The wait is over. Formula 1 warms up its engines in view of the official start which will take place on Sunday 25 March 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. We will start without the reigning World Champion, Nico Rosberg, but Mercedes remains the main favorite to win the world title with Lewis Hamilton. The pre-season tests, however, showed a Ferrari in great shape and very close to the Anglo-German cars. But warns Sebastian Vettel:
"In March it's early to know if we'll be in contention for the title, we'll see it in October-November. Mercedes are still the favorites for the title. They have been very strong over the last three years and will certainly be strong now despite the new rules, so it's clear who is the favourite".
Hamilton's reply was immediate:
"Ferrari was the fastest in the winter tests and I'd say they are the favourites. I haven't had many battles on track with Seb and it would be a pleasure. I think the fans would like it too".
As for the competitiveness of Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel says:
"We are here to find out and nothing is certain. If we look at the car's performance, there was certainly a big step forward and we also felt it on the track. It also depends on the new rules, but for sure this is the fastest car we've driven".
It is still too early, however, to say too much:
"We've done several laps and we can be happy about it, but we're not certain. I don't know what those on the outside expect from us, but we as a team right now don't have any expectations. We hope to be with the leaders, this is our goal and to get there you have to work a lot. We will focus on every single step forward and we will keep pushing. If we are in a good position at the beginning and continue like this until the end then we have a good chance".
For Hamilton, however, Ferrari is bluffing:
"I think Seb wants to avoid the wait that has arisen for them, but their pace was evident in testing. However, I'm curious to see Red Bull too because they were quite behind Ferrari in testing I haven't seen them bring any updates during testing and I'm curious to see what they bring here. Having more drivers and teams fighting for wins is what Formula 1 is all about and I hope that's the case this year. We dominated for three years , now the rules have changed precisely to favor a change and the recovery of others with respect to Mercedes. We are ready for any challenge".
The season hasn't started yet, but there is already great concern at McLaren. The English team, which uses Honda engines, immediately had to accept the criticisms of its top driver, Fernando Alonso:
"We haven't reached the expected power and reliability target. They're working day and night to improve, but we have to wake up as soon as possible and have an immediate reaction, otherwise the season slips by quickly. I'm not happy, but this is the situation and we hope to improve. I've already asked the team for a very strong and very quick reaction because nobody is here waiting for us".
"This is not a charity race, it's Formula 1, so we need to change gears and raise our level. In Melbourne, I expect an end very difficult week and an uphill start to the World Championship".
Ferrari's first victory of the season comes even before the engines are started. At the end of an investigation initiated thanks to a request for clarification from the team, sent from Maranello to Paris during the winter, even before the winter tests, the FIA is asking Red Bull and Mercedes to modify the suspensions. It is the race director, Charlie Whiting, in a meeting with the press, who explains the latest evolutions of a story, precisely that of the so-called intelligent suspensions, which in any case promises to hold the court for the entire first part of the season. The question raised by Ferrari was very simple: does the FIA consider legitimate an intelligent suspension system which, in addition to performing its traditional task, also helps the car to improve its aerodynamic set-up by reading the track and behaving accordingly? The question was obviously not accidental . In Maranello they had observed how both Red Bull and Mercedes in previous seasons had sometimes used strange suspensions and, before following their competitors on that level, they wanted to ascertain that it was legal (at least this is the official version: in reality, in F1 the request for clarifications is a way to block opponents who have undertaken initiatives bordering on the regulation). Once Ferrari's request was registered, the FIA launched an investigation which continued under cover during the Barcelona tests. Whiting explains:
"We wanted to see if some suspensions served only as suspensions or if they were devices that predominantly increased the aerodynamic performance of the cars".
In the end it was understood that both Mercedes and Red Bull were not in order. And therefore the FIA asked for the changes. Now it remains to be seen what impact these changes will have on machines. If, apparently, little should change for Mercedes (already last year they only used this system occasionally), the thing seems to be much more problematic for Red Bull which would have built the entire car around the concept of intelligent suspension. The topic of intelligent suspension was not the only one dealt with by Whiting. The FIA has in fact promised more careful checks also on the power supply of the engines. In recent days there has been a lot of talk about the possibility that Mercedes (and, according to some, also Ferrari) use a complex system capable of using oil to enrich the petrol and thus have a sort of overboost in qualifying . Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, welcomes suspicions with a smile:
"Our advantage in qualifying was only the result of better engine mapping".
But the FIA, at least in words, wants to see clearly:
"Here in Australia we will inspect all oil systems and then do random checks throughout the season - we need to make sure no one is using oil as fuel".
In any case, on Thursday 23 March 2017, a few minutes of the press conference were enough for Lewis Hamilton to recover the scene of a Formula 1 in a perpetual personality crisis and to confirm the sentence issued a few days ago by Ecclestone, who in this environment, as we know, does cassation:
"Lewis is the best World Champion we have ever had in the way he promotes the image of the category".
Ambiguous look, gold chain around his neck, vaguely American accent (to the delight of the British press), Hamilton immediately makes it clear who the star is by engaging in a small psychological brawl with the other drivers, a mind game from the past at the end of which the positions on the pitch are very clear to everyone. He is the man to beat. The others have to try to catch it. It starts as a joke when an American journalist asks what they would like from the new owners of Liberty Media to relaunch F1. Vettel and Ricciardo give an answer as good sons:
"A Grand Prix in Germany".
