Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Albert Park, 2017

Ferrari renaissance sets up Vettel vs Hamilton title fight

2017 Australian Grand Prix reviewPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

The Ferrari scrambled into turn one with the Red Bull perilously close behind. And hot on their tails came a Mercedes, desperately eager to pounce on any slip-up between the pair.

Pressing on to turn three Sebastian Vettel covered off the inside line as Max Verstappen looked for a way through. The new, wider wheels of the new, wider RB13 touched the grass on the entry to the corner, but Lewis Hamilton was unable to seize the opportunity to pass.

This brief burst of action was the three-team battle we’d hoped to see in 2017. It only lasted for a few seconds, but it decided the outcome of the race, and raised hopes of an unpredictable season ahead.

Hamilton’s short-lived lead

Start, Albert Park, 2017
It took two tries to start the race
Hamilton’s Mercedes started the Australian Grand Prix from pole position, just as it had done in 2014, 2015 and 2016. But the race which followed indicated that unlike the last three years this isn’t going to be another ‘silver-wash’.

The 68th running of the world championship began a couple of minutes later than planned owing to a mix-up on the grid. That offered a brief glimmer of hope to Red Bull, who were scrambling to effect last-minute repairs to home hero Daniel Ricciardo’s car following a reconnaissance lap breakdown. It wasn’t enough, however, and he joined the track on lap three.

Once the five lights went out the first pre-season expectation was dashed. Despite the tricky new clutches no one made an auspiciously good or bad start. The top five held grid order: While Verstappen got ahead of Kimi Raikkonen on the run to turn one he couldn’t carry the momentum through the first corner to keep the position.

Having failed to get past Hamilton at the start Vettel immediately put his rival under pressure. But after three laps of sitting in close proximity to the Mercedes, Vettel gradually slipped one-and-a-half seconds behind. But the race was only just beginning.

Vettel applies the pressure

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Albert Park, 2017
Hamilton couldn’t shake Vettel
With more durable tyres underneath them the pace was far fiercer than last year. Instead of lap times steadily rising as drivers nursed fragile tyres as long as they dared, the pace was increasing as the fuel load came down.

But Hamilton wasn’t comfortable in his lead. “I was struggling with the grip from the get-go,” he said afterwards. His attempts to break clear of the Ferrari stalled. “Sebastian was able to always answer in terms of lap time and the majority of the time do faster lap times.”

On lap 13 Hamilton set his quickest lap so far, a 1’28.117. But the next time around he was almost a full second slower, and on subsequent laps he couldn’t replicate his best time. “I got a bit in traffic and the car started to overheat the tyres,” he said. “I was struggling with grip and it was to the point that I needed to come in.”

This didn’t appear to be the ‘cliff edge’ of tyre degradation we’ve become used to from recent seasons. But Mercedes were adamant they needed to get Hamilton off his ultra-softs.

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“Sebastian came into the window where the undercut was possible and we had the feeling at that point that the tyres were not lasting,” he said. “It was the team’s impression on the pit wall looking at the data and Lewis’ in the car, too.”

So Hamilton committed to coming in one lap earlier than he had been scheduled to. The problem with this strategy was that it would drop him behind Verstappen. The Red Bull driver had some good gaps opening up behind him so Mercedes had cause to hope he might pit soon anyway, but things didn’t work out in their favour.

Hamilton rejoined the track after a straightforward stop and immediately rattled off a 1’27.551, more than half a second quicker than anything Vettel had done up to that point. But now he was within a second of Verstappen and he began losing time.

There was only one lap on which Vettel could have pitted and come out in front of Hamilton, and to their credit Ferrari nailed it. Vettel only took two-tenths off Hamilton on lap and four more the next time around. But lap 22 was a disaster for Hamilton: he lost 1.3 seconds, and Vettel made further inroads on the next tour despite having caught the tail of a four-car train.

Vettel estimated he lost a second behind newcomer Lance Stroll but a tidy turnaround by the Ferrari team meant he emerged from the pits with Verstappen and Hamilton in his mirrors. He kept the Red Bull at arm’s length at turn three and it was job done.

