Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Albert Park, 2017

Ferrari poised to push Mercedes, but will new rules wreck the racing?

2017 Australian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Qualifying punctured the pessimism which greeted Ferrari’s low-key showing on Friday: Perhaps Mercedes will face some serious opposition in 2017 after all.

The two drivers who have won six of the past seven world championships share the front row of the grid for tomorrow’s race. That bodes well for the rest of the season.

Nico Hulkenberg, Renault, Albert Park, 2017
Australian Grand Prix qualifying in pictures
Ferrari’s Maurizio Arrivabene was understandably naturally disappointed his team missed out on pole position. But even so to be 0.268 seconds off pole is their most competitive Melbourne showing since 2010, when Fernando Alonso ended up taking the title fight to the final round.

The kind of race many expect to see on Sunday is expected to be more like those we saw in that season than the kind of high-degradation, tyre-management exercises we have seen since then.

More durable tyres were promised for 2017 and Pirelli appears to have delivered. They brought the softest compound available this weekend and Lewis Hamilton covered dozens of laps on it with minimal drop-off in performance.

Fuel consumption could prove a greater curb on the prospects for a flat-out race than tyre degradation. Although the fuel allowance has been increased by 5kg, that may not be enough to counter the rise in drag and higher proportion of the lap spent at full throttle.

Lower tyre degradation will make for a race of more limited strategic possibilities. The entire top ten will start on the softest tyres (though that is hardly a departure) and will surely one-stop with a switch to the super-soft tyres.

The timing of that single stop will therefore be critical. However the lower rate of drop-off in tyre performance is likely to reduce the effect of the ‘undercut’.

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Several drivers have already predicted the increase in downforce will result in a reduction in overtaking. There are other factors at work which may help drivers gain positions, but the comparatively short straights at Melbourne have always made passing more tricky at this circuit than others.

Could Vettel have a useful trick up his sleeve for attacking Hamilton? In qualifying the Mercedes driver was unable to tackle turn 12 without lifting but Vettel could, and carryied almost 20kph more at corner entry than Hamilton.

No doubt Hamilton will be alert to the possibility of Vettel using this to attack him on the run down to turn 13. Hamilton will be grateful there isn’t a DRS zone on the following straight.

But if Vettel gets off the line as well as he did last year he might not need to pass Hamilton anyway. Off-season rules changes have further diminished the amount of assistance drivers can receive from their teams in preparing their starts. With tricky new clutches, a narrow first corner and wider cars, we could be set for a spectacular start to the season.

Qualifying times in full

DriverCarQ1

Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’24.1911’23.251 (-0.940)1’22.188 (-1.063)
2Sebastian VettelFerrari1’25.2101’23.401 (-1.809)1’22.456 (-0.945)
3Valtteri BottasMercedes1’24.5141’23.215 (-1.299)1’22.481 (-0.734)
4Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’24.3521’23.376 (-0.976)1’23.033 (-0.343)
5Max VerstappenRed Bull1’24.4821’24.092 (-0.390)1’23.485 (-0.607)
6Romain GrosjeanHaas1’25.4191’24.718 (-0.701)1’24.074 (-0.644)
7Felipe MassaWilliams1’25.0991’24.597 (-0.502)1’24.443 (-0.154)
8Carlos Sainz JnrToro Rosso1’25.5421’24.997 (-0.545)1’24.487 (-0.510)
9Daniil KvyatToro Rosso1’25.9701’24.864 (-1.106)1’24.512 (-0.352)
10Daniel RicciardoRed Bull1’25.3831’23.989 (-1.394)
11Sergio PerezForce India1’25.0641’25.081 (+0.017)
12Nico HulkenbergRenault1’24.9751’25.091 (+0.116)
13Fernando AlonsoMcLaren1’25.8721’25.425 (-0.447)
14Esteban OconForce India1’26.0091’25.568 (-0.441)
15Marcus EricssonSauber1’26.2361’26.465 (+0.229)
16Antonio GiovinazziSauber1’26.419
17Kevin MagnussenHaas1’26.847
18Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren1’26.858
19Lance StrollWilliams1’27.143
20Jolyon PalmerRenault1’28.244

Lap time change since last year

Romain Grosjean, Haas, Albert Park, 2017
Prancing horsepower: Haas and Ferrari have made gains
Haas have turned up at the first race of 2017 with the most improved car compared to the first race of last year. Romain Grosjean has given them their best ever starting position with sixth on the grid.

The team has found more than two-and-a-half seconds, some of which will have come from their 2017 Ferrari power unit. That may explain how Ferrari have made comparable gains.

