Overtaking was a missing vital ingredient at Sunday’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix and Formula One supremo Ross Brawn says it will take years to rectify the problem.
“Think of how much wheel-to-wheel dicing we missed out on,” the former Benetton and Ferrari technical director and Honda, Brawn GP and Mercedes team boss said.
“The point is that, until we take a structured approach to the problem, we won’t really make any progress.
“One of our aims, which we are looking at with the (governing) FIA and the teams is that, for 2021, we want to have cars that allow drivers to really fight one another on track,” he added.
Brawn, whose current role is as F1’s managing director for motorsports, says the FIA and teams are conducting extensive research to help improve car designs to make for better overtaking.
“We need to evolve a car design that achieves close to the level of performance we now see, but permits wheel-to-wheel action,” Brawn explained.
Melbourne’s Albert Park street circuit is notoriously difficult for overtaking, and fans were treated to a couple of stunning passes by home favourite Daniel Ricciardo in the lead Red Bull. However, in general, car performance reduces when too much time is spent right on the tails of another car, a problem that many drivers have highlighted.
“My best friend was on the edge of a cliff and I couldn’t get to him to save his life today, that’s how hard it was to overtake,” Lewis Hamilton said after finishing second, with his Mercedes dropping off significantly after reducing the gap to Sebastian Vettel‘s Ferrari to just about a second at one point.
Hamilton started on pole but Vettel getting past him was down to a strategy call rather than a direct battle on track, as the German jumped his rival during a pit stop while the Virtual Safety Car was in place.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen said he had no doubt fans watching on TV would have found Sunday’s race boring.
“Completely worthless. I would have turned off the TV,” the Dutchman was quoted as saying.
“(It was) very boring. You do your best to try something, and I was in DRS range all the time, but there is nothing you can do.”
Here are five things we learned from Formula One‘s season opener:
Hamilton still the man to beat
Hamilton was blisteringly quick as he grabbed pole position by the massive margin of more than half a second and would have cruised to victory had the virtual safety car not allowed Vettel to snatch the lead.
Hamilton was still able to close on Vettel at will and only the impossibility of overtaking at Albert Park – statistically the second- most-difficult passing circuit on the calendar – caused the reigning champion to back off in the closing laps and save his engine for another day.
Then there were three
Red Bull showed signs that alongside Ferrari – who had two men on the podium – they can make it a three-way fight for the constructors title with Mercedes this year.
Daniel Ricciardo was all over the back of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari and only just missed out on the podium after fighting back from eighth position on the grid after a penalty.
Max Verstappen, who worked his way back to sixth after spinning early in the race, is not likely to endure such an untidy grand prix again.
Alonso happy to ditch Honda
Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso spent most of last season complaining about his McLaren’s Honda engine on team radio.
But the switch to a Renault power unit seems to have put a spring in his step of the Spaniard as he finished a fighting fifth, with team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne also scoring points in ninth.
“With some updates to come in the next few races we can start to look ahead a little bit and Red Bull will be the next target,” Alonso smiled after the race. “Things are going to get better and better.”
Haas retirements mask their speed
The American team carried their surprising speed from pre-season testing into the race where Haas’s Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean ran just behind Hamilton and the Ferraris, but held off the rest of the pack with ease – at least until they had to stop for new tyres.
Two disastrous pit stops meant two retirements due to loosely-attached wheels, with both cars grinding to a halt out on the circuit after looking on course for top-five finishes. No prizes for guessing what the Haas pit crews will be practising ahead of Bahrain in two weeks’ time.
Sirotkin bags some bad luck
Sergey Sirotkin’s Formula One debut lasted just five laps when his Williams conked out at turn 13 with a sudden loss of braking. So was it a loss of hydraulics that caused his demise? Far from it, the Russian said, it was all down to a spectator’s sandwich.
Sirotkin was convinced a sandwich wrapping being sucked into the brake duct was to blame. “You would not believe what happened: it was a plastic sandwich bag, which went into the rear-right brake duct,” he complained.
“Yes, that’s how exciting it is. It was a big bag, a big sandwich bag.”
Fernando Alonso is no stranger to the grand stage and after three torrid years with McLaren, the Spaniard looks to have finally rediscovered his old magic with the new Renault-powered car.
Desperate to make a solid impression with the new engine, Alonso took advantage of the Virtual Safety Car period to finish in a formidable fifth-place at the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday.
His finish represents a significant boost for a McLaren team who had a disappointing eight days of testing in Barcelona earlier this month, but are now starting to show signs of improvement after moving on from their unreliable Honda engine during the off-season.
It’s also a positive for Alonso as it looked certain the 36-year-old would leave the British marque following a disappointing 2017 season, which included seven retirements.
However, the two-time world champion decided to extend his current deal on the basis that the team had a competitive car – and with the new Renault engine, he looks to have potential to challenge for podiums this term.
Alonso’s glory days are all but behind him, however, this should give him renewed optimism that he can compete in his 17th Formula One season and serve as a welcome fillet alongside other projects such as his participation in the World Endurance Championships (WEC) for the first time.
In 2018, he is set dovetail his F1 commitments and race for Toyota in the WEC – meaning seven extra races between May and June – on top of his contracted McLaren work.
Alonso is also to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans between July 16-17 – which will mean he will race on five consecutive weekends from Canada on June 10 to the British GP on July 8.
The Oviedo native will turn 37 in July – and if this is his swansong season in F1 – then it’s difficult to argue what he throws his hand to in his free time.
He skipped Monaco last year to compete in the coveted Indy 500 event and after leading for 27 laps, he had to retire on lap 179 out of 200 due to engine failure.
Some may question McLaren’s decision to allow him to skip the all-important race in the south of France, but in some respects, it was a genius idea by Zac Brown and Co. giving their prized asset the chance to compete in his dream race. Likewise, the Spaniard certainly owed them one off the back of it.
We may only be one race into the new season, but there are genuine signs of steady improvements on last year – with Alonso’s team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne also achieving a top-10 finish in Melbourne at the weekend.
Amid all the friction with Honda last campaign, Alonso managed to produce drives the engine didn’t deserve – with two seventh place finishes in Italy and Brazil as well as a sixth-place effort in Hungary.
The unreliability of the car would certainly demotivate any other diver, but if anything, it boosted Alonso’s mental approach and he constantly gave it 100% on track.
From back of the grid to 11th in Japan was equally impressive – and with a purring McLaren – this is set up to be a thrilling season for the fans’ favourite.
After nearly two decades in F1 and 97 podiums, he looks to have lost none of his appetite and will be bidding to continue his sterling form from Australia when he steps out in Bahrain in two weeks’ time.
Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel may go down as the most successful drivers of our era, but put Alonso in an identical car and he’d be the same potent force.