Perez makes rare pass

Sergio Perez, Force India, Albert Park, 2017
Perez beat the Toro Rossos
At this point Vettel only held the ‘net’ lead of the race. Valtteri Bottas, in his first race for Mercedes, briefly headed the field before he pitted and handed the lead to compatriot Kimi Raikkonen. The other Ferrari driver had lost so much time over his first stint that his team mate was less than four seconds behind Raikkonen when he pitted and Vettel regained the lead.

Bottas had a difficult first stint in which he “felt like I was just sliding around, always missing front grip, rear grip.” He looked much more comfortable after switching to soft tyres and having done so much later than Hamilton was able to close on his team mate towards the end.

While the Ferrari and Mercedes drivers opted for softs, Verstappen took a set of super-softs when he came in on lap 25. That also released Hamilton, but by now Vettel was six seconds up the road.

Daniil Kvyat ran a long, 34-lap first stint on a set of used super-softs which gave him a temporary hold on sixth place. His eventual pit stop promoted Felipe Massa in his place, the Williams driver having a solitary run on his return from the retirement that never was.

Behind him lay a close battle for seventh. Sergio Perez had pulled off one of the race’s few overtaking moves to claim the position, a gem of a pass on Carlos Sainz Jnr around the outside of turn three. Toro Rosso decided to give Kvyat a crack at Perez using his fresher tyres and so Sainz, after some cajoling, agreed to let his team mate by.

But Kvyat had no more success with the Force India than his team mate had. The plan was for him to give Sainz his place back, but a second pit stop to refill his engine air took care of it anyway, despite his pleas to be left out.

With Kvyat restored to ninth, Fernando Alonso was on course for an unlikely tenth position in his McLaren. The car which had failed to complete a race distance in testing got within seven laps of claiming a point before worsening damage forced Alonso out.

Esteban Ocon dodged past the McLaren for the final point, rebuffing an attack from Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault as he did. “I had massive double tow from them,” said the Renault driver, “so I gave it all with overtake mode and DRS.”

“It was quite spectacular and must have looked pretty good from the outside too.” It did, but there were precious few moments like it. As some drivers had been predicting since the rules were first mooted a year and a half ago, more downforce meant more turbulence which meant less overtaking.

“Even in the years before it’s been difficult to follow once you get within one and a half, one second just because of the turbulent air which messes up the aerodynamics of the car,” explained Bottas. “Now, as more of the grip from the car is relying on the aero it’s a bigger effect and the cars are wider so I think there’s more turbulent air so now I think it’s more like two
seconds or even two and a half.”

Mixed fortunes for rookie pair

Antonio Giovinazzi, Sauber, Albert Park, 2017
Sauber’s Giovinazzi impressed
The first race of the season often takes a toll on the equipment and this one was no different. Marcus Ericsson and Kevin Magnussen tangled on the first lap and later retired, Sauber fuming at the lack of punishment for the Haas driver in this new era of more lenient stewarding.

Romain Grosjean joined his team mate in retirement with an engine failure. This was a disappointing end to a promising showing: he’d been in the top ten every session.

Rookie Stroll’s first race nearly ended at the first corner, where only a desperately hard slam on the brake kept him from wiping out several of the tail-enders. The lock-up damaged a tyre, forcing an early pit stop. That spoiled his race, and a hair-raising brake failure on the rapid approach to turn 13 ended it.

However the other rookie in the field, Sauber’s Antonio Giovinazzi, did a sterling job to get the C36 to the chequered flag. The car had been upgraded since his introduction to it in the first test at Catalunya, and having not run on Friday he’d done less than half a race distance around Albert Park before the grand prix began, yet he delivered a clean run and gave a good account of himself.

“I’m going to get you back”

Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Albert Park, 2017
Will the title fight be between these two?
The Australian Grand Prix may not have been a vintage encounter but the sight of Mercedes having to battle a rival on pure performance has been a rare one over the past three years. Even Hamilton seemed to welcome a serious threat appearing from outside his own team.

Between them Hamilton and Vettel have won six of the last seven world championships. Yet they’ve faced each other on track only occasionally.

One notable encounter between the two occured when Hamilton was poised to clinch his first world championship title, only to drop out of the crucial fifth place when Vettel overtook him.