Says patriotic Sebastian Vettel.
"Nope, one in Vegas".
Daniel Ricciardo says.
"If anything in Miami…".
Lewis Hamilton corrects him, bored.
"And anyway what is needed is more girls. We need to give more passes to some girls. There are too many males in the paddock".
After the inevitable applause from the male audience, Fernando Alonso tries to snatch the scene from the Englishman:
"I agree with everyone… Or we could try to give everyone the same engine".
He closes with a joke Lewis Hamilton:
"Provided it's not a Honda".
Then, it's time to start the competitive part. And therefore to try to put pressure on the shoulders of the competition. Starting with Ferrari.
"Up to now theirs has been the fastest car, the one with the best pace".
Says Hamilton pointing to Vettel,
"And instead I see that Sebastian, who is usually a very enthusiastic guy, is trying to hide these days... I would say that they are the favorites here in Melbourne".
Then it's up to Red Bull:
"I'm very curious to see what car they will bring here. In testing they were quite behind Ferrari. And yet in Barcelona I didn't see him bring anything particular to the track. So I suspect they will here, and I can't wait to figure out what it is".
As far as Mercedes is concerned, the game is exactly the opposite. Lighten.
"No team has ever won twice in a row if there was a change in regulations between one and the other. They are done on purpose to break the continuity. We are here to try".
Hamilton's is not the only attempt to disturb the eve of his opponents. In an interview, Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, admitted that he would see Vettel well in Mercedes in 2018.
"It would be remiss of us not to count someone like Sebastian on the list".
A four-time German World Champion in a Mercedes would sound very good:
"But for now I hope things go well with Lewis and Bottas".
Between flattery and sirens, Ferrari and Vettel try to maintain concentration.
"There's time to talk about my contract (expiring this year, ed.)... For now, I can say that this is the fastest car I've ever driven".
Says Vettel referring not so much to his Gina, as he renamed the new Ferrari, but to the new package of rules.
"Mercedes? A team that has proven to be so competitive is always the opponent to beat".
Friday 24 March 2017, after the first day of free practice of the season, Mercedes is already, once again, the car to beat. In Melbourne, Lewis Hamilton dominated both the morning and afternoon sessions, making a big voice and, in the end, placing 0.5 seconds between himself and Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari, but above all restoring the distance with his pursuers after the two weeks of testing winter in Barcelona had mixed things up a bit. In addition to the flying lap, the Englishman's car seemed superior to the Ferrari, even there by about 0.5 seconds, even on the race simulation. Nonetheless, it must be said that the Ferrari does not behave badly. While not reaching the performance of the World Champion car, the Sf70H proves it has potential and manages to stay ahead of a Red Bull whose behavior is still mysterious. Sebastian Vettel sums up, fresh off the car after the second session:
"This was a two-faced day for us. This morning I had a small problem that kept me out for a long time, but the team is working well. There are many things we can improve on, balance is one of these but we have time and we can work on it tonight".
At the moment, the obvious difficulty that Valtteri Bottas is going through is arousing some thoughts in Mercedes. The young Finn chosen to replace World Champion Nico Rosberg really doesn't seem to find the right feeling with the car.
One only needs to see him walking around the paddock to get the impression of a boy a little scared by the scale of the challenge which, suddenly, he found himself facing. Explains the Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, when questioned on the matter:
"We have to stay close to him as a team, and try to help him gain confidence with the car. I'm sure he'll find the pace and, above all, his place within the team as soon as possible".
The question is actually quite delicate. Because given that Lewis remains the big favorite for the Drivers' World Championship, for the Constructors' championship things don't seem as obvious as they have been in recent years. Ferrari, at least according to what has been seen so far, is much closer, and Red Bull could also prove to be more competitive: and if Mercedes finds itself unable to count on the points brought in by the second driver, then the race for the World Championship Builders could turn out to be more complicated than expected. Be that as it may, Sebastian Vettel starts the season chasing Lewis Hamilton. The Friday free practice confirms that Mercedes remains the car to beat. Says the German helot, at the end of the tests:
"Satisfied? Honestly, I'm not just focusing on the time. Overall I'm not very happy with the balance of the car because it's not what I want, it's not bad but you can do better. There's still a lot of work ahead of us but we've always been realistic. We'll see how we go tomorrow when everyone shows their potential, today it's hard to talk but it doesn't matter to us. It's been a mixed day, this morning didn't go very well because I had a small problem that kept me out of the session though the team is working well, there are many things we can improve on".
Kimi Raikkone is satisfied, fourth at the end of the first day of practice:
"Overall we can be happy, we learned a lot and we know where we need to improve. The result obtained is very difficult to compare with the tests, this track is special and doesn't give a 100% clear picture. It's hard to say where we are now, not we know the fuel levels of the other cars that were running today".
On the other hand, Maurizio Arrivabene, the team principal of the Maranello team, talks about Vettel's future:
"Vettel's contract? Talking about contracts now is just a distraction. I would like to see Sebastian happy during the season because it would mean that our car is fast. We worked in particular on the balance of the car, this morning we struggled a little more than normal. Ferrari's position? I have a clear idea, we had a clear idea in Barcelona, we had our program and we're following it here too. To win in Australia? As I've always said we want to keep our feet on the ground, we have to work tonight and tomorrow and then we'll see on Sunday, we still have many things to do, I don't want to make predictions".
