The first Australian weekend of this year turned out to be unusual, and this time we can say for sure that the qualification presented both the spectators and the teams more surprises than the starting race of the season. And if Saturday put everything in its place, then Sunday only made some adjustments.
Surely all the fans remember the rather arrogant words of Dr. Helmut Marko, said by him after the tests in Barcelona, that this year Red Bull will fight with Ferrari. At the time, they sounded derogatory to Mercedes, but Dr. Marco had no idea how right he would be. At the Grand Prix in Melbourne, they really had to fight only with the Reds. And defeat them. Mercedes with 22.5 seconds of difference was unattainable.
"Why are we driving so slowly?" - Perhaps, this question of Sebastian Vettel, sounded live on the radio command, became one of several "memes" that best characterize the Australian Grand Prix. “We don’t know yet,” the racing engineer replied.
The difference in speed between Mercedes and Ferrari was visible even after practice. On Friday, both Ferrari drivers were upset. But if Vettel in his comments gave vent to feelings about the "deception" of Mercedes, then Leclair was more restrained: "I hope we can fix everything before Saturday. We didn't show the maximum. We will see where we are only in qualification, but the second practice turned out to be more difficult. If you ask me if we panic, then no, not yet. "
It was probably too early to panic on Friday, but on Saturday, after qualifying, it was just right. In the third qualifying segment, the difference between Lewis Hamilton's best lap and Sebastian Vettel's best lap was 0.704 seconds.
Ferrari was perhaps one of the biggest disappointments of the first weekend. Even after the pre-season tests, everyone was interested in the question of which team would be the main cheater, hiding their true capabilities. Most assumed that it was Ferrari that would then show the best pace in qualifying and break the opponents, but that was not the case at all. Mercedes literally "shot" on the track of Albert Park, leading all training, qualifying and showing the winning double in the race.
Throughout the race, Sebastian Vettel complained not only about the pace, but also about the condition of the tires and other problems: “The whole race I fought with the tires, but even if you do not take into account my early pit stop, it seems to me that all the other problems had less than mine. It seems to me that we are just very slow, I did not have a single chance to fight with someone for positions. "
The decision of Ferrari to call Sebastian into the pits one of the first on the 15th lap of the race was also unsuccessful. And that was actually the case. Already on lap 31, Max Verstappen makes a successful attempt to overtake Vettel's Ferrari and immediately increases the advantage. As a result, the Dutchman in a car with a Honda engine finishes third, leaving Ferrari without a podium at all and giving Honda the coveted award after many unsuccessful years.
Charles Leclair, who visited the pit stop on the 28th lap, managed to save the rubber much better (especially since he was on hard against the medium at Vettel) and was even ready to attack Vettel with an open wing when he received an order from the command bridge maintain positions. But even after that, increasing the distance, Leclair again caught up with his partner to the finish line.
Ferrari's erroneous tactics at Vettel's pit stop led to, like a chain reaction, Mercedes' mistake. Fearing that Vettel would be able to outplay Hamilton due to an early pit stop, the Silver Arrows called their champion into the pits and did him a disservice.
However, the real surprise of the race was the victory of Valtteri Bottas with a 20 second lead over Lewis Hamilton. In turn, the Briton won his eighth pole position in Melbourne the day before, equaling the number of pole positions on the same track with Ayrton Senna in Imola and Michael Schumacher in Suzuki. After the finish of the race, Mercedes mechanics checked Hamilton's car again and found damage in the bottom next to the left rear wheel. In a tweet, the team wrote: "There is a fragment of the underbody missing, but we are not yet 100% sure why." Probably, it was this damage that led to the fact that the Mercedes No. N44 had problems with balance and speed, and already at the start Hamilton lost to his teammate.
For Valtteri Bottas I want to be glad. Right after the finish, he admitted that “it was the best race in my life,” and the racing engineer told him on the radio: “This is for you last year, Valtteri.” It sounded a bit ambiguous, but we hope this does not mean that this is the end for the Finnish pilot. Bottas also managed to show the best lap time in the race - 1.25.580, thanks to which he earned another extra point.
