An overall disappointing weeken for the Prancing Horse in Melbourne. An underwhelming qualifying is followed by power issues during the race for Sebastian Vettel, having to nurture the engine on a lower strat for most of the race. Decent debut for Charles Leclerc, but today Ferrari couldn’t compete with a superior Valtteri Bottas and a consistent Mercedes.
Starting on the second and third row on a track where overtaking is not a walk in the park, the guys in red try to show a consistent race pace in the early stages, keeping Max Verstappen at bay. Valtteri Bottas quickly passes poleman Lewis Hamilton, as the interval between him and the rest of the grid gets larger and larger. An overexcited Daniel Ricciardo, wearing yellow for the first time, loses his front wing and is later compelled to retire from his home race. Other retirements include Romain Grosjean, suffering again from a bad pitstop and an unscrewed tyre, and Carlos Sainz ends on the side of the track with his McLaren on fire.
While the top teams usually give commentators plenty to talk about, it would be unfair not to highlight the amazingly tight fight in the midfield. Haas, Alfa Romeo, Racing Point, Toro Rosso and McLaren are very close in terms of performance and today it showed, even on a track like Albert Park. Commendable work has been done by the Italian rookie Antonio Giovinazzi, whose final result was butchered by not-so-great pit strategy but showed his racecraft and ability to defend. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen puts his Alfa Romeo in the points, as it was expected, but Kevin Magnussen’s Haas does even better ending up in P6. A very solid performance today was also delivered by Daniil Kvyat and Lando Norris: both could prove a nuisance to Pierre Gasly and Carlos Sainz respectively. Why? Pierre Gasly definitely didn’t shine in his first weekend with Red Bull, and was surprisingly and easily overtaken by Kvyat in a less performing car: the Frenchman could start feeling the pressure of a former RBR driver, even more so with a larger-than-life teammate such as Verstappen. Sainz, on the other hand, was directly overshadowed by his younger and less experienced teammate for the whole weekend.
“Why are we so slow?”
This was not only the question that many tifosi had watching the late stages of today’s race, but an actual team radio coming from Sebastian Vettel. The German opted for an early pitstop in an attempt to undercut Lewis Hamilton and avoid an undercut from Max Verstappen, but the strategy really didn’t pay with the underperforming yellow compounds, which today were slower than expected. As this wasn’t enough, after lap 25 Vettel started suffering from power issues which meant nurturing the engine to the finish line and eventually being overtaken by Verstappen for the podium. Unconfirmed rumours theorise that Vettel was running a strat 5 (out of 10) as a precaution. Charles Leclerc, on a different tyre strategy and with no apparent power issues, decided not to fight his teammate today and opted to stay behind, in P5, to defend his position from Magnussen.
Ferrari needs to sort these issues, after two brilliant testing weeks, before Bahrain. The rollercoaster of power and overtaking that is Sakhir isn’t going to be as forgiving with an underperforming SF90.