“He’s very very quick, very talented but also working hard,” said Vettel of his rival. “I think it was a matter of time before he won the world championship which I tried to stop him doing in Brazil, as hard as I could, in my Toro Rosso.”

“I’m going to get you back,” joked Hamilton. And perhaps he will. But after round one of 20 it’s Vettel who holds the upper hand.

Australian GP reaction

56 comments on “Ferrari renaissance sets up Vettel vs Hamilton title fight”

  1. Man when I watched the onboard of Hamilton at turn 1 when Vettel came out of the pits… Horrendous understeer… I wouldn’t want to be driving close to the cars because that understeer was just enormous. FIA said that they might do some changes to DRS after China depending on how it occurs there. But, it just doesnt look that good for racing these new technical regulations. In one article, Lewis was saying: we are racing in the pits, not on track.

    1. He was beating the same drum in the previous years. He literally said “it’s impossible to overtake”. And that was last year.

      However, I am more excited than ever for this new season.

      1. We may even end up having a great title fight but with boring races, but I noticed something, ever since 2007 each season held on an odd-numbered year the title was decided before the final race, lets hope that changes this time. We can only hope Ferrari keep up the development this year too as in most recent years they’ve struggled to keep ahead at times when it counts.

        Lewis vs Seb does seem possible though, I’ve kinda been wanting to see the two go at it in equal cars, will this be the year?

  2. It is very exciting to think there could be a title fight with more than one team. However, I hate to be a dampener, but don’t forget how close Ferrari came to winning last year. They even did a very similar strategy, staying out late to use clear air. Last time the gamble was lost, this time won with the tyres holding on better. Their pace after that degraded and after a few races they had already turned most of their resources to focus on ‘next year’s car’, as they always do when they aren’t competing at the front. Meanwhile Mercedes kept finding gains. It’s not impossible for a repeat of that, so I think we should just wait to see how it pans out over a few races before getting too excited.

    1. @strontium we all believed that 2017 would be a year to forget for Ferrari after losing Allison, and with these regulations with high emphasys on aero. But they won so great for them.

      However, even if they looked good, as you say, who knows how the development race might unfold. Mercedes lost Paddy, gained Allison and said goodbye to one of their drivers. Ferrari reshuffled all their staff after losing Allison. Anything could happen.

      1. Ferrari are gassed because they don’t have a British engineer. Allison, Lowe, Key etc are the big guns. Ferrari’s Simone Resta, Rory Byrne etc are not cut out for developing cars. Technically Mercedes won the Australian gp because of the super genius Allison’s *slight* input into the SF70-H back in April. After all, this is the man who developed Ferrari’s super 16 car which was far superior to Ferrari’s 15 car…

        1. Only in the internet can someone win and still be considered a loser. So Vettel and Ferrari came 1st but also lost?
          The truth is, Mercedes have a stronger engine but a hard to drive car in terms of understeer and downforce. That sort of balances out with Ferrari who have the second best engine but a better aero package.
          Saying Mercedes wins cause they have Allison makes zero sense, the guy barely worked for Ferrari, and I doubt he will improve on what was a pretty dominant Mercedes.
          It has also become apparent that Ferrari stopped developing their 2016 car early and concentrated on 2017, which allowed redbull to catch and pass them. So its not like they are poor in season developers, they just didn’t do it. If it was Ferrari vs Redbull, you might have an argument, but Mercedes have not shown any indication of being strong inseason developers, they had the best package from the get go and just rode that horse for the entire season.

    2. Literally my thoughts on this as well. Ferrari got close last year and could have won but it wouldn’t have had that much of a difference on the overall result being Merc domination. So I completely agree, we should wait for the next few races to take place before deciding if a Ferrari renaissance has actually taken place (I do hope it has for the sake of the sport)

    3. My thoughts exactly. Let’s imagine for a moment that Singapore was the first race of 2015. We would have all been raving that Mercedes had been caught and that we had a close 3-team battle for the title on our hands with former team mates Vettel and Ricciardo going head-to-head..

      What we got was the most one-sided Lewis championship of all the Mercedes years.

      It’s great to see Ferrari back up there and we would all love for them to sustain this form for a genuine title battle, but considering this is the result they should have got at the same track last year, and considering what happened in 2013, I’m going to keep a little bit of my expectations in check.

