The Formula One Australian Grand Prix on Sunday not only gave fans their first glimpses of the new cars in a race situation, but also the new pecking order.
Scuderia Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel started the race in Melbourne, Australia, from P2, but by the time the checkered flag came out, he was in first-place with a 9.975 second gap to Lewis Hamilton in second. Vettel’s victory was the first for Ferrari since 2015, and highlighted improvements the Scuderia’s made ahead of 2017, both in terms of performance and strategy.
Ferrari had an abysmal year in 2016, struggling to match Mercedes’ pace, and shooting itself in the foot with bad strategy calls when it did have opportunities to steal wins. This trend started in Australia, where Vettel was leading and Ferrari opted not to take advantage of a red flag, sending the German back out on old rubber, ultimately costing him the victory.
Even though its cars were showing strong pace during this year’s Australian Grand Prix, it seemed like the “Prancing Horse” was headed toward a similar fate. It waited much longer than other teams before bringing Vettel in for his first stop, leaving many to speculate it had thrown the race away.
Photo via Red Bull Content Pool
However, Vettel’s long first stint wasn’t a strategic blunder. In fact, it was the very thing that won him the race.
Ferrari recognized Hamilton was losing time stuck behind Max Verstappen, so it kept Vettel out for a few more laps, allowing him to build a big enough gap to cover the pit stop delta time. When he exited the pits just ahead of Verstappen and Hamilton, everybody watching realized Ferrari means business this year.
Mercedes and Ferrari had nearly identical paces during qualifying, though the “Silver Arrows” drivers couldn’t match “the red guys” — to quote Valtteri Bottas — during the race without damaging their tires. The two appear to be the clear front-runners for now, with certain tracks suiting one team’s car over the other.
Although Red Bull Racing seemingly has a bit more work to do before we get the three-way championship battle we’re been hoping for, fans at least can take solace in knowing Ferrari’s a legitimate threat for Mercedes.
Thumbnail photo via Ferrari