Australian Grand Prix 2017: How Ferrari proved beyond doubt they are the ones to break Mercedes stranglehold

Oliver Brown
Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel congratulate each other - REUTERS

Ferrari's restoration is real

Many had wondered, based on their remarkable pace in winter testing, whether they were flattering to deceive, but the Scuderia proved beyond doubt that they are the ones to break the Mercedes stranglehold on this sport.

Sebastian Vettel judged this race superbly, even if he could not outpace Lewis Hamilton off the start line. Once Hamilton had struggled with a slow pit-stop, the German returned from his own pit in front and never took a backward step, surging to victory by almost 10 seconds.

However, there is little to separate the two pre-eminent drivers on this evidence. The battle between Vettel and Hamilton, who have won six of the past seven championships between them, has been drawn.

Australian Grand Prix 2017 pictures - celebrities, sports stars and all the best F1 action from Melbourne

Still far too little overtaking

For all the anticipation of a Formula One revolution, with cars cornering at lightning speeds and restyled as throwbacks to the 1980s, there is still far too little overtaking.

One interlude, where Hamilton needed to leapfrog Max Verstappen to increase the pressure on eventual race winner Vettel, illustrated the point.

“It’s race-critical that we get past Verstappen,” Pete Bonnington, his chief engineer, said over the radio. “How do you expect me to do that right now,” Hamilton shot back, irritably. “There’s no way I can overtake this guy.”

There were few memorable manoeuvres, a problem that needs addressing with some urgency.

Lewis Hamilton tries to overtake Max Verstappen Credit: EPA

Local poster-boy endured a nightmare

This was not the joyful afternoon that Daniel Ricciardo had expected at his home race. On a beautiful late summer’s afternoon, with 100,000 Australian fans thronged in Albert Park, the local poster-boy endured a nightmare from start to finish.

First his car became stuck in sixth gear, forcing him to start the grand prix from the pit lane two laps behind the rest of the field.

Then, just beyond the halfway mark, his Red Bull gave up the ghost altogether, coming spluttering to a halt in front of hordes of Melbourne supporters. “Looks like I couldn’t save it,” Ricciardo muttered to his garage. “Let’s get the f--- out of here.”

Australian Grand Prix

Alonso never ceases to amaze

Fernando Alonso’s ability to wring every last drop of performance from McLaren’s abject Honda engines never ceases to amaze.

After a week when he had said it would be an achievement for his team even to finish the race, the Spaniard defied expectations by lasting almost the full distance in 10th, before a suspension issue forced his withdrawal.

It is hardly a cause for celebration for McLaren, who are more accustomed to winning championships than being plucky middle-of-the-pack makeweights, but Alonso has again reinforced his reputation as arguably the most talented driver on the grid.

How much longer he settles for mediocrity is a moot point. The Spaniard has suggested he will look for a better drive elsewhere later this season.

Fernando Alonso battles with Esteban Ocon Credit: REX FEATURES

F1's 2017 debutants failed to impress

It was not the most impressive showcase for F1’s 2017 debutants. At Williams, 18-year-old Lance Stroll did little to counter suspicions that he has earned his seat purely because his father happens to be a Canadian fashion billionaire, limping out while team-mate Felipe Massa managed to secure sixth.

Stroll, on this evidence, is the archetypal pay driver, whose usefulness at bringing in sponsorship money outstrips his usefulness behind the wheel.

Belgium’s Stoffel Vandoorne, making his bow for McLaren, was similarly underwhelming, coming last of the 13 finishers.

Lance Stroll retires from the race Credit: REX FEATURES

Australia the template for new F1 era

Australia, in many ways, provides the template for Chase Carey’s vision to turn the F1 circus into “20 Super Bowls”.

This was an extraordinary festival in one of the world’s premier sporting cities, with almost 300,000 people in Albert Park. The problem for Carey, and his lieutenants at Liberty Media, is how they sustain the momentum now that the circus decamps from Melbourne.

The next three grands prix - in China, Bahrain and Russia - represent a hangover from the Bernie Ecclestone era, when hosts were chosen according to the size of their wallets rather than the richness of the cultural experience they could offer.

F1's new CEO, Chase Carey, applauds what he sees Credit: EPA

Move of the day

Belatedly, on lap 52, the crowd had its first overtake to cheer, as Force India’s Esteban Ocon swept past Alonso with exquisite timing. The young Frenchman is tipped as F1’s future with good reason.

A good weekend for

Valtteri Bottas 

The Finn has been held by Mercedes to a one-year contract but he was far from embarrassed by Hamilton, only 1.2 seconds adrift of the triple world champion in third.

Sebastian Vettel celebrates his victory Credit: REX FEATURES

A bad weekend for

Team Haas

The sole American team on the grid had been seeking to make significant strides, after Romain Grosjean qualified in a surprising fifth, but neither the French star nor Kevin Magnussen could make it to the end.

Australian GP Results

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