Lewis Hamilton is obviously satisfied, saying:
"Everything was 99 per cent perfect. After struggling with some problems in Barcelona, we didn't know if it would be the same here. The encouraging thing is that we hit the track just a week later and the car is right where it should be. Everything is going great and the guys have done a fantastic job. The tires worked very well today too. We knew after the first practice that the Ferraris weren't at their best but of course in the second free practice they were immediately fast again. We'll see tomorrow how we are on serious. In any case I will push as hard as I can to win this race".
Valterri Bottas, the second Mercedes driver, was eagerly awaited:
"The gap from Hamilton? It's never easy to try to be the fastest but it's always the goal, it's still free practice and we'll see tomorrow. I think we made a good impression, but I think Ferrari is also pretty close. Not I know how much faster they can go compared to today, we'll find out tomorrow in qualifying, but Ferrari seems very close".
That it would be a catchphrase was already understood at Christmas, when, during the annual lunch for good wishes, Marchionne explained that Sebastian Vettel's stay at Ferrari will depend on the 2017 season, on what type of car Ferrari will be able to give to German, and how the German will behave during the year. However, that the catchphrase would explode like this, even before the start of the season, was unpredictable. And instead for two days now the paddock has been talking about Vettel's contract and his possible move to Mercedes in 2018. What triggered the bomb was the climate of coldness that welcomed the arrival of Valtteri Bottas in Mercedes, instead of the World Champion, Nico Rosberg. Since the day of the announcement, fans and insiders, in Stuttgart and beyond, consider the Finn not suitable for the role. Bottas himself contributed to this perplexity as both at the Barcelona tests and here on the first day of free practice, he showed that he suffered a lot from the challenge with Hamilton. This has aroused more than one concern, especially as regards the Constructors' World Championship (for which Ferrari has instead become very threatening), but above all it has anticipated the start, by Mercedes, of the selection process for 2018 Year for which Vettel is currently free.
"Not considering Vettel as one of the possible alternatives for next year would be a form of negligence on our part".
Toto Wolff said, aware that bringing a German driver to Mercedes with four world titles on his bulletin board and a Ferrari pedigree would be an epochal coup. Vettel's contract expires this year. In Maranello nobody wants to address the issue. Nor Vettel, who first wants to evaluate the team's real reaction and investment capabilities after a disastrous year like the one just past. Nor Ferrari, which is not entirely satisfied with the driver's behavior. Maurizio Arrivabene continues to say in the press conference:
"Vettel's renewal is not on the agenda. Talking about it today would only distract him, so I don't want to touch that. What I want is for Seb to be happy during this season because he would like to say that our car is very fast. We'll see about the rest".
The day before it was Vettel himself who spoke on the subject, also refusing to anticipate choices or preferences:
"For now I'm focused on Ferrari, what I want is to bring the title back to Maranello".
After the first free practice session, the German looked quite in a bad mood. He blamed the various problems he had with the car, and blamed Red Bull's performance above expectations. During the evening, however, he tries to appear more serene, despite the 0.5 second delay against Lewis Hamilton, ending up with a joke from a German beer hall. But this display of good humor does not convince the paddock observers who are now increasingly numerous betting on a consensual divorce from Ferrari at the end of the season. The most explicit of all is Helmut Marko, Red Bull consultant, as well as Sebastian Vettel's former boss at the time of the four world titles:
“Eventually Seb will try to return to success and therefore he will choose what is best for him; on the other hand, Mercedes, which has chosen Bottas only as a temporary solution, will try to bring him home".
We will see. Meanwhile, on Saturday 25 March 2017, during the third and final free practice session, Sebastian Vettel sets the track record, lapping in 1'23"380. Valtteri Bottas follows in second place, ahead of Lewis Hamilton by 0.011 seconds. The session is interrupted early, when Lance Stroll's Williams crashed into the wall. The gearbox was replaced on the Canadian's car: for this reason he suffered a penalty with the loss of five positions on the starting grid. Furthermore, Pascal Wehrlein, the Sauber driver, he gives up on continuing his commitment over the weekend, due to the worsening of his pain, due to an accident that occurred in a demonstration race, carried out in winter.Antonio Giovinazzi makes his F1 debut in his place, using the number 36, which was missing in the race used by JJ Lehto from the German Grand Prix in 1990. He is the first Italian to race in the World Championship since the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2011. A few hours later, during Q1, Valtteri Bottas sets the fastest time, followed by Lewis Hamilton . In this very first phase, both Stoffel Vandoorne and Jolyon Palmer were unable to enter the track due to technical problems with their respective cars. The fight for the passage to the following phase sees Fernando Alonso positioning himself in twelfth position, while both Stoffel Vandoorne and Jolyon Palmer fail, once they leave the pits, to score valid times for the passage to Q3. At the end of the phase, in addition to the two, also the two rookies Antonio Giovinazzi and Lance Stroll, as well as Kevin Magnussen, are eliminated. In the next stage, Valtteri Bottas immediately sets a record time, followed again by Lewis Hamilton. Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen follow in third and fourth, while the two Red Bull drivers are in fifth and sixth, but one second off Valtteri Bottas' time. Fernando Alonso suffers engine problems, which does not allow him to fight for entry into Q3. In the final part of the stage Romain Grosjean overtook the two Force Indias and moved into the top ten.