But even Red Bull, whose pace has come as something of a disappointment, are actually in better shape now than they were 12 months ago. Compared to the end of last season is a different matter, of course.

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton26.976 (1)22.294 (2)32.918 (2)
Sebastian Vettel27.271 (3)22.330 (3)32.853 (1)
Valtteri Bottas27.155 (2)22.252 (1)33.074 (3)
Kimi Raikkonen27.340 (4)22.564 (5)33.123 (4)
Max Verstappen27.574 (5)22.552 (4)33.359 (5)
Romain Grosjean27.717 (6)22.807 (8)33.550 (6)
Felipe Massa27.964 (12)22.823 (9)33.640 (8)
Carlos Sainz Jnr27.793 (8)22.909 (12)33.785 (10)
Daniil Kvyat27.870 (10)22.802 (7)33.775 (9)
Daniel Ricciardo27.734 (7)22.601 (6)33.636 (7)
Sergio Perez27.945 (11)22.878 (10)34.102 (12)
Nico Hulkenberg27.825 (9)22.897 (11)34.028 (11)
Fernando Alonso28.184 (15)23.115 (13)34.126 (13)
Esteban Ocon27.965 (13)23.134 (14)34.273 (14)
Marcus Ericsson28.159 (14)23.299 (17)34.508 (15)
Antonio Giovinazzi28.371 (16)23.267 (16)34.762 (18)
Kevin Magnussen28.390 (17)23.243 (15)34.861 (19)
Stoffel Vandoorne28.790 (19)23.361 (18)34.707 (17)
Lance Stroll28.438 (18)23.368 (19)34.692 (16)
Jolyon Palmer28.903 (20)23.565 (20)35.393 (20)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Lance StrollWilliamsMercedes328.6 (204.2)
2Sergio PerezForce IndiaMercedes328.1 (203.9)-0.5
3Nico HulkenbergRenaultRenault326.2 (202.7)-2.4
4Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes325.5 (202.3)-3.1
5Jolyon PalmerRenaultRenault325.4 (202.2)-3.2
6Esteban OconForce IndiaMercedes324.4 (201.6)-4.2
7Felipe MassaWilliamsMercedes324.3 (201.5)-4.3
8Kimi RaikkonenFerrariFerrari322.8 (200.6)-5.8
9Daniil KvyatToro RossoRenault322.3 (200.3)-6.3
10Sebastian VettelFerrariFerrari322.0 (200.1)-6.6
11Carlos Sainz JnrToro RossoRenault322.0 (200.1)-6.6
12Max VerstappenRed BullTAG Heuer321.8 (200.0)-6.8
13Romain GrosjeanHaasFerrari321.6 (199.8)-7.0
14Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes321.1 (199.5)-7.5
15Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrari320.5 (199.1)-8.1
16Daniel RicciardoRed BullTAG Heuer318.0 (197.6)-10.6
17Marcus EricssonSauberFerrari317.4 (197.2)-11.2
18Fernando AlonsoMcLarenHonda316.6 (196.7)-12.0
19Antonio GiovinazziSauberFerrari315.9 (196.3)-12.7
20Stoffel VandoorneMcLarenHonda314.4 (195.4)-14.2

Over to you

Share your views on the Australian Grand Prix in the comments.

2017 Australian Grand Prix

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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21 comments on “Ferrari poised to push Mercedes, but will new rules wreck the racing?”

  1. Hamilton may have carried less at the entry of the high speed chicane, but at the exit he was quicker than Seb. There is a comparison video om youtube and it is clear that Hamilton was accelerating earlier than Seb on most of the corners and therefore getting better exit speed. Plus, I think Lewis didnt say but it looks like as if he ran slightly wide on the first part compromising his exit that may be why Seb was the fastest in that sector because before that Hamilton was the quickest in that sector. Hamilton is quicker in the speed traps than Bottas, running lower downforce than him. I am guessing mercedes relied on Lewis’ speed to get this pole and focus more on the race because lower downforce setups in the race are better to lessen the tyre wear. Seb and Kimi also seem to be carrying more downforce than Lewis. If Lewis gets away fine tomorrow then the race is his. I am sure if Bottas ends up where he starts in the first lap, mercedes wont have trouble getting past Vettel and would try to undercut him because the tyres just last so long…

    1. @krichelle “lower downforce setups lessen the tyre wear” – how do you figure that out? surely it’s the complete reverse. this race may well be attritional and reliability will be a big factor in who wins. well, it always is but we’ve come to rely on rock solid reliability from the top teams in recent years – it may not be the case tomorrow.

