Australian GP 2018: The new season had a perfect red-coloured opening!

Finally! The ever-lasting winter hibernation is over and it is time to start the engines again! What a wonderful feeling it was to wake up knowing that it was the first GP weekend of the new season! Oh, how I had missed the adrenaline-filled F1 weekends!

According to the tradition, Melbourne Australia hosted the season-opener. Qualifying held surprises, tight battles and big drama. In Q2 Red Bull stood out of the crowd by setting their fastest lap times on the red-marked super soft tyres, whilst everyone else opted for the purple-marked ultrasoft compound. There was huge drama for Mercedes at the very beginning of Q3. Bottas had just started his first flyer, but in Turn 2 the Finn’s rear-left tyre touched the grass, which caused the Finn to lose control of his W09, and in a blink of an eye he crashed into the wall! What a catastrophic start to the season for Bottas indeed! The session was red-flagged, and the Finn’s qualifying was over. The pecking order seemed quite evenly matched after the last segment resumed. There were only 61 thousandths of a second separating Mercedes’ Hamilton, Ferrari’s Sebastian and Red Bull’s Verstappen! This tiny margin foreshadowed an electrifying shootout for pole... Until Hamilton came out for his second run. The Briton blew his opposition away by improving his lap time by eight tenths! What an absolute masterclass by Hamilton, a very well-deserved fifth successive pole position in Australia. The red team showed top form, and there was an intense battle between the red warriors for the front row grid slot. This time the Iceman had the upper hand on his teammate and took second, although the gap to pole-setter Hamilton was massive six tenths. But the Ferrari aces instead were separated by one hundredth of a second only! Verstappen and Ricciardo qualified 4th and 5th for Red Bull, but the Australian had been handed a 3-place grid penalty due to a speeding offence in practice. The penalty dropped Ricciardo down to P8, which meant the best-ever 5th grid slot for Haas’ Magnussen. Bottas’ W09 needed a gear box change after the heavy crash, which meant very modest P15 on the grid for the Finnish Mercedes pilot.

It was so thrilling to see the lights go out for the very first time this season! The top three took an excellent start. Pole-setter Hamilton held on to his lead, although Kimi was almost able to challenge the Briton going into Turn 2. Sebastian followed his teammate very closely. Verstappen, who had started the race on the harder compound, lost his 4th place to Haas’ Magnussen, who was unable to match the pace of the top three. Verstappen faced drama on lap 10, as the Dutchman suddenly lost control of his RB14 and had a 360-spin in Turn 1, dropping down to P8.

Kimi in P2 was the first top driver to pit on lap 19. Kimi opted for a fresh set of yellow-marked soft tyres, which was the hardest compound available for the weekend. Kimi’s pit stop forced Mercedes to react and take Hamilton in from the lead. The Briton opted for a similar tyre choice. Sebastian, who had now taken the lead, stayed out, as he was in no hurry to pit. His 3rd place was well-secured, as the Haas duo of Magnussen and Grosjean were already over 25 seconds down on the German.

What a huge drama the American-based team faced after their pit stops! The Haas drivers were driving a race of their lives, until they both had to retire after the pit stop! There was an issue with attaching Magnussen’s rear-left and Grosjean’s front-left tyre, and both drivers had to stop their car on track. Grosjean’s retirement caused virtual safety car to be deployed, which was a lucky turn in terms of Sebastian’s race. The German made his pit stop on lap 27, also switching to the soft Pirellis. I was absolutely amazed to see, that Sebastian re-joined the track in the lead! What an absolutely genius strategy from the red team to keep Sebastian out in case of a (virtual) safety car! Hamilton, either couldn’t understand, what had just happened! It is true, that this time Sebastian got lucky with the virtual safety car, but that hasn’t always been the case in the past. Once he had got a grasp on the victory, he had no intension to let it slip through his fingers!

After the re-start it was obvious that Hamilton was going to do everything he could to challenge Sebastian for the victory. They were banging fastest lap times alternately, but as soon as Hamilton got within DRS distance from Sebastian, his hard effort made him lock his tyres, and in a blink of an eye Sebastian was already two seconds ahead. Hamilton, as well as his teammate Bottas, suffered from an overheating issue in terms of the power unit, which forced Hamilton to back off with five laps to go. Behind the top two, Red Bull’s Ricciardo was putting serious pressure on Kimi, but the Melbourne circuit offered very few chances for overtaking, so the home hero Ricciardo had to settle for P4, as Kimi completed the podium. McLaren had a promising start to the season, as Alonso finished 5th and teammate Vandoorne 9th. Verstappen, who had suffered from over steering issues since his spin, finished 6th ahead of Renault’s Hulkenberg. In spite of Bottas’ maximum attack, the Finn wasn’t able to make it higher than P8.

I had hoped for a red-coloured race, so my hopes were definitely answered! Only a 1-2 for Ferrari would have made the season-opening more perfect than this. I was overwhelmingly happy to see smiling Sebastian stand on the top step of the podium, accompanied by the Iceman! I have a hunch that this is going to be a bright-red season!

With passion for racing red, 
Iina Huhmarniemi

Apr 02, 2018