The most anticipated Formula 1 season in several years began at Albert Park in Melbourne. The off-season was filled with talk of reigning champion Nico Rosberg’s retirement and subsequent replacement, which was eventually revealed to be Williams driver Valtteri Bottas.
Also a major talking point was the enhancements and near deregulation of the Formula 1, which saw engine upgrades, aerodynamics enhancements added to the improved durability and widening of the tyres, all of which was designed to improve speeds and cornering with the belief it in turn would encourage a lot more overtaking manoeuvres.
The practice sessions saw a continuation of the smoke and mirrors employed by Ferrari over the development of their car in the offseason. Sebastian Vettel broke his own record for fastest lap time in the third practice; however, this record would not last long.
Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein withdrew from the third practice and announced he would also miss qualifying and the race due to a neck injury he sustained in January. He was deputised by teenager Antonio Giovinazzi.
Qualifying saw a familiar sight of the Silver Arrows leading from Ferrari and Red Bull, but what had surprised was just how quick Bottas was, pushing teammate Lewis Hamilton all the way for his pole position, before Bottas was barely pipped for P2 by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo was looking to get himself onto the second row of the grid despite having been hampered by setup issues throughout the day. However, in the third round of qualifying while on his hot lap, RIcciardo lost control and the back of his car collided with the barrier. It saw him qualify in 10th, but the damage caused necessitated a gearbox change which earnt him a five grid place penalty.
Race day saw Ricciardo still suffering with reliability issues when his Red Bull picked up an electrical fault that saw his car get stuck in sixth gear and stalling. It meant he would be starting from the pits but by the time the issue was resolved two laps had already been raced. His car then suffered engine failure at the halfway point of the race forcing him to retire.
Bad news: 24 hours to forget for @danielricciardo in 🇦🇺
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 26, 2017
The battle up front saw Hamilton take the early lead but was unable to pull away from Vettel’s Ferrari. Hamilton complained of tyre issues and pitted early, coming out in fifth place behind Max Verstappen. Vettel opened up a 22 second lead and pitted coming back out in third place behind Raikkonen and Bottas and just in front of Verstappen.
Verstappen had begun to suffer from grip issues but was still proving to be too hard for Hamilton pass. Hamilton only had to wait a lap before the Red Bull driver changed his tyres.
Hamilton got himself into second place after Bottas and Raikkonen pitted but could not make up the lost ground to Vettel, who went on to win in what has surely given Mercedes a shock and given Formula 1 a genuine contest for the Driver and Constructors Championships. Valtteri Bottas picked up his best-ever finish in Australia in a great drive which has shown that he’s going to be a genuine contender this year as well.
— Sebastian Vettel #5 (@sebvettelnews) March 26, 2017
As for the enhancements, very little change has yet to be seen given the difficulty in overtaking at Albert Park. Very few passes were made here and very little change from the positions on the starting grid to the end of the race.
Final Standings (Top 10)
1 – Vettel (Ferrari)
2 – Hamilton (Mercedes)
3 – Bottas (Mercedes)
4 – Raikkonen (Ferrari)
5 – Verstappen (Red Bull)
6 – Massa (Williams)
7 – Perez (Force India)
8 – Sainz (Toro Rosso)
9 – Kvyat (Toro Rosso)
10 – Ocon (Force India)