    4. Why do people keep bringing 2016 up?

      Why is it in 2017 people have become to devoid of reality?

      It was same with testing when the Ferrari revealed its pace, folks kept banging on about Ferrari being fast in testing in 16.
      Now you have seen the race pace is actually real but no its still about 16 oh they almost won then too, what folks fail to realise that happened because Ferrari used the slower compound and Mercedes the harder compound.

      In a race where a couple of laps to the end Kimi put in the race fastest lap just for the fun of it, considering Kyvat took new tyres with 5 laps to go!

      It might be different for other tracks going forward, but now Mercedes realise a mistake can stop them getting pole and also Melbourne is not a Ferrari track by Bahrain a clearer picture will emerge.

  3. a bit premature

    1. Actually not that premature. Mercedes is still king in Qualifying maybe because they can really turn up their engines. But in the full race distance, Ferrari have a very small advantage. It is shown in preseason how consistent their laptimes are if you followed the pre-season, and the pecking order in the preseason and in the first race is almost the same. Mercedes=Ferrari followed by RBR then Torro Rosso and Force India.

      What’s disappointing is Hamilton’s comment that once he passed he didn’t even try to close, so would that be his mentality or excuse? Perez didn’t get the memo that no one can pass, it may be a bit over the edge pass but very brave move and dedicated.

      1. That was the strange part Lewis close the distance to Max but the he says over the radio “i can’t overtake him”. He didn’t tried once to push Max.

        1. I think the problem was compounded by the radio messages played over the world feed seeming to be massively out of sync with the on-track action (it used to be ~10 seconds, but seemed much worse yesterday).

          I know at one point in the race, Lewis was told he wasn’t hitting his target times, but then Edwards & Coulthard questioned it, noticing he’d already picked up 4-5 seconds on his previous tour.

        2. looking forward to the radio transcript post when it comes.

  4. It wasn’t a classic but then again this isn’t a normal track. It can throw surprises both ways, with great races in dull seasons, or dull races in exciting years. So we don’t know at this point which one of those it’s going to be.

    Kudos to Vettel and Ferrari but I don’t think that Mercedes was completely caught. They won today, but they didn’t win the war yet, and Mercedes I’m sure will hit back hard.

  5. We will have a title fight between two teams theis year.
    Hamilton x Vettel, great!

  6. One race and not the best, but it has raised my excitement for the 2017 season.
    My impression (history and gut feel) is that Mercedes will develop faster than Ferrari, but will soon find Red Bull as a serious contender for both Championships.

  7. Opening victory from Vettel can’t be bad news for the championship. Still I believe Mercedes would out-develope Ferrari through the season so considering early lead from rivals essential. Yes, Ferrari was faster yesterday but not that much. Difficulty of overtaking on this regulation would give upper hand to Mercedes due to qualifying performance. I noticed Ferrari was faster just few laps after start but without Max I can’t see Mercedes being beaten. It looks enormously hard to overtake. Anyway, Ferrari resurrgence can’t be bad news after all!

  8. I don’t get why the crowd bowed Lewis.I don’t like him but i wouldn’t boo him on the podium .Also disrespectful towards Mark Webber .

    1. It seems to be the mob mentality these days, we saw it many times in the past with other drivers in UK & Europe… I think this is what the western culture has become…

    2. Knight Vettel was booed too in 2013, very disrespectful smh.

    3. I don’t get it either. I think if you don’t like someone, than cheer that driver that you like… It’s that simple for me.

  9. I think “Renaissance” is a strong word. I’ll reserve my judgement till Silverstone.

    For me, yesterday’s race was very similar to 2016 race but for the roles of Mercedes and Ferrari reversed. Last year, it was the red team that bungled the strategy and gifted the win to Silver Arrows. This year, the opposite. We all know what happened by the end of the year with Red Bull coming out of nowhere and beating Ferrari to pulp.

    1. @b4lr0g I cannot agree with you more. Everyone seems to think that Ferrari are back, despite what Mercedes are telling us, its not because Ferrari have the pace, but more to the failure on the Mercedes pit strategy. If Lewis had maintained track position, we would be talking about how much closer Ferrari are to Mercedes, but not at how much faster than Mercedes they were like some others are claiming today.