Fernando Alonso, Nico Hülkenberg, Marcus Ericsson and the two Force India drivers are eliminated. The regular running of Q3 was threatened by the arrival of rain, therefore the drivers decided to get on track immediately. Lewis Hamilton sets the lap record again, ahead of Valtteri Bottas by 0.3 seconds. Between the two is Sebastian Vettel, 0.002 seconds faster than the Finn. Shortly after Daniel Ricciardo is the author of a spin, crashing into the barriers of the track. The session is terminated. Of the five drivers who have not set a valid time yet, only Romain Grosjean immediately takes to the track, while the other four await the final moments. In the last attempt, Valtteri Bottas improves, as does Lewis Hamilton. Between the two fits again Sebastian Vettel. Kimi Räikkönen is fourth, ahead of Max Verstappen and Romain Grosjean. There are therefore two verdicts issued by Melbourne after the first qualifying of the season. The first: Mercedes is still the car to beat. The second: Ferrari has done an excellent job, has recovered much of the gap it had last year and, in fact, has achieved the objective it set for itself: that of frightening Mercedes. To tell the truth there would also be a third verdict and it concerns Bottas. The Finn called to replace Rosberg made too many mistakes in the decisive moments and with Ferrari in these conditions it is extremely risky for the Constructors' World Championship, given that Maranello has two very strong drivers (at least in theory, given that Raikkonen has disappointed at least as much as Bottas, eventually making up for six tenths of a second from his teammate, a little justifiable gap). Ferrari is still very close. Much more than could have been expected just three months earlier. And smiles Sebastian Vettel, while he says:
"I'm very satisfied with my lap. Especially with how I finished it, a little less than how it started, I lost a lot of time due to my mistake. I don't think we had the potential to take pole anyway. But tomorrow in we can say something".
The impression is that, regardless of how the race will go, in Maranello they will have to be careful not to repeat last season's mistakes. Also in 2016, in Melbourne, the Ferraris did quite well, but then they got lost. Five years after Jarno Trulli's farewell, an Italian driver returns to compete in a Formula 1 race. Antonio Giovinazzi, GP2 Vice World Champion and third Ferrari driver, will take part in the Australian Grand Prix aboard the Sauber. The news came as a surprise a couple of hours before the start of the third free practice session. Pascal Wehrlein, the Sauber driver, withdrew for physical reasons. After missing the first winter test in Barcelona due to the after-effects of a bad accident at the Race of Champions, he had forced himself to take part in the latter, despite obviously being in precarious physical condition.
A sensational mistake by the young German and by Sauber who, forcing recovery times, obtained a double negative result: that of having compromised rehabilitation on the one hand and of not having given Giovinazzi enough training. Who today will find himself participating in his first qualifying sessions in Formula 1 after having only done one free practice session. A very particular career that of Antonio Giovinazzi, whose absolute talent, which exploded last year in the GP2 season finale, is unanimously recognized by the entire paddock, so much so that last year Ferrari, on specific indications from Sergio Marchionne, decided to put him under contract. Today, also thanks to the choice of the Maranello team (which supplies Sauber engines and gearboxes), the big opportunity arrives: if it were to continue to surprise - as it did during the winter tests - it would raise its chances for a place in Rosso next season, as both Vettel's and Raikkonen's contracts are about to expire. Antonio Giovinazzi, how did it go?
"Saturday morning they called me from Ferrari, and they told me I had to go drive the Sauber. Their pilot (Wehrlein, ed) had not yet recovered from an accident. At first I thought it was a joke. Also because it was the first night I was able to get some sleep, due to the time zone which is heavy here in Australia. Then I realized it was true. I changed into my overalls, took off the red, put on the white, and went".
Without evidence? Without knowing the car?
"Yes, I only had an hour of time. Luckily I already knew the pedal board, it is identical to the one tested in Barcelona. I got on and went. At Ferrari I've done a lot of simulators in recent weeks. Above all, it helped me to get to know the circuit".
Did you imagine his debut like this? Or did he dream of it in Ferrari?
"It was undoubtedly a bit strange. Up until the evening before, I was the third Ferrari driver, then I found myself back on track with Sauber. But that's okay. The important thing is to have made his debut with F1".
It was said that he was beginning to be a little impatient in the role of only the third pilot.
"But no, I'm happy with what I'm doing at Ferrari. Working with Vettel and Raikkonen is interesting. I see how they move, talk to the mechanics, adjust the set up. This year is fine. Then we see".
Was he afraid?
"No, I was just a little worried because I couldn't prepare for the weekend as usual, taking care of training, nutrition, concentration: I went to the car and said to myself: Antonio, just try not to make mistakes. He goes to the limit but calmly. Then in the end we'll see where you are".
Martina Franca was left in suspense… Any dedication in particular?
"To my family who have always been close to me, and to my attorney (Enrico Zanarini, the same as Fisichella, ed)".