It was interesting when already in the last laps, having a good lead over the rest of the pilots, Valtteri consulted with the team about whether he should go into the pits for fresh tires in order to leave behind the best lap. In response, he was advised not to risk it, and literally after that, Verstappen interrupted Bottas' time. However, then the Finn again answered with a better circle.
Those who are a fan of Daniil Kvyat were probably pleased that he became the pilot who brought the first point to Toro Rosso. One race is not an indicator, but we believe that Daniel will be able to continue to demonstrate excellent results. Qualification was not very successful for Kvyat - he could not get into the third segment. But the reason for this was the departure and return of Vettel right in front of him on the last fast lap.
Here is what the pilot of Toro Rosso said: “Sebastian flew off the track in front of me, right in front of me, so I had to dodge, and I wasted some time. He did the best he could. I'm not complaining, he really did everything in his power to get out of the trajectory, but it didn’t work out very well.”
Daniel started 15th, Elbon - 13th, but for Pierre Gasly the qualification was a complete failure: he could not even get out of the first segment. Helmut Marko then publicly apologized to Pierre for the unsuccessful tactics when he was not released for another fast lap, but the deed was already done and Gasly had to break through to the top from the 17th position of the starting field. Some he passed himself, somewhere he was helped by the early pit stops of his rivals, but on Kvyat he broke down. After his pit stop at the exit of the pitlane, Gasli was ahead of Kvyat, but the Russian managed to overtake him immediately and hold the lead. Neither the fresher and softer tires, nor the activated DRS gave him the opportunity to get ahead of the Russian pilot. As a result, the second Red Bull and finished behind Toro Rosso, without having won a single point for the team. As for Alex Albon, he became 14th,which is not a bad result for a beginner.
The rookie sensation was Lando Norris! On Saturday, he not only made it to the third qualifying segment, which has not happened with Mclaren in five years, he also retrained Kimi Raikkonen and Lance Stroll in cars supposedly much faster. In the race, he finished 12th, but this is also a very good result, because Norris entered the Grand Prix for the first time in his career.
For Carlos Sainz, everything turned out, alas, not so happy. Even during free practices, problems with the chassis and engine began on his car. It was assumed that before qualification they would be able to eliminate them, but this was not done. Sainz finished only 18th in qualifying, but retired in the race on lap nine due to engine problems. The marshals managed to extinguish the burning engine, but evil tongues have already dubbed this incident "chocolate fondue" - after the name of the team's new chocolate sponsor.
Renault. Let's just say: for Renault the race in Melbourne was very difficult. The qualification did not go at all as we would like, although Alain Prost said that the team was happy with everything. Both Hulkenberg and Riccardo failed to make it out of the second segment, but showed the highest times in it. And it should be noted that, despite all the expectations from the Australian, Niko managed to retrain him. Further, in the race of four cars with Renault engines, two left: however, Daniel Riccardo had problems with mechanical components. Home Grand Prix generally always develops for Mr. Avocado, as a young fan who has forgotten the name of his idol accidentally christened him, is very unfortunate. So this time, already in the first meters of the race, Daniel tore off the front fender on a hummock in his car and was forced to immediately enter the pits.
Apparently, at the same time he also damaged the right pontoon, which the engineer told him a little later. And on the 28th lap, Riccardo goes off. Niko Hulkenberg once again proves his skill: he finishes in seventh position, but is inferior to Kevin Magnussen.
Grosjean and Magnussen showed real class in qualifying, qualifying in sixth and seventh places, respectively, and, perhaps, answered the question of which of the teams in the second division is ready to compete for the title of the best. We don't discount other teams, especially the factory Renault, but 70% of the Ferrari parts in Haas do the trick. However, the race for the American team was less successful. After last year's pit stop problems with both Haas machines this year, it was a matter of honor for Gunther Steiner to demonstrate clean mechanics. However, this turned out to be another nightmare for Haas. First, a hitch at the pit stop at Romain Grosjean, and then, on the 29th lap, almost following Riccardo, he is informed on the radio about problems with the front suspension and asked to stop the car. Unfortunately, the initial assumption wasthat it was a suspension failure that caused everything was wrong. In a press release, which was later distributed by the team, said: “Romain Grosjean's pit stop on lap 15 was delayed because there was a problem with the installation of the front left wheel. This was the reason that at first he rolled back to the 14th position, and then was completely forced to leave. "
However, the situation with Haas in general is very curious: in Australia, the Ferrari client team performed almost on a par with the main one! In the same qualification, the time difference was 0.4 seconds. And it's a great time for the client team.
