For the past three seasons, our Sundays have become all too familiar. The sight of two Silver Arrows disappearing into the distance in the majority of races over the last three years had fans praying for a miracle from the 2017 season. Alas, it appears that our wish has been granted as Scuderia Ferrari delivered the goods in Melbourne but the lack of wheel-to-wheel racing at the front was clear for all to see.
For the past few seasons, Mercedes have been in a class of one out front and have been nigh-on untouchable on the track. Other teams have managed to score a victory on the rare occasion but on the whole, the Silver Arrow has been a cut above the rest.
It is somewhat ironic that the world’s premier racing series seemed unable to provide its fans with some of the key foundations of world-class motorsport: rivalries and overtaking. The romance between the sport’s fanbase and its gladiator-esque drivers was waning as race day became somewhat processional.
Enter the 2017 regulation shake-up and suddenly F1 was handed a possible reprieve. Would any of the teams seize the opportunity and make the most of this golden opportunity to catch up? Pre-season testing gave us hope of a Ferrari resurgence but the cynics out there still had Mercedes pinned down as favourites.
The circus rolled into Melbourne and as the weekend progressed expectation grew. The Mercedes was lightning over one lap yet the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel lay just three tenths shy of his rival. The possibility of a long overdue inter-team rivalry all of a sudden seemed very real.
As the race got underway the top three held station. On the surface, proceedings appeared to be rather quiet at the front of the field in the opening stages as Sebastian Vettel lurked around 1.5 seconds off the lead. In recent times the sight of the silver car streaking off into the distance became synonymous with the sport as it became effectively a two-horse race from the off.
This was different. Vettel was matching Hamilton’s pace and Hamilton was unable to shake him off. We had a game of Cat and Mouse on our hands and the long awaited Hamilton-Vettel rivalry had begun. The Briton cut an exasperated figure in communication with his team, complaining of a lack of grip yielded by the combination of his car and the Pirelli tyres. In stark contrast, the German maintained radio silence and was calm and collected yet blistering behind the wheel of his Prancing Horse.
We were denied an on-track fight for the lead as Vettel passed Hamilton in the pit stops and the Briton’s shot at the lead depended on race-critical unsuccessful attempts at passing Max Verstappen. Finally, someone has pulled it out the bag and brought about an end to the dominance of Mercedes but the question marks over the potential for exciting wheel-to-wheel action remains.
In the end, Vettel cantered to victory although his team-mate could only bring his car home in fourth. He did win by a margin but solace can be taken from the fact that the Scuderia did not ‘do a Mercedes’ with both cars. At this point, the Brackley and Maranello-based marques look well matched and the future prospects look good.
Formula One cars create an incredible amount of downforce and therefore work the air that passes over the car very hard. In a straight line, the process benefits the driver behind as a hole is punched in the air resulting in less air resistance for the car behind. However, when driving through the corners and the air has made its way over the entirety of the chassis it is very hot and turbulent, creating unstable conditions for the driver behind. The chaser, therefore, works harder and takes the life out of their tyres.
F1 is a pioneer in aerodynamics and technological advancement but this incredible use of the greatest minds in motorsport is a double-edged sword. We have the fastest machines in the world but they are unable to race. If Liberty Media are to fulfil their promises on improving racing then technical genius Ross Brawn and his band of merry men have their work cut out.
So the season looks set for an enthralling dogfight between Mercedes and Scuderia Ferrari for supremacy in the 2017 season. At the moment, Ferrari appears to have the edge but Mercedes are no slouches and will be relentless in their pursuit of the Prancing Horse. The 2017 regulations have served up an interesting battle but the heavy responsibility now rests at the feet of the new owners in regards to generating incredible racing.
Congratulations Sebastian Vettel. Your patience looks to have paid dividends…