Is it true that your dad still keeps the smurf in his house, the kart from when he was 3 years old?
"Yes, along with all the other karts I've owned".
It is now a collector's item: you are the first Italian to return to Formula 1…
"I'm really proud of it. But the difficult thing now is to stay in F1".
How do you do?
"I do not know. For now I'm back to being the third Ferrari driver. Then he will see".
On Sunday 26 March 2017, just before the start of the Australian Grand Prix, technical problems emerged on Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull, forcing the Australian driver to start from the pit lane. At the end of the formation lap the starting procedure is interrupted: thus a new formation lap is carried out, and the race is shortened by one lap. At the start, Lewis Hamilton got off to a good start and maintained first position, followed by Sebastian Vettel, Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen, who successfully defended himself from Max Verstappen's attack. Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo starts the race two laps down. The top three seem to have a much higher pace than the rest of the group; the positions, at least in the upper part of the ranking, remain blocked for several laps. During lap 12 Romain Grosjean, who is seventh, makes his first pit stop, and retires shortly after, due to a water leak. During lap 17, Lewis Hamilton changed tires, switching to the use of the Soft tyres. Behind Sergio Pérez passes Carlos Sainz Jr., and rises to eighth position. After a very fast first lap, Max Verstappen slowed down the pace of Lewis Hamilton, who was unable to pass the Dutch driver. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel changed tires on lap 23, rejoining the track, albeit just slightly, ahead of Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, still in battle. In the following laps, Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen also made a pit stop, thus leaving the first position to Sebastian Vettel. The German driver precedes Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen, Max Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat, who hasn't changed tires yet. The Russian driver stops in the pits on lap 32, rejoining the race in ninth position, behind Carlos Sainz Jr.. Meanwhile, on lap 26, Daniel Ricciardo definitively retires from the race, due to an engine problem . During lap 46 Lance Stroll retired due to brake failure; four laps later the race also ends for Kevin Magnussen. During lap 53, Fernando Alonso was unable to defend himself against overtaking, in fact simultaneously, by both Nico Hülkenberg and Esteban Ocon. The Spaniard from McLaren retires shortly after due to an out-of-order suspension.
Nothing else happens and Sebastian Vettel wins the Australian Grand Prix, ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas at the finish line. Kimi Raikkonen is fourth, followed by Max Verstappen, Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz Jr., Daniil Kvyat and Esteban Ocon. The Ferrari season opens in the best possible way. Sebastian Vettel wins the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, beating a confused, errant and a little presumptuous Mercedes. And overturning all pre-season predictions. But the evident demerits of the World Champions must not obscure the merits of the Maranello team even for a moment. Indeed, in a certain sense they underline them. Because behind the sensational mistake that compromised Lewis Hamilton's race - an inexplicable early pit stop that forced the Englishman to come back behind Max Verstappen and opened the door to Vettel's triumphal march - there is all the pressure that Ferrari has managed to create these days on the Anglo-German wall. And to think that at the start things had turned out in the best way for Hamilton. Dirt on the side of the track where the two Ferrari drivers started had benefited the cWorld Champion, who had gone into the first corner by a large margin over Vettel. Considering that the new cars are wider and that they have much more efficient aerodynamics and that overtaking on a circuit like this was basically impossible, arriving in front of the first corner meant having won half a Grand Prix. But Vettel had the merit of not giving up an inch of asphalt. He stuck to Hamilton, showing aggressiveness in his rival's mirrors and, in fact, causing Mercedes to make the wrong choice. For fear of the undercut, the engineers of the Anglo-German team have in fact decided to anticipate their move and have called Lewis to the pits. At the exit, the surprise: the #44 car ended up behind the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, the most difficult driver to overtake. Hamilton's race ended at exactly that moment.
The Englishman used up the best part of his Softs by looking closely at the exhausts of Verstappen's car which was much slower than him and Vettel's Ferrari, which in fact gained the necessary margin in front to pit and show up, in complete safety , right in front of Verstappen. At the end of the operation, Vettel's car had a free road available, while Hamilton had hell: the tires with the most laps completed slowly gave way, giving Vettel a margin of peace of mind and even Bottas the illusion of being able to reach the mate. Ferrari's victory - missing from Singapore 2015 - is a well-deserved result. Which rewards the autarkic choice of Sergio Marchionne, that of making the second lines of Maranello responsible after the ouster of James Alllison.
"We have the intelligence and the talent to do it".
Sergio Marchionne had said, explaining his choice. He was right. Regardless of what happens from Shanghai onwards, it is undeniable that the improvements achieved by the Italian designers are astounding. The only downside of the day was Kimi Raikkonen's performance, 22 seconds behind his teammate. An unjustifiable result.
"Come on Ferrari guys, this is for us, all of us, here on the track and in Maranello, thanks to everyone, great work, great car, calm down".
Sebastian Vettel is the first to cross the finish line of the Australian Grand Prix and thanks, in perfect Italian, the Maranello team for their great work.
"Great Sebastian, very good, a hammer, congratulations".
The Ferrari team principal, Maurizio Arrivabene, answered him. Who later tells the media:
"The perfect weekend? Perfect is when you have two drivers on the podium. I'm happy for all the guys in the team, they worked with great humility, modesty, professionalism, at home and here. I'm happy for Ferrari. We said that Ferrari is everyone and this is everyone's success. Great strategy? A success dictated by a great car, a great Ferrari".
