On March 25, the 2018 Formula One season kicked off with their opening race in Melbourne, Australia at the Albert Park circuit. There was a packed crowd that literally saw a replay finish of last years season opener. This year has to be seen as the drive for title number five between the top two contenders for this year’s crown, with defending champion Lewis Hamilton driving for Mercedes, who won his fourth title at the end of the season last year. And four time champion Sebastian Vettel driving for Ferrari hopes to win his fifth championship.
The off season was notable for a couple of significant changes to the cars themselves. This year will mark the first year of the controversial Halo protection device mounted around the drivers cockpit. The Halo was specifically designed to protect the driver’s head from pieces of flying bodywork. The device has been met with much criticism from drivers and fans. The most notable of the outspoken drivers was Lewis Hamilton, who called the introduction of the Halo as, “the end of an era of F1 cars looking good.”
The other notable change this season is that for the whole season all teams will only be able to use three power units. Christian Horner, the team principal of Red Bull Racing slammed the new regulation calling the decision “nuts” to be expected of all F1 teams to run on a regulation of three engines over a 21 race season. “It would be horrible to see a championship decided on engine penalties,” Horner further went on to explain.
The season started off with a tremendous qualifying battle between Hamilton and Vettel, and Vettel’s teammate 2007 world champion, Kimi Raikkonen. Hamilton set the all time lap record at the end of qualifying with a lap of 1.22.185, to claim pole position. Raikkonen was second fastest with a time that was six tenths of a second slower than Hamilton’s. Vettel was third, while the Red Bull of Max Verstappen started from fourth on the grid.
The surprise of the day was American Haas team led Kevin Magnussen, who qualified 5th while his teammate Romain Grosjean was 6th behind him. The Renault of Nico Hulkenberg was also a surprise in seventh, out qualifying Aussie hometown hero Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull in eighth. Hulkenberg’s team mate Carlos Sainz was 9th while Fernando Alonso in the new McLaren-Renault was 10th. It was looking like the decision by McLaren to drop Honda and partner with Renault was paying dividends. As the newly badged Toro Rosso Honda team was well down the order in 16th and 20th respectively. Lewis Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas would have some work to do as he would be starting 15th because of a wreck in qualifying and then taking a five place grid penalty to replace his gear box as a result of the accident.
The race got underway in a squeaky clean fashion with Hamilton leading while Raikkonen was nipping at his heels trying to make a pass into turn three. Hamilton fended off the Ferrari threat, while Max Verstappen was passed by the two Haas cars who made life hard for the Red Bull driver, especially when Verstappen lost control of his car under braking into the first corner trying to pass Magnussen on lap 10. He regained control of his car and was knocked down to eighth position after his spin.
The battle between the top 3 drivers was a little stagnant until lap 19 when Raikkonen in second pitted first for Ferrari. This allowed Vettel to move up to second place, while Raikkonen rejoined the race in third. Hamilton then pitted on lap 20 moving Vettel into the lead, while Hamilton rejoined second. On Lap 23 the Haas of Magnussen pitted, but tragedy struck when a crew member’s air gun failed to put the tire back on properly resulting in a suspension failure putting Magnussen out of the race. Then on the next pitstop of the Haas team the same problem struck Romain Grosjean who’s wheel fell off resulting in a virtual safety car yellow flag.
During this yellow flag, Vettel pitted and came out in front of Hamilton to resume the race lead. As a result of the yellow flag rules Hamilton had to slow his speed, as he was not allowed to pass Vettel as he was coming out of the pits under yellow flag rules. This is what ultimately turned the tide into Vettel and Ferrari’s favor, as Vettel was able to keep the lead after the yellow flag, and hold off the threat of Hamilton’s Mercedes. Raikkonen came out the loser in this race, simply by virtue of out qualifying his team mate. Who decided to pit first, as Ferrari’s team orders dictated whoever qualified above the other has preferential treatment. The other surprise finish was that of Fernando Alonso who managed to finish 5th in front of the Red Bull of Max Verstappen. It was Alonso’s highest finish for McLaren and the double world champion was all smiles after the race.
Lewis Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, who started 15th could not ultimately fight his way to the top of the grid. He managed to reach tenth place and gain one point for himself and the Mercedes team. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was pleased with his team’s results but was unhappy with the outcome of the race being decided by a yellow flag technicality.
The Ferrari team was pleased with their qualifying and race pace during the grand prix. Sebastian Vettel did admit over the radio to the team
So it was Vettel who managed a repeat of last year’s race by beating Lewis Hamilton to victory. Vettel will take the first 25 points of the season, and the points lead to the Bahrain Grand Prix which will take place April 8, 2018. If you want to watch TV coverage either set your DVRs or get up in the morning because coverage will begin at 11 a.m. Sunday morning on ESPN 2.