Australian GP 2017

MARCH 26, 2017

Race Report - The horse prances down under

Sebastian Vettel, Australian GP 2017
© RV Press


By Dan Knutson in Melbourne

The Prancing Horse Ferrari team took the victory Down Under as Sebastian Vettel won the Australian Grand Prix after defeating Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

"Unbelievable," Vettel said after the 43rd win of his F1 career. "Thank you to everyone, it was a fantastic grand prix. It's quite mad, in a positive way, I was coming back to the pits and people were running on the track going wild with the Ferrari flags.

"It was unbelievable, thanks for the support. I think it's what we needed. The whole team has been working really, really hard. The guys didn't get much sleep back in the factory. The car is really behaving well, incredible fun to drive so a beautiful day."

Hamilton started from the pole and led until he had to make an early pit stop for tires.

"It has been a great weekend for us and the team," he said. "Just in the race we struggled with the tires towards the end. I had to stop earlier than these guys (Vettel and Bottas) because I just ran out of grip. I pitted and then I got stuck behind one of the Red Bull guys, it's just sometimes the way it goes."

Bottas' first race with Mercedes ended on the podium.

"The team has been so welcoming," he said. "We've worked really hard for this first race to be ready. Everything went nice and smoothly. Just the red guys, they are a bit too quick. We need to work harder and we are definitely ready for that. I'm ready for that. This is a start, starting with the podium and if we improve on this I look forward to the next few races."

The ambient temperature at the start was 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Centigrade) and the track temperature was 97 degrees Fahrenheit (36 degrees Centigrade.)

Hometown hero Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull stopped on the warm-up lap with an electrical sensor problem. The car was taken back to the pits to be repaired, so he would start the race from the pit lane.

The first start was aborted, so the drivers did another parade lap and the race was shortened one lap to 57 tours.

Hamilton took the lead ahead of Vettel, Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari), Max Verstappen (Red Bull) and Felipe Massa (Williams).

Romain Grosjean (Haas), Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso), Sergio Perez (Force India) and Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) rounded out the top 10.

Kevin Magnussen (Haas) and Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) tangled at Turn 3 on the opening lap and spun off. The former had to pit for repairs.

Ricciardo finally left the pits and was now two laps down. "Right Daniel, get stuck in, have fun," his engineer said.

By lap 5 Hamilton had a 1.1 second lead over Vettel who was 2.4 seconds ahead of Bottas.

The top 10 remained the same on lap 10. But Vettel was slowly closing in on Hamilton who responded with some fast laps himself.

Grosjean's fine run ended when he brought the smoking Haas into the pits at the end of lap 14. That moved Fernando Alonso's McLaren into tenth place.

Hamilton pitted at the end of lap 16, changing his ultra soft Pirelli slicks for the medium compound tires, so Vettel led on lap 17. Hamilton was now fifth behind Vettel, Bottas, Raikkonen and Verstappen.

"Still a lot of understeer," Hamilton radioed.

He was told it was critical to get past Verstappen.

"I don't know how you expect me to do that," was his tart reply. "There is no way I can get past this guy," he said later.

Vettel pitted at the end of lap 22 for a set of the soft tires, and he came out just in front of the Verstappen/Hamilton battle.

That was the defining moment of the race.

"I had more pace in the second stint," Hamilton said, "but I stopped so much earlier that I really did not know how long the tires were going to last. I didn't want to push to close the gap knowing that I could not overtake anyway. And then find that I had run out of tires at the end and lose second place. So it was really once I came out behind the other car, behind Sebastian, it was really about damage limitation."

Vettel knew if there was anything to happen around the first stop that he needed to be right behind Hamilton to either put them under pressure or have a chance to jump into the pits earlier to pass him through the stop.

"Once it was clear that he went in, there was no point to follow," Vettel said. "We stayed out, the tires were still holding on and the pace looked alright. I wasn't aware of the traffic situation at that point and I just tried to calm down a bit because I was quite hot on the previous laps, but still keep the pace up and hope for an 'overcut' so to say.

"Then I was told he was facing some traffic. I didn't know who and how fast the traffic was and whether he would clear but I just tried to hang in there. And then obviously we saw the gap, went into the pits and it worked. It was very tight. I lost a lot of time on the in-lap because I had a lapped car, I think it was a Williams. I lost about a second so I was a bit angry but that's how it goes sometimes, and still it was just enough and I had Max right behind me and Lewis as well."

Bottas led lap 24 and pitted a lap later for the softs. Verstappen came in for some super softs. So Raikkonen led lap 25 and stopped the next time around for softs. That put Vettel back in front on lap 26 ahead of Hamilton, Bottas and Raikkonen.

