By Callum Springall
New year, new cars, new order? That was the question asked by most F1 fans in the run up to the Australian Grand Prix.
Mind you, there were a fair few theories suggesting that wouldn’t be the case.
Mercedes were sandbagging in testing, some said – to the tune of about one second. They had the momentum from last year to carry on their dominance into the new era.
Ferrari usually flatter to deceive in pre-season testing, and as I said in my last blog, there’s no way Ferrari had any real plan to… You what? Oh he won, did he. By how much?!
I’ll get my hat.
Quick word on McLaren. I think I can safely assume most wouldn’t have expected either of the two orangutan-coloured machines – with engines some might say are designed by orangtans – to be anywhere near the top 10, let alone to nearly finish there but for a suspension failure for Fernando Alonso at the death.
His new team-mate didn’t fair so well in what was, for Stoffel Vandoorne at least, a weekend as scruffy as, well, an orangutan. Fuel pressure problems in qualifying, losing power in the race, having to manually restart the car at his pit stop and other sloppy instances – it all felt like a rookie with a champion team-mate, over-driving what I suspect is set to be another dire showing from the Woking lot.
I can bring myself to admit that now, seeing as I’m newly-made neutral.
Speaking of neutrality, I actually found myself willing on Antonio Giovinazzi on Saturday morning – before he skated off into the grass on his last attempt in Q1.
Even so, the former GP2 runner-up could feel aggrieved to be marginally knocked out of qualifying by the other Sauber, despite Marcus Ericsson being the more experienced of the two, despite waking up on Saturday morning expecting to be on the sidelines and despite being in a car that, according to his boss, was completely different to the one he tasted in Barcelona.
And no, I’m not going to make a joke about Switzerland. Yes, I know I was talking about staying neutral. That’s just cheap.
One other change over the winter was the somewhat hollow absence of Formula One’s perpetual dictator – or rather, once perpetual dictator – Bernie Ecclestone.
With nobody to tell the teams to ‘get it up’ (no, not that – the noise) one can only wonder where exactly the sport is going. With the trio of Chase Carey, Sean Bratches and Ross Brawn at the wheel, I feel at odds to say a coup has been staged and it’s a case of out with the dictator and in with the oligarchy. Then again, I vowed not to joke about Switzerland.
From what we saw on Sunday, I’d look at small step-changes over the winter, point to the confetti on the podium and the cool-down area right in front of the crowds – not to mention letting the adoring fans on to the track on the victory lap.
Overall, these are the things I hope we can expect over the coming grands prix, in an effort to bring the paying fans just a little closer to the action.
As far as any serious amendments to the F1 constitution, they will likely have to wait until 2020 when the current concorde agreement expires. Only then can F1 fans really expect more of an equal footing among the teams, particularly where prize money is concerned.
Be careful what you wish for? Where is that hat?
A quick word for new Mercedes number two driver Valtteri Bottas. He came in with the weight of his critics on his shoulders – after all, if he couldn’t outclass someone who looked almost inappropriately out of his depth when paired with Fernando Alonso at Ferrari, then how could Valtteri even stay on the same stretch of tarmac as Lewis Hamilton? The same Lewis Hamilton on the verge of matching Ayrton Senna in terms of pole positions, Alain Prost in terms of drivers’ championships, and the winner of 31 races in the last three years. No matter – Bottas duly upped sticks from Williams, and squatted right on Lewis’ back lawn.
Well, perhaps. I mean, Lewis Hamilton had a pretty turgid race by his own standards so I wouldn’t get too carried away just yet.
Mind you, that’s a sterling job from Bottas considering on Friday he was half a second down in both sessions, only to get closer to Hamilton in qualifying than Nico Rosberg ever did in Melbourne.
Just to put that achievement into context for you: in his F1 debut race at Albert Park, Valtteri finished 14th – in a race of 17. The three behind him were two Marussias and a Caterham. For your information, Pastor Maldonado crashed out.
That was 2013. The following season Bottas was fifth, and beaten by two McLarens and a Ferrari. He missed out on the podium by scraping the wall. For your information, Maldonado didn’t get within the 107% mark in qualifying.
In 2015 Bottas didn’t make the start because of an injury sustained in qualifying. Maldonado crashed… again. And finally, in 2016 he was outpaced by Felipe Massa in qualifying and the race, and came home eighth. Meanwhile, Maldonado got the sack for being so shi… erratic.
So let’s not underestimate Valtteri Bottas just yet. There will be plenty more to come.
♦ Callum Springall is a blogger with the NRF1. You can follow Callum on Twitter @callumspring18