Another Ferrari client team, Alfa Romeo, had a bad weekend. In qualifying, they were almost a second behind, despite the fact that experienced Kimi Raikkonen was driving. And that's a lot. Giovinazzi generally only became 14th. Then problems arose in the race. Kimi Raikkonen's visor film got into the wheel hub, and he had to enter the pit stop earlier than planned. As a result - the eighth and 15th results, which are much lower than expected.
Lance Stroll had a poor qualification but a good race, moving up from 16th to 9th and beating Sergio Perez. Perez noted with surprise the level of Stroll the day before, first praising him for his knowledge of the technical side of the car, and then completely saying that sometimes the pilot is slow because of the bad car he drives. Most likely, Racing Point will be able to add to Barcelona, having a good budget on hand, and Sergio Perez is known for his ability to turn the most unexpected situations into podiums. So we don't write off this team.
As for Williams, I don’t want to talk about them at all: the qualifying difference is four seconds between Hamilton and Russell and almost six seconds with Kubica. Moreover: the time shown by them this year in qualifying is worse (!) Than last year's qualifying time on their car with the previous configuration. The only ones of all teams. In addition, during the race, Robert Kubica first flew off the front wing, and then, on the fourth lap, and the mirror.
After these results Williams remains only one feeling: it's good that Sergei Sirotkin no longer plays for this team, and what a pity that the brilliant newcomer and reigning champion of Formula 2 George Russell was there. Here's the irony of fate: Lando Norris and Alexander Albon, who finished last season much worse than Russell, ended up with much more promising prospects in Mclaren and Toro Rosso. And it’s a pity that Williams’s tweet before the start of the race looks like: “With your debut in Formula 1, George Russell! Enjoy! " As if this pleasure did not cost poor Russell a successful career …
It is curious to look at the strategy of the teams in the first Grand Prix. Pirelli originally proposed a one-stop setup and use only a soft to medium set of tires. But already at the start there were some nuances: for example, Robert Kubica immediately went on white rims, that is, on the most rigid set, and during the race other pilots also took advantage of this composition. After the first lap, Riccardo was changed to hard so that he could go to the finish line, the same lineup was used by Norris, Perez, Kvyat, Hulkenberg, Leclair and others. And, curiously, Perez and Hulkenberg changed their shoes in early pit stops around the 14th lap, but Leclair did it on the 28th lap, managed to warm him up enough and catch up and attack Vettel.
Many teams have chosen different tactics for their pilots: for example, Elbon was at an early pit stop, and Kvyat at a later one. The same thing happened with Ferrari and Mercedes. But Red Bull in general delayed Gasley's pit stop as much as possible and, as we can see, did not lose much. Gasly started on a medium, changed into software on the 37th lap, playing six positions during the race. But the Albert Park track is known for being very economical with rubber - if cars have no problem with rubber consumption. And unlike Vettel and Hamilton, the rest of the pilots in the early pit stops had much less rubber problems.
Summing up the review, I would like to note that all of the above applies exclusively to the Australian Grand Prix. Every season we make sure that the balance of power between teams in no case can be judged by the first Grand Prix due to the specifics of the Australian track. The next two races are likely to give us other favorites, and we will only understand the true balance of power in Barcelona.
Another important thing: on the eve of the Bahrain Grand Prix, the FIA promised to present the Formula 1 teams with a plan for global championship reforms, starting in 2021. After that, the teams will have another three months to discuss and approve the regulations.
The next Grand Prix will take place in Bahrain at the Sahir circuit on March 30-31