Team-Mate Wars: Australian Grand Prix

Date published: April 5 2017

Andrew Davies takes a look at who landed the opening blows as we head into the second round in China.

Mercedes

Hamilton 1 – Bottas 0

Hamilton has come back from his winter break like a man re-focused on the task in hand. The fact that he was beaten by Vettel in a race he could have won will only have sharpened that focus. From the pre-season tests it was viewed by many that Bottas might leave a gap for Sebastian to place himself in, which is exactly what he did in Melbourne. Had Bottas been on the front row, then it would almost certainly have been a Silver Arrows victory had Valtteri kept the place going into Turn 1. Neither driver made any serious mistakes but Lewis has a clear advantage.

 

Ferrari

Vettel 1 – Raikkonen 0

Friday practice might have looked a bit dodgy for the Scuderia, but once they got the balance of the SF70H sorted Vettel was in a glorious position to exploit any weakness in Mercedes strategy. Sebastian’s win was heralded as a great new dawn, his first win since 2015, but there have been times since then that it was only the wrong strategy call that denied Ferrari victory. It hasn’t been the lack of engineering grit that has kept them off the top step of the podium. Vettel pushed Hamilton all the way, and got the essential jump on Bottas. Raikkonen was adrift both in qualifying and the race. He can’t afford to do this for more than three races, because if there is one team that will start enforcing team orders, it’s the one based in Maranello. Which he works for.

 

Red Bull

Max Verstappen 1 – Daniel Ricciardo 0

Despite ominous engine problems encountered in Barcelona that necessitated the team switching to 2016 energy recovery solutions, Max Verstappen got very close to Kimi Raikkonen by the end of the race (although maybe Kimi was just knackered). Daniel’s problems cascaded from one to another after his qualifying trip through the gravel. He was lucky to get the car back to the pits after getting stranded on the way to the grid, but even that problem was not properly fixable. From a team-mate point of view it was probably good news for him that Max could do no better than fifth, but he’ll be far more concerned about the team’s overall competitiveness (and the lack of a Renault upgrade till Canada). What will be interesting in the races ahead is whether Max can deploy his singular talent – to overtake other cars. Because if he can’t, and Lewis can’t, we’re stuck with a season of strategy or very big DRS.

 

Force India

Sergio Perez 1 – Esteban Ocon 0

The most incredible news story came out before the race started in Melbourne. Sergio Perez, who’d bulked up with muscle to compensate for the new g-loads, was asked to lose weight. Yes, Sergio Perez! Certainly the opening lap of the race showed that he was hungry as he chomped up Daniil Kvyat to gain a place. He’d already outqualified Esteban Ocon, which in 2017 is going to be more of the race story than it ever was before. Ocon hung on to Fernando Alonso in 11th for most of the race before finally making his way past and successfully outbraking Nico Hulkenberg into Turn 1. Sergio was already a long way down the road in what is being dubbed playfully, “the pink missile”.

 

Williams

Felipe Massa 1 – Lance Stroll 0

In one race Felipe Massa proved why it was a wise choice for the Williams team to go back to an ‘old dependable’ rather than opt for one of Mercedes’ young guns. Obviously the Martini contract prevented them (because one driver needed to be older than 25), but it was clear that Felipe is still a force to be reckoned with and his set-up information invaluable. Stroll’s F1 baptism of fire continued with a severe impact against the barriers, demanding a lot of spare parts, at the first race of the year, at the furthest point from the team’s Grove base. Much was made of his six places made up on the opening lap, but that was thanks to the kind of move into Turn 1 that so regularly ends in carbon fibre and also gave him a huge flatspot that necessitated a pit-stop to rectify it. However these are early early days and if the score is Massa 12 – Stroll 8 by season’s end, it will still be a massive achievement for the youngster. Not all teenagers can be Max Verstappen.

 

McLaren

Fernando Alonso 1 – Stoffel Vandoorne 0

Given the unbolted nature of Honda’s engineering right now it’s difficult to work out if Vandoorne’s speed defecit to Fernando Alonso is down to problems or talent. We’ll know by Silverstone. In qualifying Fernando thumped him, but Vandoorne’s tyre warm-up in Q1 was interrupted so he didn’t get a proper run. Alonso’s race was far better than anything the testing nightmare in Barcelona had hinted at, helped by the fact that DRS isn’t so much use this year. So the cars that would normally have swept past were held at bay. Expect to see DRS zones enlarged in the future if thing don’t get better in Shanghai.

 

Toro Rosso

Carlos Sainz 1 – Daniil Kvyat 0

Both drivers did exceptionally well, but Sainz edged Kvyat in both qualifying and the race, although Sergio Perez managed to do the impossible and get past them both. Sainz allowed Kvyat past to attack Sergio in the closing stages, but that proved unsuccessful and a pneumatic top-up for the Russian’s car restored the order they were in at the flag. Given how close Carlos Sainz was to Verstappen, the fact that Kvyat now looks on terms with Sainz says a lot about his return of confidence.

 

Haas

Romain Grosjean 1 – Kevin Magnussen 0

Romain produced an amazing qualifying performance, an all-time high of P6 for Haas. It wasn’t quite the same for Kevin Magnussen. The Dane reckoned he too could have made it into Q3, but an off-track moment on his best lap settled that and he started from P17. In the race he got away with driving straight into the side of Marcus Ericsson and incurring no penalty.

 

Renault

Nico Hulkenberg 1 – Jolyon Palmer 0

Not too bad a debut for Nico Hulkenberg, but Palmer endured a miserable weekend hardly better than Daniel Ricciardo after he totalled around 20 laps across the practice sessions that included a crash and a lost gearbox.

Sauber

Marcus Ericsson 1 – Antonio  Giovinazzi 0

From a technical standpoint, Ericsson comes away with the TMW points because he outqualified his rookie team-mate who had minimal running in the Sauber and even less round Albert Park. Then the Swede’s race was entirely compromised by the clumsy Kevin Magnussen. However Ericsson only beat the Ferrari reserve driver by two tenths at the very death of Q1. Beforehand David Coulthard said, “if he gets within half a second of his team-mate I’d think that was a great result.” It was an amazing result and raises the heady prospect of finally, finally, seeing an Italian driving a Ferrari again. That’s got to be good news for anyone who loves F1.

Star of the Race: Antonio Giovinazzi
Overtaking move of the Race: Sergio Perez – around the outside of Carlos Sainz at Turn 3
Big Wuss: Pascal Wehrlein

The Last Word:

Mark Webber talking to Channel 4’s presenter, Welshman Steve Jones about what Bernie’s going to do after his time in F1. “It’s tough, he’s got to retire with ony £2.5 billion. You couldn’t spend that in Wales could you…”

Andrew Davies