Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1387, (29 March - 4 April 2018)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1387, (29 March - 4 April 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Now look who’s partying

A new season but the same scenario, with Vettel wiping the smile off Hamilton’s face in Australia, reports Mohamed Abdel-Razek

Vettel’s car

What a start to the new Formula One season. It was already hot before the start of the race on Sunday 25 March. All eyes were on Ferrari and Mercedes, and since the Australian circuit gives limited chances for overtakes, both big teams fine-tuned their strategies for the best positions possible on the grid.

Ferrari’s strategy was obvious: push, push, push, starting from qualifying session two. Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen were giving it their all. However, on the Q1, Ferrari and Mercedes made sure to just stay in the top five positions. In Q2, Mercedes started playing games by deciding not to push hard on the car giving the lead to Vettel who thought it will be an easy pole position. But on Q3, Hamilton’s car was a stunner for the Italians, the silver arrow suddenly producing dramatic power with a new setup — the ‘party mode’ — with Hamilton sealing off his 73rd career pole, Raikkonen coming second after a great drive and Vettel third. Bottas was busy apologising to his team after cynically crashing his car which led to replacing his gearbox, forcing him to start from 15th position on race day.

During the post-qualifying press conference, replying to Vettel who said Mercedes activated another more aggressive setup in Q3, Hamilton denied it, saying he used the same setup in Q2 and Q3. “So what were you doing before Q3?” Vettel asked. Hamilton fired back, “I was waiting to put a good lap in and wipe the smile off your face.” Then Vettel countered: “Me and Kimi will have our party tomorrow.” It was war declared, fuelling every Formula One fanatic to wake up early in the morning to watch the first battle of the season.

The race started at Albert Park with no surprises or accidents. Hamilton took off with Raikkonen trying to put pressure on him followed by Vettel both of whom were running on ultra-soft compound tyres while Hamilton was on soft. The Ferrari double went solid waiting for a gap or a mistake to put them ahead of Hamilton, not bothered by the Redbulls who had tough times with Verstappen who didn’t have a firm grip, putting pressure on his car and tyres up until he spun 360 degrees to lose his fight for third place and go back to seventh.  

It was time for drama to kick in when Haas lost both their cars. Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean were already giving the performance of their lives running fourth and fifth, close to scoring the best results for the American team since joining F1.

According to F1.com, Haas team principal Guenther Steiner said the wheel nuts where cross-threaded on both cars. First it started with Magnussen. He got out of his pit stop with several mechanics raising their hands and yelling that something was wrong. Magnussen stopped on the track and retired due to malfunction. Minutes later, the same thing happened in the pit stop with Grosjean who stopped on the side of the track.

Hamilton and Vettel

The Haas technical mistakes not only cost them 22 points but also turned the scenario of the whole race around. The virtual safety car was activated to lift the Haas car off the track. Hamilton, having pitted eight laps earlier, had to abide to a set time as he toured the circuit. But no such restriction applied to Vettel as the Ferrari came in for what was in effect a free stop, saving Vettel over 10 seconds of lap time and enabling him to re-emerge just ahead of a puzzled Hamilton.

Chasing the top three Vettel, Hamilton and Raikkonen was the Australian Daniel Ricciardo who pushed Raikkonen hard but the Finn, with experience under his belt, never looked behind.

Good news also came in the form of Fernando Alonso leading Mclaren to fifth place, squashing all doubts and setbacks of last year, pushing Alonso to tell his team on the radio that they can now fight for the season. With their new Renault engines swapped with the rubbish Honda of last year, “the car has great potential and a lot to be unlocked”, said Alonso. Still early in the season to judge the durability of Mclaren, but at least it’s a bright start.

Just like last year, Hamilton won pole position in Australia and then Vettel won the race. Last year when this happened many expected a hot season and even for Vettel to win the title but the competition didn’t last long at the end and Hamilton dominated as usual with an unstoppable car.

Yes, this could be considered an exciting start to the season but what else can be a game changer? Tuning and engine swapping might be the winning factors for team strategies especially with big teams. Also, getting the best use out of the engine without blowing it up, and getting new power units at the right time in the season in addition to the new hyper soft tyres. Toto Wolff and Maurizio Arrivabene certainly have a lot of toys to play with, but wait, Arrivabene seems to have better functioning ones, with two solid drivers playing on the podium every race, putting much pressure on Wolff’s main man Hamilton.

So if it stays like that for long, with Bottas having a hard time finding confidence, Wolff might start thinking about his previous mistakes in spoiling Hamilton and not investing in a proper team since the departure of Nico Rosberg.

See you in Bahrain on 6 April.

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