The long wait for the 2017 Formula One Season to begin ended at the end of March. A new era of regulations creating more aggressive looking cars with wider tyres and revised rear wings had generated a lot of interest over the winter break. The takeover by Liberty Media had also seen huge advances in social media presence since the end of 2016 too.
However, the opening race of this much-hyped new era didn’t really live up to expectations at all, and the answer to the question above is, not that much at all really. The faster cars produced Melbourne’s shortest ever race (true, it was only just over 4 seconds quicker than the previous shortest race, and it was shortened by one lap after an aborted first start…) but only the third fastest in terms of average speed – both the 2004 and 2007 races were completed at higher speeds.
Lewis Hamilton started the Australian Grand Prix from pole position for the sixth time, tying Ayrton Senna’s record. It was also his and Mercedes fourth in a row at this track. At the start of the race, Hamilton led with Sebastian Vettel putting him under pressure from the outset, gradually slipping back but always keeping the gap reasonably close.
Also new for 2017 are more durable tyres. This allowed drivers to push harder for longer – contributing to the brisk pace spoken about above – and lap times generally came down with every lap as fuel was burnt rather than increasing as in recent years. Some signs of overheating began for Hamilton around lap 12/13, when he began to complain of grip troubles. His lap times showed his problems but we never really saw them drop like a stone – the cliff edge drop off – that we are used to either. Hamilton and Mercedes therefore changed tyres earlier than they had planned, allowing the Ferrari of Vettel to pound around, pit and come out in front of Hamilton. When Hamilton rejoined, it was behind the Red Bull of Max Verstappen and he lost a chunk of time. This really gave the race to Vettel.
Valtteri Bottas, in his Mercedes debut, came through to third having a steady, if unspectacular, race. Kimi Raikkonen was fourth having lost lots of time in his first stint. Max Verstappen finished in fifth in the end.
Force India’s Sergio Perez had pulled off a seemingly rare overtaking move to claim seventh from Carlos Sainz Jnr. Daniil Kyvat finished ninth, having run briefly in sixth after a long first stint, gifting that place to the returning Felipe Massa.
Esetban Ocon grabbed the final point, although McLaren’s Fernando Alonso had looked to be on course for that for a long time, some damage forcing him to retire before the end of the race.
However, Vettel came through to win for Ferrari, raising the prospect of a much closer championship fight this year than in recent seasons. This was only the ninth time Mercedes have been defeated in the 60 races since the V6 hybrid turbo engine formula was introduced, and the first time anyone other than them or one of their drivers has led the constructors or drivers championships for almost three years. The victory was Vettel’s 43rd and Ferrari’s show of strength went further with Kimi Raikkonen claiming his 44th (only Michael Schumacher has more – 77).