      1. @frood19 Less downforce may, however, reduce fuel consumption, which may be quite useful in the race.

      2. Michael Brown (@)
        25th March 2017, 22:38

        @frood19 Lower downforce reduces tire wear because it reduces cornering speed. High downforce lets you take corners faster but you put more strain on the tires. But sliding and spinning the tires is much worse, obviously

      3. I actually rewatched it and then realized that Lewis could have done a 1.21… after the fast chicane, he went from -0.2 something to -0.1 then he gains more time in the last 2 corners… Seb and Bottas said that they didnt get any perfect laps… maybe the drivers are getting tired when they push using these cars??

      4. Cause in f1 games it is described that increasing wing levels contribute to higher tyre temperatures… And that I have always used low downforce setups in races? However, the low downforce setup can also give you tyre wear if you slide because it is quite frequent, which is even worse than loading the tyres through the corners..

    2. The 200 m “loops” are often irrelevant as differing lines end up corrupting the data. For instances on the out lap drivers take a wider line at the last corner therefore that loop is always grey in the end of the flying lap.

      The merc sufferes from understeer on the high speed corners! But tge car is so responsive and so grippy at the rear that both merc drivers just open tge throttle to negate tge understeer.

      1. Nope. The mercedes is fine, I watched both of lewis’ q3 laps and the only reason we could think that it has understeer is because Lewis made a mistake at the fast chicane. In his first lap, he was flat through the 2nd part after having a slight lift in the middle using 6th gear. In his second lap, his lift in the middle part was bigger and even carried less speed on the apex of the second part (245 at around and using 7th gear) than his first lap (260) which matched Seb’s speed during that apex. In general, we could say that if they got the perfect laps, Mercedes is still faster than the Ferrari in this tradk. As I said, Lewis lost a tenth all because of that mistake but Vettel and Bottas werent that perfect either, but I reckon the same gap will be there, 2-3 tenths. We must remember that last year, Ferrari were 0.5 slower than mercedes, 0.8 because mercedes ran a second time while the red cars didnt but before the 2nd runs last year, ferrari were 0.5-0.6 slower. This year, they are 0.2-0.3

    3. What Vettel was doing by getting on the brakes much later wasn’t losing him time just because Hamilton was getting on the throttle a bit earlier. If you watched that video properly, you would see how much Vettel was also gaining on Hamilton by getting on the brakes later. It’s just different driving techniques.

  2. I’m expecting a classic Australian GP, with a lot of crashes, if qualy was anything to go by.

    I’d not rule out Bottas either. Hamilton might have it under control (I can’t see him losing this one) but those starts… uhm…

  3. ”Several drivers have already predicted the increase in downforce will result in a reduction in overtaking.”
    – Once again, the problem is how the downforce is generated, not the amount of it.

    1. And I just don’t think one can discuss the added downforce and it’s effect without also discussing the new tires at the same time. These new fronts should be much more durable while following in dirty air. Much less likely to be ruined from movement in said dirty air with such a finicky operating window.

    1. At first I thought the mclaren was looking handy, as it should as the cost of f1 rose with this regulatory change, wealthier teams as such as mclaren should improve, but on judging the top speed and qualy alone, they are not that hindered by honda, same top speed as a sauber yet only .5 quicker.

      1. I was disappointed that the speed trap measurements put the McLaren-Honda on par with Sauber-Ferrari (2016), or maybe Sauber have made a good choice. I just hope that Honda follow through with some decent Japanese research and development so Alonso and Vandoorne get an improvement with their second engines.

  4. I think it’ll be a great race also, despite the thoughts of many… Why? Well so many of the front runners said they didn’t do their best lap.

    The cars are harder to drive, so with more errors, and higher speeds compounding those, things are going to get interesting!

  5. Is there a chance that someone will run the yellow softs instead of the red supersofts in the second part of the race, or will the soft tire be the “classic” useless compound?

    1. I was thinking that as well but the tyres last so long it wouldn’t make sense. I can’t wait to see what the strategies are with these new tyres.

      1. I’d be amazed if anyone 2 stopped by choice, I don’t think they have enough fuel to push for the whole race, which is probably what a 2 stop would allow.
        I think the best pit stops will be those that allow the drivers to return to the track with a big gap to the next car. Now that they can push for a decent amount of time, running on a clear track for a few laps will be more important than a one lap undercut.

        1. Josh (@canadianjosh)
          26th March 2017, 4:24

          I agree, clean air and open track will be the best one can ask for with these cars.

  6. I got £50 on Kimi 8-1. Got over excited watching testing. Ahwell 4th isn’t a bad spot to start from.

Comments are closed.