The season-opening race in Melbourne through up a number of surprises, we arrived thinking that it was that this was Ferrari’s race to lose. But like many, I was scratching my head throughout the weekend with what was going on at the leaders.
After Friday’s practice sessions, I think we were all may be thinking that Ferrari was masking the performance of the car, but then in Melbourne, that pace just wasn’t there. I think we brought too much into winter testing, but I was hoping to be more open-minded going to the season opener.
Mercedes we know sandbagged and in testing as normal, in qualifying, we saw an emergence of the hopefully new Valtteri Bottas. The Finn was very close to teammate Lewis Hamilton, just a few tenths slower while Ferrari was just under half a second behind Bottas in qualifying.
You do need to wonder, with Albert Park being a street circuit was this a circuit dependent issue rather than a Ferrari issue? But that I feel is something we won’t know until Baku or even Monaco. Ferrari needs to get back on track by Monaco or its probably over.
The other big story in Melbourne was Red Bull, they were the biggest benefactors from Ferrari’s issues. Going into Melbourne we expected Red Bull to have a bigger challenge, but Max Verstappen’s drive to the podium proved that Honda has delivered a better power unit.
They managed even to lead the race the first time they managed to do so since the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix. The data suggests that they have stepped up on power as Red Bull topped the speed traps in sectors one and two. In fact, three Honda-powered cars were in the upper ends of the data, certainly not a “GP2 engine.”
I was expecting a better year from Honda; however, you need to remember that following the teams fourth in Bahrain last year they failed to match that in the rest of the season. I believe that the team is in a better position going into this season, but the question is can they keep that level of the season?
The key to making the race work was the timing of the pit stop, reading Pirelli’s debrief the undercut Vettel tried to use and used in the last two years didn’t work. The data suggests that the switch to the medium compound and hard wasn’t that much.
In recent years Melbourne the rookies performed well as Lando Norris made it into Q3 with the race not going as expected. But failed to deliver that in the race.
The issues at Haas were surprising, you would have worked on the pit stop errors last year. The team will hope they could have avoided the same mistakes as last year, but hopefully it won’t be repeated! Haas emerged again as a strong midfield team this year and that could be another interesting fight.
As always Melbourne threw one team into chaos, this year it was the sports governing body the FIA with the death of race director Charlie Whiting. We know that plans were underway to appoint a successor but now it is about finding a new judge, jury and executioner.
Whiting was a pillar of the sport, many of the paddock has not been to a race where he hasn’t been for four decades. But the race was a perfect tribute.
Looking towards Bahrain, it is a very different circuit to Melbourne and so give us a better understanding of the cars. We still don’t have any clear answers, as testing and last year proved anything can happen. But you can almost be certain that Ferrari will be back!