Melbourne 2018: the introduction of the halo in its first competitive test, a victory for a fortunate Sebastian Vettel following Lewis Hamilton’s blistering pace claiming pole position and…a lack of grid girls. A season opener to reflect on.
Albert Park is right in the heart of Melbourne - one of the sporting capitals of the world. The way that the city warms to F1 year on year, shows how highly this sport is regarded with the fans and businesses alike. Hardly surprising to see Federation Square will hold the first ever season launch event on March 13th.
Back now to 2018, following a day of free practice and thousands of fans busily snapping away at the beautiful machines on offer, the main talking point which was debated over many a cold beer that Friday afternoon was – the halo! Conclusion: if this wishbone-shaped frame can prevent deaths from major accidents then it is a worthy addition.
Also, patrons were treated to the Formula One debut of Charles LeClerc and Sergey Sirotkin. A year on and we have LeClerc in a Ferrari as a hotly-tipped title contender whereas Sirotkin is still in Formula 1 but in the role of Renault reserve driver. What a difference a year makes!
The Melbourne Walk was as busy as ever with fans warmly greeting their heroes and Nico Rosberg accepting every fan’s request. So much so that when his producer asked him to be filmed signing autographs – he was hard pressed to find someone he had not yet christened with a signature.
Moving forward to qualifying on Saturday and Lewis Hamilton achieving his 73rd pole position of his career.
As has been the case in recent years, Saturday afternoon's qualifying session was divided into three parts with a gradual amount of cars being eliminated at each stage. One of the five drivers eliminated from qualifying in Q1 was Brendon Hartley. Hartley had been happily telling many an interviewer how as a Kiwi this was not his home race but he was so touched by the turnout of fans and support for him. A year on and Hartley is back in the fold of endurance racing…but don’t consider his F1 story as being closed yet.
Following a swift Q2 we reached the top ten shootout. An early spin from Valterri Bottas resulted in a heavy crash into the barrier at turn two. For 2019 we are told that Bottas is more determined, focused and well settled – time will tell. Hamilton then found his groove and set a circuit-record 1:21.164 to clinch pole position. Vettel would start third due to turn thirteen catching him out but…he was fast!
For the race itself, our front three kept formation up to the only round of pit stops. Before this, Max Verstappen spun at turn (lap 9) and his battle from eighth to fourth whilst holding off a charging Fernando Alonso was the highlight of the day.
The race was going to plan for Hamilton as he pitted on lap 19 to cover Raikkonnen but then just a few laps later came the decisive moment of the race.
Kevin Magnussen (lap 21) and Romain Grosjean (lap 24) both retired due to a cross-threaded wheel-nut. The latter resulting in a Virtual Safety Car (VSC) and with that the chance for Vettel to enter the pits on lap 26 and emerge ahead of both Hamilton and his own teammate Kimi Räikkönen. This leap came as result of a software glitch at Mercedes as they miscalculated the gap needed to prevent Vettel getting the jump on them. Seeing how neither pitted again and Albert Park is very challenging to overtake on, the final three was: Raikkonnen, Hamilton and for the second year running - Vettel.
However, pre-season testing and 2019 regulations make predicting the 2019 race winner a challenging prospect - I cannot wait to witness it.