Sebastian Vettel’s stunning victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix has all but confirmed 2017’s regulation changes are spicing up Formula 1.
The astonishing win, however, didn’t always look on for Ferrari as Lewis Hamilton led from pole position until he pitted on lap 17.
So, just how did Max Verstappen, the man who always seems to always be in the headlines, completely change the dynamic of this race?
Well, at the start of Lap 22, Ferrari were still yet to pit Vettel and Hamilton caught Max Verstappen, who also hadn’t pit. Despite Hamilton constantly hearing from his engineers that that getting past Verstappen was “crucial,” his tires just didn’t have the pace to get past the young Dutchman.
Vettel, meanwhile, was in relatively clear air, and managed to take 1.3 seconds out of Hamilton on Lap 22 alone. Ferrari’s pace continued to surge and on Lap 23, they decided they had the gap and pit Vettel.
Ferrari’s mechanics were, as always, slick, elegant and superb with the pit stop, and thus Vettel emerged ahead of Verstappen and most significantly, Hamilton.
But, Verstappen’s role in the victory didn’t stop here. See, he didn’t pit until Lap 25, three whole laps after Vettel emerged. In the one properly timed laps where he can compare Vettel to Hamilton, who was still stuck behind Verstappen, Vettel was a whopping 2.580 seconds faster. This only confirms how Hamilton being stuck behind Verstappen majorly affected his pace.
The difference in pace also crucially allowed Vettel to break the 1 second DRS grasp and build a gap large enough to exude a tonne of pressure. Without Verstappen to hold up Hamilton, it’s unclear whether or not Ferrari would’ve danced off into the sunset, even if they had superior race pace.
In the end, Hamilton couldn’t close down a gap that continued to teeter at just over 10 seconds. Vettel won the race comfortably, with Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas rounding out the podium.
Ferrari’s Jock Clear, a senior engineer, agreed, saying in an interview post-race, “[the victory] sort of fell into our hands when [Hamilton] got stuck behind Verstappen.”
Christian Horner, Team Principal of Red Bull Racing, a team Vettel won four World Championships with, subtly echoed Clear’s thoughts, saying “[c]ongratulations to Sebastian, I think he owes us a beer!”
The win marks the first time Ferrari have won a race since Singapore 2015.
They’ll be hoping for more of the same when Formula 1 heads to China on the 7th of April.