The signs were there over the winter that Ferrari could have been mounting a challenge at the Australian Grand Prix. Some didn’t believe the hype, with others predicting that the German/British team still had the edge over a race distance, but Australia proved that Ferrari do have the pace to win this season.
It was Lewis Hamiltons to loose this season, or at least that was the preconception heading into the Melbourne weekend and to an extent that did happen. The Mercedes hasn’t lost speed overnight and has the speed to get to pole position, but it was a win for Sebastian Vettel to start off the season. Following the Mercedes in the early part of the race, Hamilton was eating tyres compared to the Ferrari which left him to pit early and handing the advantage to Ferrari. With fewer pit stops this season due to the different range of tyres offered by Pirelli there wasn’t another opportunity to attack, with Hamilton looking reticent to overtake.
Hamilton was flanked by his new teammate, many of whom have already written off as a number two driver (even though he is better than that). Valtteri Bottas still within range of the three time World Champion, but it was really Kimi Raikkonen who was the real talking point looking off form.
There were a couple of notable performances, especially once again Romian Grosjean getting points on the board early for Haas, and although he didn’t get points on his debut it was a spectacular entrance into the sport for Antonio Giovinazzi for Sauber. Super subbing for Sauber, replacing a ‘not fit’ Pascal Wehrlein he nearly out qualified his teammate Marcus Ericsson, and went on to finish the race just outside the top ten. With Pascal Wehrlein sitting the race out following his accident in Miami which affected his training for the start of the new F1 season, you wonder if there is a different narrative going on at Sauber – given that Giovinazzi is a Ferrari backed driver, with the team currently a Ferrari customer.
Heading to China the story is set to change again, and will be interesting if Mercedes will be able to strike back. The track has been kind to them before, back in the old V8 era when Nico Rosberg scored his first win for the team in 2012. Even back then tyre management was an issue for Mercedes against the then fairly dominant Red Bull, and it will be interesting to see in the early part of the season if this is a theme of the new car, or if they are able to overcome their issues.
The other prediction before Australia was that McLaren would be on the back of the grid, and that pleasingly didn’t happen. In fact, Fernando Alonso spent much of the race in a points paying position, but the deficiencies of the new engine were clearly apparent. Heading to China we will be able to see if this is a one off, or if they have actually turned a little bit of a corner, following a hard and difficult winter despite the optimism.