Australian GP 2018
MARCH 26, 2018
Race Analysis - Vettel's cross-threaded victory
BY DAN KNUTSON IN MELBOURNE
Lewis Hamilton had the season-opening Australian Grand Prix won and done. But then a series of events triggered by the Haas team turned the tables and put Sebastian Vettel in position to take the victory. Here's how it happened.
THE PERFECT LAP
Hamilton earned the pole position with a record-setting lap in his Mercedes. It was, he said, one of his top 10 laps in his Formula 1 career. Given the many thousands of laps he's done, that makes it pretty special.
THE FLYING FINN
Finland's Kimi Raikkonen flew in qualifying, and he gridded second while his Ferrari teammate Vettel lined up third.
OUT OF CONTENTION
Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas crashed in qualifying. As a result, he lined up 15th, out of contention for the victory and unable to help Mercedes fight Ferrari.
If he had not made a mistake on his fast lap in Q3, Max Verstappen reckons he could have put his Red Bull second on the grid. That would put him in position to challenge Hamilton for the lead on the opening lap. He started fourth.
WHAT THE HAAS?
Team Haas had shown potential in preseason and then proved it in Australia when Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean qualified fifth and sixth.
Daniel Ricciardo's hopes of doing well in his home grand prix ended in disappointment when a speeding penalty knocked his Red Bull down to eighth on the grid.
Out went the red lights and off went the 20 drivers for the 58 laps of the first race of the 2018 season. Hamilton grabbed the lead ahead of Raikkonen and Vettel.
Hamilton led comfortably, controlling his pace and conserving the car. He had this one won.
TWO AGAINST ONE
This would be a one stop race. Ferrari brought Raikkonen first and early after 18 laps. Mercedes had a dilemma. Have Hamilton pit as well to prevent Raikkonen taking the lead on the undercut, or leave him out to prevent Vettel pitting later and taking the lead on the overcut? Hamilton pitted a lap later.
IT ALL GOES WRONG
Magnussen and Grosjean had been running strongly in fourth and sixth. Magnussen pitted first but stopped on his out lap with a loose left rear wheel nut.
IT HAPPENS AGAIN!
The same thing happened to Grosjean two laps later.
"It was just a bad pit stop," said Team Principal Guenther Steiner. "The wheel nut was on but it was cross-threaded. That doesn't tighten the wheel up, but for the mechanic it feels like it is tightened and it wasn't."
The entire Haas team was swamped in disappointment.
"A very tough one to swallow for the whole team," Magnussen said, "with both cars not finishing in such good positions with so much anticipation coming up this race and being in such a good position with both cars. Argh, it's just so heartbreaking to finish like that! We will get on top again and we will fight back and do it all again."
Race officials deployed the Virtual Safety Car because of Magnussen's stranded car. So the drivers slowed down.
Ferrari brought Vettel into the pits for his new tires during the VSC period. He returned to the track ahead of now former leader Hamilton.
"What just happened guys?" Hamilton radioed to the Mercedes engineers. "Was that my mistake?"
"We thought we were safe, but there's obviously something wrong," was the response.
Mercedes had miscalculated the VSC minimum speed.
CLOSE IT UP
Grosjean's stranded car brought out the real Safety Car. The field closed up.
"This was one that got away and it's a bitter pill for us all to swallow," Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said afterwards. "Following Lewis' pit stop, we believed that we had the scenarios of both the Safety Car and the Virtual Safety Car covered, so that Sebastian could not pit and come out ahead of Lewis on track. We should have been several seconds safe; then suddenly saw on the TV screens that we were not.
"Of course, under the VSC sometimes you benefit and sometimes you lose out - but it was clearly a problem on our side and we need to analyze that to understand what happened and correct it. It's all the more frustrating because we had the pace today to win. Lewis was in control through the opening stint, then after the pit stop as well, and looked on course for a strong victory but it wasn't to be."
Could Hamilton retake the lead on the restart at the end of lap 31? No!
Hamilton's engine was running hot.
"We need to have some lift and coast for PU temperatures," the team told him.
GOING FOR IT
"Can I push yet? You know how much you want it! Come on!! I'm going for it!" Hamilton said on lap 46.
IMPOSSIBLE TO PASS
It is extremely difficult to overtake around the Albert Park circuit. Hamilton could not pass Vettel. Ricciardo, in fourth, could not pass Raikkonen. The same scenario was happening with drivers further back as well.
"It happens to be the second hardest track (after Monaco) of all the 21 to overtake," Hamilton said.
"I just couldn't get close enough to be in fighting range," Hamilton added. "I was catching him (Vettel) in the comers but he was pulling away on the way down the straights."
"The car was really good, working well," Vettel said. "I could control the gap and the pace, going through traffic and just bringing it home. It was very pleasant."
Hamilton eased off in the final laps to conserve his engine which has to last seven races.
FAILURE TO CONVERT
Hamilton has won the pole a record seven times in Melbourne. Five times out of seven he has failed to convert the pole into victory.
Vettel now has 100 podium finishes in Formula 1, and 49 of those have been victories.