start at the back due to his Williams shedding its right side wheels in a meeting with the concrete on Saturday. When the Haas can stop, it has good pace, as displayed by Grosjean planting it on the third row without any brake problems. Unfortunately then both Haas cars did stop during the race, but at least neither with the braking problems that have plagued them recently. Romain had a massive water leak, that resembled an engine detonation and Magnussen completed a miserable weekend by retiring with suspension failure after clouting Ericsson early in the race.

 

  Toro Rosso were a pleasant surprise being easily the next best, well clear of the Force Indias. Both Sainz and Kvyat started and finished in the top ten. We all know that Sainz is meant for greater things some day but it was good to see a return to form for Kvyat. Danii struggled after his demotion from Red Bull last year but was right on Carlos’ pace this weekend. Both the Force India boys also ended in the points which may have been more than they were expecting at this point. Perez came home with a healthy seventh place after a fine drive while Ocon scored his first point after a race long fight with Hulkenberg in the Renault. Despite Palmers misfortune, the Renault showed that it does have the promise of being able to fight realistically for points this year and Nico was unlucky not to score on his debut with the team.

 

  From somewhere, deep down, King Fernando managed to plant the McLaren 12th on the grid and ran for a great deal of the race in a points paying position before he also had to give in to a suspension failure with just seven laps to go. Vandoorne was not quite so fortunate, having to make an early and lengthy stop to reboot his electrical system after his dash/steering wheel display went AWOL early in the piece. Still, considering their testing woes, this was a vastly encouraging meeting for the McLaren boys. You would have gotten long odds, two weeks ago, that Alonso would be running in the points and Stoffel would make it to the finish. Finally Sauber also had a promising weekend. It is still probably the slowest car on the grid. Using last years Ferrari engine doesn’t help, but they made the best of everything and qualified well in 14th and 16th places. Yes, Ericsson retired early on after being assaulted by Magnussen but young Antonio Giovinazzi had a fine debut after being a late replacement for the still injured Wehrlein. Pascal made the brave, and unselfish, decision to pull out after Fridays practice knowing that his fitness was not up to scratch after his recent back injury – suffered in the recent Race of Champions event. This gave Antonio just one practice session to learn the track before heading into qualifying where he ended up just two tenths shy or Ericsson. He then drove a mature race to finish up just two places out of the points in 12th place. A fine effort from a driver we will hear much more of in the future. It will be interesting to see just who lines up for Sauber in China in a couple of weeks time. Will Pascal be back at full fitness or will Antonio get a proper run in Shanghai?

 

  For full results go to; http://www.mmmsport.com.au/index.php/the-database/formula-1-races/2010-2019/2017-formula-1

 

  Sam Snape 29-3 2017