After the party on the podium, Sebastian Vettel says:
"It was a fantastic Grand Prix. It was pretty crazy, in a good way, to see all these Ferrari flags on my comeback lap. Thanks for the support, it's what we need because the team work very hard, the guys haven't slept much here or at the factory, but the car has been handling really well and it's really fun to drive, so a great day".
For Vettel it is victory number 43 in his career, the fourth with Ferrari.
"We are over the moon, it was a very difficult winter and an incredible race. I wasn't totally happy with the start, maybe I was a little too nervous, I had a little slip at the sprint from the start, Lewis went a little better than me, I had to keep Bottas at bay, then in the first corner I managed to get out quite well, and I tried to put pressure on to communicate a message that we are here, that we are here to fight".
The key moment of the race was the first pit stop:
"I had a little bit of luck when Lewis came out of the pits into traffic, but then I was able to hold on with the tyres, the car worked well, so excellent work, and then there's great support here on track, I felt a busy crowd in the last sector that gave us an extra boost. A car that allows us to compete? Yes, Lewis couldn't push much more than he did and the tires allow us to push. I could have gone on forever, it was a fantastic race".
If Vettel oozes happiness from every pore, the same cannot be said of Raikkonen, fourth at the finish line:
"After qualifying we understood many things, but it was late at that point. We struggled a bit with the first set of tyres, with the softs the car behaved better, the way I want it, but at that point we were a bit behind. We know what we have to do to adapt the car to my style. I'm not worried but a little disappointed with fourth place. Sebastian Vettel's victory is great for the team, but on a personal level I'm disappointed, even though we finished race and score points, something that hadn't happened to me recently in this Grand Prix".
Sergio Marchionne also rejoices.
"It's about time. I'm happy for the team and our fans who have never abandoned us. They've been waiting for this victory for about a year and a half. It was a thrill to hear the Italian anthem play again. Sebastian had a great race, and I'm sure Kimi will soon be there fighting with his team-mate. And it's naturally a success to share with the whole team, both on the track and in Maranello, because only teamwork allows you to reach important goals. Congratulations also to Antonio for his debut in Formula 1".
Says the Ferrari president, also referring to Antonio Giovinazzi, who took to the track with the Sauber and finished the race in twelfth position.
"Now, however, the fundamental thing is to remind us that this is not the point of arrival but only the first step of a long journey that must see us all committed to improving every day".
For his part, Lewis Hamilton pays tribute to Ferrari and Vettel.
"Congratulations to Ferrari, they did a fantastic job this weekend, we had a great weekend as a team, but we struggled with the tires in the race. We had to stop because we had no more grip and then we fell behind Red Bull. Sometimes it goes like this, overall it was a great race, with good points for the team. The strategy was to stop on lap 19, I stopped on lap 18 but we had to do it. We have to study the data, I struggled in the first stint and I wasn't able to be fast enough in the second, also because I was blocked by traffic. Did I expect such a fast Ferrari? Yes, I said so after the tests".
Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, acknowledges having the wrong strategy:
"I'm very emotional like the Italians. I got angry because the car didn't go fast and we made a tire change too early. We went in three and four laps too early, we made a mistake. Ferrari was faster today. Vettel was very close They are the winners today. Bottas? It was a weekend where he improved, he went quite fast towards the end of the race and I'm happy".
The Austrian manager, as well as being one of the most influential people in the paddock, is also known for being a mild-mannered and usually composed man. For this reason, when the cameras framed him as he, blinded by rage, tried to punch down one of the servers in the box, then it was clear to everyone that something really big was happening on the track. The autarkic Ferrari, the one invented in the summer of 2016, more out of desperation than by choice, by Sergio Marchionne, had sent the Anglo-German superpower of motorsport into a tailspin. It is too early to say that the round, complete, convincing victory at Albert Park could be the dawn of a new era, as claimed on the sites and in the Maranello team's fan chats. Less favorable circuits will arrive, the adversaries will play around with their magic buttons, intelligent suspensions and enriched petrol, Hamilton will give up some concerts in Miami, and certainly Mercedes will once again be the first in its class. But in the meantime a grain of sand has been put in the gears. And the final outcome of the process that has been triggered is impossible to predict. To tell the truth, in Ferrari, they don't even try to predict it. And they do well, they would just get distracted. It is paradoxical to say this at the first race, but after all their objective - to present themselves at the start of this season with a competitive car - they have already achieved. Now it's just a matter of continuing to push as hard as possible, just to have no regrets at the end.
An ideal condition from a competitive point of view, all the pressure is placed on the shoulders of the opponents, in which not even the most optimistic of fans thought they could find themselves until a few months ago. And yes, the car that beat Mercedes was born in what seemed to be the darkest moment in Ferrari's history. It was just under a year ago. Summer was upon us, after three or four races Mercedes had already taken off and Red Bull had already made it clear that they were more competitive than Ferrari. Marchionne, furious, dismissed the technical director James Allison, now at Mercedes, and after a quick reconnaissance on the market he understood that no top designer had the intention of dedicating himself to the enterprise of reviving Ferrari. So he began to study a plan B. Power to the second lines, he decided, to those who had worked well in recent years, perhaps even well, but in the shadow of the biggest names or in other sectors of Ferrari. Responsibility for the project, which Allison had just had time to sketch, was thus handed over to Mattia Binotto, former number two in the engine area, promoted to number one in 2014 and finally, for the occasion, elevated to the rank of technical director. Around Binotto, a pool of Italian engineers, the red cooperative: the head of the chassis Simone Resta, the aerodynamicist Enrico Cardile, and the head of the power unit Lorenzo Sassi.