      1. @dragoll doesn’t matter if Vettel had come out in front or behind – that’s about the win. The point is that Ferrari were competing on pace – on the same tyres, same strategy, same circumstances, they were at least as fast during the first stint making Hamilton destroy his tyres in order to keep ahead, and force them into a soon pit stop. And then Vettel/Ferrari seemed to be comfortably faster in the second stint.

      2. I disagree, the early pit stop didn`t cost Mercedes and Hamilton the win. The tyres were going off, if Hamilton hadn`t gone in Ferrari would have done so and the undercut would have worked. You see, Hamilton no longer had the pace on the ultrasofts to pull further away from Verstappen the way Vettel did. That means the undercut would have worked for Ferrari.

        Furthermore I think Ferrari would have gone more aggressive if they had to do the undercut, they would have gone for the supersofts which probably was a better race tyre in Australia as seen on the Red Bull. Mercedes couldn`t have done that as they were worried about the degradation on the ultrasofts. Just wait for the race-analysis and you`ll see, the ones in-the -know will conclude the same way.

        1. I agree with the Hamilton’s tyre degradation bit. Even with that, he still would’ve ended up leading if Verstappen wasn’t there. For me, it’s a strategic error putting him behind VER. So, I don’t think degradation didn’t play as big a role as people seem to think.

          1. Yes, but that would have been because he went in first and had fresh tyres. If Hamilton hadn`t pittet I suspect Ferrari and Vettel would have gone for the undercut. Hamilton no longer had enough left in the supersofts to extend the gap to Verstappen, if he had done what Vettel did he would have come out several seconds behind Verstappen and Vettel would have been right on Verstappens tail (he might even have passed Vesrstappen as the Ferrari seemed able to be withing striking range). If Hamilton had gone in one lap after Vettel he would have been behind anyway as Vettel would have had a 3-4 second gap to Verstappen and an ability to push hard on his first laps on new tyres.

            What won Ferrari the race was the ability to continue to increase the gap to Verstappen after Hamilton pitted, I highly doubt Mercedes would have been able to do the same. When Hamilton was unable to pull away from Vettel and his tyres were going off it was Ferraris race to lose, they had the advantage at that point.

  10. It won’t just be Vettel v Hamilton for the title, Bottas and Raikkonen will also be heavily in on the fight and it’ll go down to the wire.

  11. nokia 3310

  12. A 4-time World Champion in Vettel fighting a 3-time World Champion in Hamilton. How awesome is this? :)
    It’s as if Prost battled Senna in 1994 :)
    It also somewhat resembles their 1990 battle, with Prost – the stoic professor (here: Vettel) – drove a Ferrari, and Senna – the feisty racer (here: Hamilton) – drove the still dominating McLaren.

    The races will most likely suck, because the lack of on-track battles, but the season itself has the potential to be classic. Let’s hope for the best!

    1. nelson piquet
      27th March 2017, 12:34

      will only be a classic if vettel wins with the inferior ferrari, or the number 2 driver bottas

  13. The big lesson seems to be don’t pit before your main competitor.

    1. Er no…
      Hamiltons pace on new tyres and Vettels on old was roughly the same. The difference was Hamilton got stuck behind another car for much longer.

      The big lessons are make sure you time your pit stop to emerge with a decent gap in front. Also lobby the FIA to change these STUPID high down-force rules so that if you do emerge from the pits behind a slow car at lease you have a chance of overtaking them.

  14. On another board there was a debate as to which Abba song best described Fernando’s circumstances.
    I went with Mamma Mia:

    I’ve been angry and sad about things that you do
    I can’t count all the times that I’ve told you “we’re through”

    1. “One of us” fits his relation to ferrari perfectly.

      I saw myself as a concealed attraction
      I felt you kept me away from the heat and the action
      Just like a child, stubborn and misconceiving
      That’s how I started the show
      One of us had to go
      Now I’ve changed and I want you to know
      One of us is crying

  15. Ferrari did it good, but they where strong in Australia last year too but this time Ferrari took the same strategy as Mercedes and it worked for them. China will be another story and Mercedes will be ontop again.

