Round two of the 2017 F1 season is done and dusted, with a reasonably comfortable victory for Lewis Hamilton and, after a few hijinks, a reasonably comfortable second place for Sebastian Vettel too. The race (that saw all but one driver start on intermediate tyres, due to water on the track) provided a better examination of the new cars than Australia did, as well as providing some interesting tests on the difficulties of overtaking. A couple of guys reaffirmed why they are held in high regard, and for a few others, it was a race to forget.
Williams’ Lance Stroll was a very early casualty – his rear-left tyre was tagged by Sergio Perez’s front-right, sending the youngster onto the gravel and out of the race on the very first lap. That brought out the virtual safety car, which became the safety car itself on lap two, when the Sauber of Antonio Giovinazzi met the front of the pit wall, having crashed in qualifying a day earlier. Between the VSC and SC, the race was more or less handed to Hamilton; Vettel had pitted early (something a few drivers were doing) to don dry weather tyres, but the safety car handed a more or less free stop to Hamilton, who controlled the race from there.
Further back. Max Verstappen had enjoyed a strong start and the Red Bull man went from 16th to seventh on the first lap, enjoying the slippery conditions. He was helped by Carlos Sainz going more or less backwards in his Toro Rosso – Sainz had been the only guy out on slick tyres, and not only did he start badly, he span at the first sequence of corners.
Daniel Ricciardo had put his Red Bull ahead of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari, and after the early flurry of pit stops it was Hamilton out front with Ricciardo behind him and Verstappen bearing down on his teammate. Valtteri Bottas managed to end any hopes he had of a podium finish when he span as the safety car spell came to an end, and had to work his way back up the order.
A brief battle ensued between Ricciardo and Verstappen, whilst behind them the two Ferraris battled each other, with Vettel struggling to get by Raikkonen. Before too long, Verstappen had swept by Ricciardo and was setting off after Hamilton, but the Red Bulls’ pace was very much due to the supersoft tyre, whilst both Mercedes and Ferrari were looking comfortable on the softs. Hamilton began to edge away, never really troubled. Behind him, Vettel darted by Raikkonen at turn 6, catching his teammate by surprise, and on lap 22 showed Raikkonen how to pass a Red Bull, going to wheel to wheel with Ricciardo through the first six corners, with the two even banging wheels on the exit from turn 6. After this, Vettel bore down upon Verstappen, who would lose second place after locking up hard into turn 14.
A second round of pit stops didn’t do too much to unhinge the established order, though Raikkonen did fall behind a much-recovered Sainz, who had taken advantage of circumstances to put himself back up to 6th. Raikkonen did manage to get by the Toro Rosso but his chances of catching the Red Bulls had been hurt, whilst Bottas staged his own recovery and would eventually get up to 6th himself, but 7th for Sainz was still a great effort.
Spare a thought for Fernando Alonso. He had dragged his McLaren into the points, battling for 7th at one point – but on lap 33 a problem – either a fuel pressure issue or trouble with the drive shaft – put him out. Teammate Stoffel Vandoorne had suffered a similar fate earlier on – another bleak day for McLaren.
Elsewhere, Kevin Magnussen took 8th for Haas and both Perez and Esteban Ocon (who had also fought his way up the field) took the final points places for Force India.
So Hamilton and Vettel are now tied at the top, albeit with only two races run. If not for strategy calls being affected by the safety car, it’s entirely possible Vettel would have been a lot closer to Hamilton. Meanwhile, Mercedes are now a point ahead of Ferrari in the constructor’s championship. Next up is Bahrain, in a weeks’ time!