So Hamilton Ferrari and Red Bull must fear
Munich and Melbourne – Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton drives away in qualifying in Melbourne. Sebastian Vettel still believes in victory. Red Bull relies on strategy.
Up until the last minute of the qualifying in Melbourne (race on Sunday, 7.10 a.m. at the LIVETICKER) it actually looked as if all Formula 1 fans were looking forward to an extremely exciting triathlon this season.
At that time the three fastest Lewis Hamilton, Ferrari star Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull driver Max Verstappen did not even separate a tenth of a second – but then the Brit unpacked the hammer.
With his fabulous time of 1:21,164, Hamilton not only pulverized the lap record in Albert Park, but also directly reduced the hopes of many for a gripping title fight.
The world champion of the competition lost almost seven tenths, which led to discussions about the “party mode” at Mercedes and teasing between Hamilton and Vettel, but Mercedes is warning against the competition and Ferrari and Red Bull also believe in their chance of victory.
The best news for Vettel, Verstappen and Co. is for sure that Mercedes can do without the extra power in the race. However, this can only be used for one round.
Looking at the longruns on Friday, there are some indications that Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull are on a similar level. We need to improve a few things, but it looks good.”
Four-time world champion Vettel takes a similar view: “It’s very tight. In the longruns you could see that the pace is very close to each other.”
However, an overtaking manoeuvre should be quite difficult, as the course offers hardly any places for attacking manoeuvres. There is a third DRS zone for the first time in Melbourne, but that will probably not be enough against the silver PS monster.
Opportunities are more likely to arise at the start, which Hamilton did not always get off to a good start in the past – even though he improved significantly over the past season, although the 33-year-old only converted two of his seven poles into a victory in Australia.
He also started into the race in 2017 from first place, but finally had to admit defeat to Vettel, which was mainly due to a tactically bad pit stop. If the teams in the longruns are indeed as fast, the strategy could decide this time as well.
That’s why Red Bull believes it has a trump card up its sleeve. While Mercedes and Ferrari have to start with Ultrasoft tyres, Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo start with the harder Supersoft tyres.
“We want to make sure that we only have to stop once, because even with the faster tyres you lose a lot of time in traffic. Overtaking is also difficult here. Hopefully the others will have to stop twice,” Ricciardo explained the Red Bull tactics.
Hamilton also fears the racers: “It is very likely that they will stay out longer – and at a good pace. That’s not a bad thing strategically. So it’ll be interesting.”
The Scuderia has another joker. While Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas only has to start from 15th place after the crash and relegation and Ricciardo from eighth place after a penal transfer, Ferrari has two drivers among the top three.
Ferrari can therefore choose different strategies with Kimi Raikkonen and Vettel and make the Mercedes team and Hamilton sweat through an undercut attempt.
The weather will probably not help Ferrari and Red Bull, because according to current forecasts it will rain at most in the morning. But even without rain, there is much to suggest that the race for some excitement will be more exciting than qualifying – unless Hamilton’s party mode lasts a whole race.