Australian GP 2017: Sebastian opened the season with a brilliant victory!

Finally, the long winter hibernation is over, and the 2017 Formula 1 season is here! There have been significant regulation changes since last year; this year’s F1 cars are wider, heavier and several seconds faster than last year’s. There has been a lot of talk about the eye-catching shark fins and T wings of the new cars, but, in spite of those details, I find this year’s cars absolutely beautiful. Although I am a Ferrari fan from the bottom of my heart, I have to say I love the new pink-liveried Force India! A pink Formula 1 car looks absolutely stunning.

Coming to the season-opening qualifying, everyone was curious about the current pecking order of the teams. Ferrari’s top form had caught their rivals’ eye in the pre-season tests, although the majority still seemed to consider Mercedes the team to beat. Qualifying proved that Ferrari has definitely closed the gap to Mercedes over the winter.

In terms of pace, Ferrari and Mercedes were quite evenly matched. Red Bull, who had suffered from engine-related reliability issues in the winter tests, seemed to be a step behind the two leading teams. Ferrari and Mercedes shared the honours in qualifying; Hamilton took pole for Mercedes, but, for the first time since Singapore 2015, Sebastian made it in the front row for Ferrari! Valtteri Bottas, who made his debut as a Mercedes driver, completed the top three, and Sebastian’s teammate Kimi qualified fourth. Red Bull’s Verstappen in P5 was already 1,2 seconds off pole-setter Hamilton’s pace. Teammate Ricciardo ended up to crash out in Q3; which underlined the consequences the increased corner speed and loss of grip can have.

I was expecting to see many drivers having difficulties at the start due to the new regulations on the clutch control. However, the order of the top five remained unchanged! I was very impressed to see how closely Sebastian was able to follow the race leader Hamilton. The German kept driving within DRS distance from the Briton, but the narrow city circuit of Albert Park offered hardly any chances for overtaking. Mercedes debutant Bottas and Kimi in his SF70-H were unable to keep up with their teammates.

The top teams had decided on one-stop strategy. Hamilton, who had complained about his dying tyres several times on the team radio, was the first top driver to pit on lap 17 for a fresh set of yellow-marked soft Pirellis. However, Hamilton re-joined the track in traffic and got stuck behind Red Bull´s Verstappen. Sebastian, on the other hand, continued on the track and kept banging competitive lap times. The German Ferrari ace pitted no sooner than on lap 24 for a similar tyre choice. Ferrari’s strategy turned out perfect, as Sebastian re-joined the track ahead of Hamilton. The only top driver with a different tyre choice was Verstappen, who opted for the red-marked super soft compound.

After Sebastian had taken the lead, he had no intention to give it away. On the contrary, he started to increase the gap to Hamilton, who was unable to match Sebastian’s pace. Bottas managed to improve his pace on the soft tyres towards the end of the race, but couldn’t quite challenge his teammate for P2. On the closing laps Verstappen was right at Kimi’s tail, but Kimi’s P4 was never seriously threatened. Kimi seemed to struggle with his pace a lot more compared to his teammate; on the other hand, it was very comforting to see Kimi set the fastest lap time on the second last lap of the race.

Sebastian took brilliant victory and crossed the finish line 10 seconds ahead of runner-up Hamilton. Bottas completed the podium, as the Iceman had to settle for P4 ahead of Red Bull’s Verstappen. I was also delighted to see both pink cars finish in the points (Perez 7th, Ocon 10th). What a perfect Sunday this has been! And what a perfect start to the 2017 season! I’ve missed this adrenaline rush caused by Sebastian’s victory so much! It’s refreshing and almost unbelievable that Ferrari is actually leading the constructors’ championship standings with 37 points to Mercedes’ 33. My intuition says that this is going to be a victorious year for Sebastian at the wheel of his Gina. And, statistically speaking, victory in the season-opener is never a bad omen in terms of the drivers’ world championship... I’m convinced that Sebastian will shine this year! Forza Ferrari! 

With passion for racing red, 
Iina Huhmarniemi

Mar 28, 2017