The first round of a new Formula One season is always an eye-opener and there were plenty of learnings to take away from this one...
1. The Battle Is On
Heading into the first race of the new season, we really didn’t know where we’d fit in the pecking order. While our pace had looked encouraging in testing, the conditions and track were a very different ball game in Australia and this sometimes shakes up the normal competitive sequence.
Practice was productive and promising on Friday, but obviously there were mixed fortunes on Saturday. Lewis put in an absolutely stunning pole position lap to go over six tenths clear of the Ferraris, but Valtteri crashed out in Q3, denying him a potential slot on the front row.
It was clear, though, that the Qualifying gap wasn’t truly representative of the margins to the Ferraris and Red Bulls. We suspected it’d be much closer in the race and while Lewis led away early on, the Ferraris kept him honest and the Red Bulls looked very quick - Daniel Ricciardo put in the fastest lap of the race, while hunting down Kimi Räikkönen.
There appear to be three teams capable of winning races and really fighting at the front and the gaps will change at each race - some tracks will suit cars better than others. So, we’ve definitely got a fight on our hands and that’s an exciting prospect for the season ahead.
2. The Halo’s Here
The Australian Grand Prix was an important milestone for F1, as it was the first race with the Halo. Much had been said about it over the course of the winter, but it wasn’t actually a major storyline from the opening round of the 2018 season.
This was probably due to a couple of factors. Firstly, F1 was back racing and that was the main focus. Secondly, people have started getting used to the cockpit protection device and thirdly, drivers didn’t report any issues with it.
In fact, there were even some comments that the Halo helped drivers out, as it shielded the sun from their eyes as the race progressed. It hasn’t proven to be a hindrance for the drivers so far.
„Getting in and out of the car is a little bit trickier but it’s OK,“ Valtteri explained. „Initially visibility is a tiny bit restricted compared to before but after a few laps it is fine and I’m fully used to it. I think we don’t need to speak about it again.“
3. These Cars Are Very Quick
With softer tyres and the natural development of F1 cars over a winter of stable regulation changes, it was obvious that this year’s machines would be faster than their predecessors. But, it wasn’t completely clear by how much.
On Saturday, Lewis set a new circuit record at Albert Park with a 1:21.164, which was 1.124 seconds quicker than his fastest Q3 lap in 2017. Not only was it a stunning lap from the Brit, but it gave us a glimpse of just how much faster the new field of cars are.
4. One-Stop the Way to Go
Pirelli took the UltraSoft, SuperSoft and Soft compounds to Melbourne but despite the new and expanded tyre range going one step softer for 2018, they proved to be extremely durable during the Australian GP.
As expected after Friday’s running, the vast majority of drivers went for one-stop races - with this strategy helped by the deployment of the VSC and Safety Car, which helped save on tyre wear.
But, in general, tyre degradation was very low in Australia and most drivers were able to complete 20 laps or more on the UltraSoft before switching to the Soft tyre.
Some drivers, including our own, suffered a little with the tyres overheating but in general, there were very few issues and the Pirelli rubber held up well. However, with the tyres being so durable, it did limit strategy options and meant most of the grid pitted just once.
5. Overtaking is No Walk in the Park
Overtaking in F1 is a tricky task, especially at the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit which is statistically the second hardest circuit to overtake on after Monaco - and ahead of Singapore. While the fast and flowing temporary street track is a unique and formidable challenge, it offers few overtaking opportunities.
That’s always been the case, of course. And while we saw this year that it can be done, with Valtteri putting in some strong moves on his way up the order, passes were few and far between.