Ricciardo's day finally ended when he stopped at Turn 3. His engine had failed.

"Not the weekend I wanted at home," he said. "For all these things to happen at my home race that's probably the most frustrating thing. We were on the back foot already after the crash in qualifying and then today we had an issue during the warm up lap followed by a second issue in the race. On both occasions the car just came to a stop so I couldn't do anything else."

The order on lap 30: Vettel, Hamilton, Bottas, Raikkonen, Verstappen, Kvyat, Massa, Perez, Sainz and Alonso. Kvyat had yet to pit. He finally came in after 34 laps.

Bottas was now lapping marginally quicker than Hamilton (whose tires were eight laps older) and bringing the gap down. It was 2.9 seconds at lap 37, and 2.4 after 41 laps. But Hamilton was able to keep things under control.

"I think Ferrari was quicker today, there's no doubt about that," Bottas said. "They have obviously done a great job and a better job for this race. From my side the main thing today was the first stint. I struggled quite a lot with the ultra soft tires. It felt like I was just sliding around, always missing front grip, rear grip, especially after like 10 laps of the first stint. That wasn't easy. But once we put the soft tires on it was quite a good feeling with the car and the car was behaving really nicely. It was really nice to drive. But it was a bit too late and still missing a bit of pace."

Verstappen, on his super softs, was also slowly closing on Raikkonen, who was on the softs. But the Ferrari driver was unruffled.

"I was doing a lot of fuel saving," Raikkonen said after finishing fourth. "Then I pushed for one lap and I was faster. On the soft tires the car was straight away behaving very well, but it was just a case of needing to do a certain amount of fuel saving and also I don't know what they (Red Bull) did. They went for different tires, but my car felt nice and like we want it, but it was obviously too late at that point."

Verstappen wound up fifth.

"The start was really good but it was just a shame that out of Turn 1 I had dirty air ahead of me," he said, "and this allowed Kimi to stay on the outside and get in front of me again. From then on the pace wasn't too bad, I could follow him pretty well which was a nice surprise and I had no pressure from behind me. It was positive to see we weren't that far off Ferrari and Mercedes over a full race distance, this was a concern this morning but I'm relieved now to finish within touching distance."

Massa, back from his brief retirement, took sixth place.

"I knew the most important thing for me was to overtake (Romain) Grosjean at the start," Massa said, "because the competition was looking more with him than with the other guys in front who I knew would be very difficult to beat such as Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes. I had a very good start and passed him, then my race was free from there until the end. The result was just great. I was so happy with the whole race.

"The way I was managing the tires, the consistency, the work from the whole team, the pitstop - everything worked really well."

Force India and Toro Rosso had all their drivers finish in the points.

"We had the correct strategy and we managed the tires well to bring the points home," Perez said after finishing seventh. "We still had to pull a few big moves on Kvyat and Sainz, even though it was not easy to overtake, but once I was in clean air I felt I was in a very strong position."

Sainz took eighth and Kvyat ninth.

"I struggled after having to let Daniil (Kvyat) and the two Mercedes by," Sainz said, "as my tire temperatures dropped down a bit and it took me some time to get back into rhythm. Towards the end of the race I was coming fast, catching the Force India, and I got quite close to overtaking him - if only there had been a few more laps, I could've given it a try."

The end of the race saw a great battle as Alonso tried to hold off Ocon and Nico Hulkenberg (Renault). They both got by and Alonso came into the pits and retired.

"A suspension failure I think at the end is what happened," Alonso said, "and it stopped us finishing the race. It was pretty good I think. I was driving one of my best races so far. We were surprisingly in the points all the race long. Also we had to do a huge fuel saving which was hurting us a lot but we were able to keep the position. As I said, a little surprised to be so (high) up but at the end we didn't finish and definitely we need to be more competitive very soon."

This was Ocon's first championship point.

"I spent almost the entire race fighting against Fernando (Alonso) because we were side-by-side for the first lap of the race," he said after finishing tenth. "He was able to stay ahead and I had to chase him for the rest of the afternoon. It was a hard fight because Fernando is a tough opponent and it was so difficult to get close and overtake. Eventually I found a gap in the last few laps and took my chance going into turn one. It was a big moment for my race and took me into the points."

Out in front, Vettel collected 25 points for himself and another 25 for Ferrari.

"Passion, I think, is a great driver back in the factory, also here," he said Down Under. "I think up and down the pitlane the amount of hours the guys are covering is mad. You need to love what you're doing. I said it years ago joining Ferrari, there seems to be an extra passion just working for the Prancing Horse and, I think, just focusing on ourselves really has been the big difference."