Ferrari arrived in Australia with the wind in its sails, after going very well over the eight days of winter testing. It seemed certain they would be fighting for victory, but instead, they didn’t even make it to the podium. From the outside, it’s hard to tell what went wrong and, listening to the drivers and engineers, it seems that even within the team they have not yet been able to identify what on earth happened. Neither Vettel nor Leclerc were ever really competitive at any point over the weekend. Apart from lagging behind Mercedes, more surprising was the gap to the Haas team. The US squad uses the Ferrari Power Unit and had closed on the works team considerably since Barcelona testing. Even if it’s true that the Albert Park circuit is unusual and does not really reflect the true pecking order, it’s also true that the same number of points is given out after the race than at any other track. Mattia Binotto, still settling in to his joint role as Team Principal and Technical Director is very experienced and knows that the first job now is to study the data from the weekend and see what it throws up, without getting into a panic. It’s only mid-March and the championship ends in December.
A Point well made in Melbourne, we got a first chance to experience the effects of the various changes introduced this year in terms of the technical and sporting regulations. The return to awarding a point to the driver and team who set the race fastest lap livened up the closing stages of the race, as Verstappen tried to nudge out Bottas, who had his hands on that particular prize. On lap 54, the Dutchman posted a 1.26.540, beating Bottas’ time from lap 42 by 0.199s. The Finn then got close with a 1.26.830 on lap 55 and, after allowing his tyres to cool, put an end to the duel with a decisive 1.25.580 on lap 57. Hamilton also gave it a shot towards the end, but the Englishman never got below the 1m 26s barrier, his best on lap 57 being a 1.26.057. In a race in which the podium positions seemed set from early on, the fight to claim that one extra point, in the knowledge that it could be vitally important in the closing stages of the championship, certainly livened up the closing stages of the race. That was exactly what we and the FIA had in mind when it came up with the idea.