"Italian spirit, horizontal structure, teamwork".
These were the keywords of the revolution officially announced on 2 August 2016 by Sergio Marchionne. And greeted by general skepticism. In the end, however, he was right. Without going so far as to dust off the old commonplace of Italians who find themselves in difficulty, suffice it to say that Marchionne's idea, who is now enjoying his victory from Maranello, worked. Even Sebastian Vettel seems to struggle to give an explanation:
"We focused on what we had to do each time without looking around. Many things have happened in the last year, there has been a reshuffling of the cards. But we, especially in the last two months, have remained calm and worked".
According to Vettel, the real difference was made by feelings:
"Happiness in particular. In Maranello people were happy to work together. With each other. After all, there were no shortcuts, you had to work hard, think hard about what you were doing; and you only make all that sacrifice if your passion, your desire drives you".
It must be said that Vettel also put a lot of his into it. Not only on the track, in Melbourne (where he pushed like crazy) but also in the design phase of the car which, it is no coincidence, the same mechanics that he ran to embrace before playing the Mameli anthem seem to have sewn on.
"Ferrari's return is really impressive, they did a great job in Maranello".
The judgment is heavy. And it almost sounds like a verdict. It was issued by the president of the FIA, Jean Todt, the man who, together with Ross Brawn and Michael Schumacher, brought Ferrari back to the top of the world. Today Todt has another assignment, once again together with Ross Brawn (albeit on different sides), he is called to revive the fortunes of Formula 1 by making it a slightly more current show and, above all, attractive for the new generations. But, as is inevitable, the conversation often ends up revolving around the events of Maranello. President, let's start from the runway. What impression did you have of this start of the season? Is this Ferrari really capable of fighting with Mercedes?
"Well as I said it was really impressive, they have taken a big step forward with these new regulations. And that's good because a competitive Ferrari is essential for F1. It's almost obvious to say it, but we really need to ignite competition at the highest level. Red Bull, on the other hand, seems a little behind to me".
And the Mercedes?
"It is evident that it is still a very strong team. There was a lot of controversy about the choice of the second driver, some said that he wasn't up to it. I, on the other hand, have never had any doubts: if you give them a strong car, the drivers who arrive here in F1 are strong. The real problem, forgive me, is another: that of the gap between the first and last".
"Today like today there are two seconds. I, on the other hand, would like, it's a dream, to see 10 cars on the track in 0.7-0.8 seconds. There is currently too much discrepancy between those with a small budget and those with too big a budget. And it is the show that loses out".
Well now that the Americans have arrived, with his former collaborator Ross Brawn, you can reform everything. What else would you like to change?
"I'd like to take Formula 1 out of the labs. Let me explain. In my day, when the first tests of the season were faced, it was a miracle if you managed to do five or six laps. This year in Barcelona the teams fired up their cars and did 70-80 laps without stopping. It means that the engines are too reliable. Take what happened last year for example: Nico Rosberg's Mercedes did not have a single reliability problem all season. When Hamilton broke his engine, it happened only once, he talked about it for weeks. Twenty races, two cars, one retirement. Think what that means, how much work they must have done to achieve this level of reliability".
And what about the laboratories?
"That's where it all happens. The machines stop running and from the pits they send the data to the factories where, without anyone being able to see them, hundreds of people in the laboratory analyze everything: they work there for hours, studying what the machines need. And they perfect them. It's a fascinating system, of course, but it's not what F1 needs. F1 needs excitement, entertainment and action. On the runway".
And how do you plan to do it?
"F1 costs too much money. We need a different redistribution of income. It's not our problem, the new owners will take care of this, the FIA must make the rules, but in my opinion it's clearly a priority".
Ferrari doesn't like this very much.
"We have to make F1 more sustainable. I think the machines are too sophisticated. I realize this is a sensitive subject. The vocation of F1 is to be the leading sport of the sector, and therefore it must be in line with the technological evolutions of the industry. On the other hand, a balance must be found to keep it sustainable".
Meanwhile, the regulatory revolution is encountering a few too many problems: it cannot be surpassed. It's an emergency?
"Let's remove some negativity from these analyses. And let's say that it's the price to pay for having cars that are faster in corners and on the straights, and more difficult to drive. I am sure that Ross Brawn together with the FIA team studying the regulations will address this issue as well. For now, I'll limit myself to reminding you that the overtaking problem has always existed. Twenty years ago it was the same and yet the public appreciated it".
