F1 Australian Grand Prix – heroes and zeroes

In my usual post-race wrap-up I rate the heroes and zeroes from the 2017 F1 Australian Grand Prix. Find out who covered themselves in glory and who covered themselves in gravel.

2017 F1 Australian Grand Prix Heroes

Heroes – Ferrari

When Ferrari kept Sebastien Vettel for several laps following Lewis Hamilton’s pit stop, we all thought the same thing: another tactical blunder by the boys from Maranello. In fact – with a bit of help from Max Verstappen – it turned out to be a tactical masterstroke.

After what has been several years of criticism regarding their ability to execute championship-winning strategy, the win in Melbourne was much deserved. A tonic for F1 following 3-years of Mercedes dominance.

Hero – Antonio Giovinazzi

From being hawked around the F1 paddock a couple of seasons ago to mostly deaf ears, the Italian landed a golden opportunity. And he took it with aplomb.

Qualifying within 2 tenths of his established team mate Marcus Ericssen was impressive enough on his debut but even more so given that he had missed FP1 and FP2. Giovinazzi then kept his nose clean on Sunday and finished a creditable 12th – just two places outside the points.

Given that the gap between Ericssen and Werhlein in practice was between 0.6 and 1.2 seconds, Giovinazzi certainly showed up his much-vaunted German team mate. More races for Mr. Giovinazzi please.

Hero – Fernando Alonso

McLaren Honda MCL32 Honda Alonso Barcelona testHow Alonso can motivate himself when at times the likes of Lewis Hamilton struggle to be focused in a Mercedes is astounding.

Yet again the Spaniard dragged the McLaren-Honda package in to 13th place on the grid and bravely held 10th place until retirement.

Watching Alonso at McLaren is painful. The incredible waste of talent and the comprehensive failure to repay faith of arguably the best driver on the grid, criminal. The light at the end of the tunnel that started to brighten in the second half of 2016 seems even further away now.

Hero – Esteban Ocon

Ocon perfectly demonstrated in Melbourne why he and not Pascal Werhlein got promoted to a leading F1 team for 2017. Staying within five tenths of Sergio Perez in qualifying was very impressive. Remember Perez was once viewed by both Ferrari and McLaren as world champion material.

The Frenchman was lucky with retirements for Ricciardo and Alonso  but finishing 10th on his debut was a deserved reward. Points on your debut in F1 is still something to be celebrated. Ocon is definitely going to keep Perez honest in 2017 which bodes well for his future.

2017 F1 Australian Grand Prix Zeroes

Zeroes – Red Bull

After looking like they would be biting at the heels of Ferrari and Mercedes, Red Bull looked slow and lost in Melbourne. Max Verstappen was scathing in his analysis claiming he knew they were going to be off the pace from day 1 in Barcelona.

‘I think we need to keep working hard on the car, race pace was good but you can still see we are not quick enough’ Max Verstappen

During qualifying the Bulls failed to switch on the ultra-soft compound. Putting them on the back foot for Sunday. An issue that was compounded by a bizarre spin for Daniel Ricciardo which saw him crash out early.

The new F1 cars may be more fun to drive but it seems that when they bite back, they bite hard.

Zeroes – Honda

Many are pondering – myself included – how long McLaren can cope with Honda’s lacklustre performance. How long Honda – a proud Japanese brand – can handle the humiliation that is their latest F1 adventure is perhaps more pertinent.

Reliability improvements allowed some running during the weekend. Over the course of Saturday and Sunday it was only the brilliance of Fernando Alonso that made the McLaren Honda partnership look presentable. Poor Stoffel Vandoorne’s debut was the stuff of nightmares as his Honda powerunit continued to find imaginative ways to self-destruct.

Rumours of a Mercedes supply deal continue to swirl. Eric Boullier’s refusal to confirm or deny outright those rumours could be seen as suggesting a grain of truth. Or they might just be the latest attempt by McLaren to light a fire under Honda for a reaction.

Worringly, there is definitely a ‘them and us’ schism emerging within the partnership. McLaren increasingly are taking the position that they are doing ‘their’ bit and only Honda are failing. In-car footage of Alonso and Vandoorne wrestling the MCL32 around Albert Park suggests otherwise.

Zero – Jolyon Palmer

The Brit came in to 2017 saying he felt more relaxed and more focused. That lasted all of two practice sessions before he carried the look of a man utterly confused by his lack of performance. The solution? Blame the car and the team.

Not advisable for any F1 driver and certainly not one who was far from a certainty to stay with the Renault works team. Palmer was starting to sound a bit like compatriot Lewis Hamilton when he declared that ‘everything has conspired against me’ in summing up his Australian GP weekend. If Palmer had hoped to elicit some sympathy it majorly backfired.

Zeroes – FOM Communications

We were treated to some clever new graphics during the Australian Grand Prix. Sectors were further sub-divided in to segments giving a more detailed analysis of where cars where faster/slower on qualifying laps. Which was all well and good but did little to distract from a distinct lack of graphics during qualifying and the race itself.

If FOM is going to introduce whizzy new graphics that is great – more data for the fans at home is welcome. But I’d rather it didn’t come at the expense of basics like, I don’t know, which position the drivers are in!

Zero – Pascal Werhlein

By stepping aside after FP2 due to ongoing complications around his Race of Champions injury, Werhlein could have compromised his F1 career. We cannot know the reality of his injury and the impact it is having on the young German. But in a sport – F1 and motor sport in general – where drivers regularly race on with broken bones, metal plates and crutches it does look a bit diva-like. And the performance of Giovinazzi might have left some question marks over Pascal’s commitment to the team.

A quick word on regulations

Yes there was not much overtaking (5 moves apparently). Yes A LOT of drivers were complaining that it was ‘impossible’ to pass. Yes most of them complained about being unable to follow in the dirty air but…

Let’s give the new regulations a chance to bed in. It was foolish of fans – stoked by the F1 media – to believe that the 2017 regulations would be a panacea for all of F1’s ills.

The cars look much better and are faster. We had a different winner and now the possibility of a genuine 2 team battle for the title. And Melbourne is never a race loaded with overtaking so I’m suggesting we send the jury back out to deliberate for at least one more race.

Race rating

6 out of 10 – lots of intrigue and battles up and down the top 10. But having said that we were very short on overtaking – even by Melbourne standards – and most of the field was not as fast as expected. The gulf between the top 3 and the rest of the field seemed to be huge, which does not bode well for the rest of the season.

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