Vettel again beat the Silver Slings from behindSainz' uncharacteristic brain-fade did nothing for Stroll's fortunesOnce again King Fernando was superb despite the woefull Honda engineStar of the weekend - Charles Leclerc in the F2 race  So twice now from three races Sebastian Vettel has beaten the pole sitting Mercedes. A pattern is emerging that shows the Mercedes may still be the outright fastest car when everything is optimised for a low fuel qualifying blast but over a race distance, the Ferrari has the edge. Just as in Melbourne Vettel was able to sit on the tail of the leading Mercedes without suffering too much from the turbulence and once in front was able to pull out a comfortable lead which even Hamilton, at his charging best, was unable to cut into to any real degree.


  This time however, the pole sitting Mercedes was not Hamilton. Valtteri Bottas may have been a little underwhelming so far but his Q3 lap to claim pole was simply, well, scintillating. In Q2, Hamilton, Bottas and Vettel were all within 6/100ths of a second of each other with Hamilton shading Bottas by exactly 0.020 and Vettel 0.041 back. In Q3 the Silver slings were again just separated by 2/100ths, 0.023 to be exact but this time it Valtteri on top. To emphasize just how good a lap it was, Vettel had improved on his Q2 time by almost 4/10ths but was still a worrying half a second behind the flying Finn. Other star performers in qualifying this time were Jolyon Palmer, who finally got a clean run through the first two days and got his Renault into the top ten, albeit still three places behind team-mate Hulkenberg, and Pascal Wehrlein who lined up an impressive 13th on his return from injury in the Sauber, which is supposed to be the slowest car out there. The fact that he outpaced Esteban Ocon who beat him to the Force India drive must have been extra sweet.


  Unfortunately for Bottas a problem on the grid with a generator meant that his rear tyre pressure was too high as they set off and as a result he lacked rear grip through the first stint, The question this time is could he have pulled away from Vettel anyway as the Ferrari looked to be doing the leaders pace very, VERY, easily. In the end it may not have mattered as Bottas’ race pace after changing tyres was not on a par with either Vettel or Hamilton anyway and he dropped away to a fairly distant third place only just ahead of a recovering Raikkonen.


  Kimi had a shocker of a start dropping to seventh behind Massa but this started what was a pretty storming race from him. After a few practice lunges kimi outbreaked the Williams driver into turn one on lap seven and was closing quickly on Ricciardo for third (Vettel had already pitted and Verstappen retired with brake failure) when he pitted for fresh tyres on lap 12. As sometimes seems to happen to Raikkonen his stop coincided with Carlos Sainz having a brain-fade and plowing into the side of the unfortunate Lance Stroll after exiting the pits. Stroll must be starting to wonder just what he needs to do to finish a race as not one of his retirements can really be laid at his feet. This brought out the safety car and Kimi found himself now down in eighth place behind Felipe Massa, again…That battle was rejoined and on lap 24 Raikkonen replayed his earlier move at turn one and set off to haul in the large gap to Bottas, in the end falling just two seconds short.


  Quite probably though, the best of the race was at the other end of the field. The dice between Alonso, Kvyat, Palmer and Wehrlein was an absolute ripper with places changing multiple times per lap for a while. King Fernando was having another of those races where he has wrung the neck of his hobbled McLaren-Honda to make up the most unlikely places through the corners only to be gobbled up by the other squabbling trio down the straights. He described the power deficit of his Honda package as “quite impressive” and it showed. All too often he was overtaken by a car that had been anything up to 100 metres behind coming onto the start/finish straight. This often meant that the quartet would brawl their way through turns one to five swapping places and occasionally body-work in a very entertaining struggle for what would eventually become last place. There sometimes is simply no justice.


  Speaking of entertainment, if you can get to see Sunday’s Formula 2 sprint race, do so. Charles Leclerc started the reverse grid race in sixth but quickly moved into the lead of the 23 lap race and pulled out a six second lead before pitting to change tyres on lap 15. On exiting the pits he was 21 seconds off the lead and in 13th place and no-one in front of him was going to stop. By the end of lap 16 he had moved up one place and on lap 17 took another three places to be just out of the points in ninth. Lap 19 saw two more positions fall to the flying Monegasque as did lap 20 and 21. Leclerc was now in third place some three seconds back having made up ten places and 18 seconds in just six laps. Even that would have been good enough to report on but as they entered the start/finish straight to begin the final lap Charles was right on the tail of second placed Oliver Rowland and swept by into turn one. Three corners later leader Luca Ghiotto ran just a touch wide on his fading tyres and Leclerc was through to take one of the most astonishing victories I have seen in many years.


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


Sam Snape