  16. What ever happens for the rest of this season, Ferrari has won a race, unlike 2016.

    This season is already better than 2016, even though it’s only race one.

  17. Mercedes fastest in qualifying, but Ferrari seem marginally quicker over a race distance. Going to be a very interesting season if it continues on like this. The 2 best drivers on the grid (at least in terms of WDC’s) battling it out in different machinery. This season is set up nicely.
    Also, don’t judge the overtaking on one race, and that race being Australia, where there’s never many overtakes. Everyone knew it would be harder this year, even more so at street circuits. China and Bahrain allow for more overtaking, so wait until those races to judge it.

    1. In Q3, the lap which decided who got on top, Vettel did not turn the marker green for many sections of his lap, so he had previously gone quicker and so has more in the tank for next time.

      I’m wondering if he’s likely to do as in the past, get pole and win from there.
      Hamilton v Vettel is what we’ve been waiting for. Fingers crossed for some fingernail biting.

      Nice to see Lewis and Seb patting backs, talking afterwards, after the frosty situ in the room with Rosberg. The booing was horrid, first race and there’s been no equivalent of Multi 21. I don’t understand it. Mean bunch of fans.

  18. Can anyone tell me what this “Refilling Engine Air” is? Is it for gear changes?

    1. @rpiian I’m responding because I want to know too.

      If I were to guess would be something related with the combustion.

      It is not the first time this happens to STR…

      1. IIRC the valve operations are controlled by pneumatics – maybe it’s something to do with that?

        1. @tvr350 in that case are they talking about nitrogen when they say air? I wonder why STR leak so much

    2. @keithcollantine sounds like “Refilling Engine Air” is for a pneumatic valvetrain? Or is it for the gearbox? Or both? Any thoughts?

  19. Let’s also see what Red Bull has up their sleeve. We didn’t get to see anything from Ricciardo this race and Max being Max, the entire season could be potentially lit up later on…

    1. people were expecting more from them @sravan-pe, but if we go back in time, the year before they started to dominate the sport, their run as quite similar to this one. They were the ones closing in on Brawn GP, and the year after they got their tittle.

      The question for me is, can Renault turn it up?

      1. @johnmilk

        Indeed. And if Renault does turn it up I hope Alonso will go back to Renault themselves! Feel sorry for the guy…

  20. Always been a Ferrari fan, my hopes are BIG… but I think it’s too early what’s going on for real. We have to wait 2-3 more races for a clearer picture. Also, too early to wright off RBR.

  21. Seriously, it’s jus one race! How can we say that this championship is between Hamilton and Vettel? So Bottas and Raikkonen are there jus to give way? Let’s not decide so quickly. Give it 4 race time, then we ll know who are the real contenders. Jus coz those are former world champions, it does not mean only they are capable of fighting for championship.

  22. Is it just me or is there someone else who thinks that is a one off victory for Ferrari ?

    As much as I hope Ferrari and Vettel bring the title game on to the Mercedes, I still think Mercedes will have the upper hand going forward.

    Melbourne is not a track favorable for high straight speeds nor is it good for overtaking which kept Hamilton and Bottas suppressed much throughout the race (stuck behind back markers).

    So I would say wait for it and recheck if Ferrari will put up a fight in the next couple of races. China and Bahrain with much wider tracks and overtaking opportunities and high straight line speeds, so I would say Bahrain would let us know who is who and where.

  23. Okay I take back my words after the First Practice session. There might be something to see in 2017 afterall !!!!

    I would love a Lewis Seb battle….. with some occasional wins from Kimi. The question is can Ferrari carry and sustain the momentum. China will give more indications. Once the caravan gets to Barcelona we will have a clear picture overall for the season unfolding. So far it is good.

    But I must admit , the procession continues. There is no overtaking in any form. Even if Ferrari are doing well if they cant get the qualifying as good as Merc then things will not be as Rosy as it looks.

  24. Didn’t Hamilton use used ultras in Q2? Perhaps this had an impact on his tyre life. Also, Seb owes Max a beer (country permitting)!

    1. Tommy Scragend
      28th March 2017, 0:02

      They said that the graphic was wrong and that they were actually new ultras. Somebody scanned the wrong barcode or something.

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