Ferrari's return to success, Mercedes' sensational mistake, the Alonso shipwreck and the boom of the Italian, Antonio Giovinazzi. So many things have happened, all at once, in this first time in Melbourne, that it is difficult to focus on them all. Here, then, is the list of eight things that have been understood with reasonable certainty, after these first days of the 2017 season. The SF70H is a machine born well. In Formula 1 this expression is used to indicate a project that appears promising. Now we have to see how the Ferrari engineers develop their ideas during the season. A little optimism is justified by the strong personality that the car - and therefore the Scuderia Ferrari - has shown to have. After so many years of chasing Mercedes, it would have been humane and understandable if they had opted for a copy and paste of the ideas of the best in the class in Maranello. Instead, the car that won in Melbourne was full of original ideas, completely different from that of the favourites. After going into a relationship crisis with the team - more than once, last season, he thought about quitting - Sebastian Vettel decided to relaunch, he lowered his head (an expression that is very fashionable in Maranello these days) and he got to work harder. The decisive leap, apparently, was to personally take part in the November Pirelli tests in Abu Dhabi. It is no coincidence that Ferrari here in Melbourne was the team that worked best with the tires and that Vettel seems to be at ease in the car, much more than his teammate. Over the flying lap, the Mercedes is still the fastest car. In qualifying Vettel was about 0.3 seconds late, which is a sort of safety distance, even considering that we are talking about a short circuit. In the long run this could represent a significant problem for Ferrari: with the new single-seaters it is extremely difficult to overtake (the overtaking in Melbourne was carried out in the pits, and it is no coincidence). After years in which the teams have all aimed to have very balanced driver pairings, the trend has reversed. Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas seem unable to keep up with their teammates. And how can we not talk about the Red Bulls, who were the great expectations of this start of the season, and instead they were the great disappointment.
The regulatory revolution, placing the emphasis on aerodynamics, had given the team of design genius, Adrian Newey, a gigantic opportunity. Which seems to have gone to waste: the Renault engine hasn't kept up with the frightening evolutions of Ferrari and Mercedes; and from an aerodynamic point of view there still seems to be a lot of work to be done. But be careful: in Milton Keynes they have already shown that they know how to correct the shot very quickly. Just Ferrari last year paid the price. Despite the blazon of two brands that have made the history of motorsport, McLaren Honda has failed awkwardly the project for the third consecutive year. Condemning poor Fernando Alonso to another season straddling the irrelevant and the ridiculous. It's a curse for the Spaniard, who no longer knows what to say in the post-match interviews. Returning to the main topic, just when no one hoped for it anymore, just when everyone had resigned themselves to the boredom of the monologue of a next ruler of the moment, Formula 1 seems to have rediscovered its main ingredient, the one that in the 70s had allowed this strange mechanical sport of building a place of its own in the imagination of entire generations: the duel. The golden age of the eternal challenges between Lauda and Hunt or Prost and Senna - just to mention the most pop - seemed consigned to the remote past, when, suddenly, whizzing through the trees of Albert Park, Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari he launched his challenge to the whole world. And so, now, the two most successful drivers in business, as well as probably the strongest, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton find themselves facing each other.
Ready to do anything to win. But this time the victory isn't worth just one more trophy to be placed behind the showcase in the living room of the villa in Switzerland. The definitive statement is valid. The title of best of an entire era. And god knows what these kids would be willing to do. The technological and resource imbalance of recent F1 has always caused this final showdown to be postponed. Up to now, only one team on the grid has started every year with a real chance of winning. And two alpha drivers have never met within the same team. From 2010 to 2013 it was the turn of Vettel and his Red Bull. An almost embarrassing domain, with no history. Thwarted only by the controversy of Mark Webber, the teammate; and by the desperate attempts of Fernando Alonso and a Ferrari as indomitable as it is inadequate. Then it was Hamilton's turn (who had already won in 2008 with McLaren) and the space Mercedes, who gave way to Rosberg, in his first (and last) real season at a high level. Lewis and Sebastian, in their years, have brought home striking results tainted by a single flaw: the antagonist was missing. What ultimately becomes part of the victory itself. Because it's one thing to win, it's one thing to win against someone. As if it were the plot of a novel, the two have been preparing for almost ten years to get to this appointment. Since Sebastian with his Toro Rosso in Brazil tried to spoil Hamilton's party, one step away from his first world title.
"I tried with all my strength, but there was nothing to do".
It is no coincidence that, after crossing the finish line, Vettel looked under his helmet for the shark-like gaze of his rival. Who accepted the challenge. Many have noticed this. Sebastian Vettel continues:
"Finally we have cars that look more or less on the same level. Let's see how it ends. We hope to have fun and win".
And Lewis Hamilton replies:
"I was looking forward to this moment. I have a lot of respect for Sebastian and what he has achieved in his career. And I consider it a privilege to have shared this era with him. Now, however, the time has come to really compete".
Clear, sportingly threatening words, which must have sounded like sweet music to the ears of the new American owners, who, the day after taking F1 from Bernie Ecclestone, had made the first point of their reform program to work on rivalries, emphasizing them as much as possible. One with the silver car, the other with the red car, but finally on equal terms, ready to challenge each other at the last braking point, Vettel and Hamilton promise to ignite the season. The first appointment is in Shanghai. Lewis Hamilton explains:
"It will be very tiring physically and mentally, but as Sebastian himself says, racing on par against the best is the very essence of Formula 1, and if the price to pay is to work even harder than before, I'm ready. I have to raise the bar, I can't wait to do it".