The Mercedes vs. Battle is on in F1. Now it comes down to who can develop the car better as the year progresses
F1 hails 'red versus silver' title battle
- Overtaking 'a problem' in new F1 – Wolff
- Bottas 'the right driver' for Mercedes – Lauda
- Liberty will not set F1 rules – Todt
- Montezemolo hails return to winning for Ferrari
- Mercedes 'not too far ahead' – Horner
- Giovinazzi to wear Ferrari red in China
- Lauda scoffs at Raikkonen struggle theory
- FIA to investigate Melbourne spectator invasion
- Vandoorne says McLaren slowest car in F1
- McLaren CMO Praises Impact Of New Formula 1 Owner Liberty Media
F1 hails 'red versus silver' title battle
(GMM) The F1 world and beyond is now looking forward to an intense inter-team battle for the 2017 world championship.
For the first time in the 'power unit' era, Mercedes looks set to have a real challenger in the form of Ferrari.
Sebastian Vettel won in Melbourne, but third force Red Bull's Christian Horner says the German actually "owes a beer" to Max Verstappen for holding up Lewis Hamilton on Sunday.
But Horner also acknowledged that Vettel fully deserved to win.
"In Vettel's hands, the new Ferrari is a deadly weapon against Mercedes," the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera agrees.
And Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost added: "I think the red versus silver duel will entertain us all season."
The joy and relief at Ferrari was palpable, with boss Maurizio Arrivabene even seen in tears. Team president Sergio Marchionne issued a media statement saying it was "about time" for a win.
Mercedes chief Toto Wolff, who earlier on television furiously thumped his desk in the decisive moment of the race, admitted Ferrari is now the team to beat.
"I need to work on my emotions during the race," Wolff smiled.
"Right now it is about accepting that Ferrari beat us."
One issue with the 2017 Mercedes is its weight, with the team deciding not to use its heavy 'trick' suspension layout in Australia.
"Weight is an area in which we can improve," Wolff admitted.
But another theory is that if not for Hamilton being held up by Verstappen, questionable pitstop timing for the leading Mercedes and a silver car that struggles to follow its rivals, the Briton would have won.
But Vettel insisted: "Right now it looks like we have equal machinery and I hope it stays that way."
Overtaking 'a problem' in new F1 – Wolff
|Those high downforce, high grip new F1 cars = zero passing. All passing will be done on pitstops. And for what? The cars were only 1.7 seconds per lap faster than last year.|
(GMM) Although Ferrari won on Sunday, Mercedes chief Toto Wolff gave a thumbs-up to the 'new' F1 after the 2017 season opener.
On a competitive level, however, Wolff's colleague Niki Lauda called it a "wake-up call".
"The best wake-up call is early morning, so now we are awake," said the F1 legend.
But the fans will relish a two-team battle for wins after years of Mercedes dominance, and the now visibly faster and harder-to-drive cars.
As for the spectacle overall, some are worried the lack of overtaking moves in Melbourne is a red flag for F1.
"Overall, I like the new formula one," Wolff told the German broadcaster RTL.
"But obviously the overtaking is a problem. It might have been a bit to do with the circuit in Melbourne," he added.
New Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas said after the race: "It was definitely harder to follow other cars in Melbourne this year compared to last year."
Bottas 'the right driver' for Mercedes – Lauda
|By the end of the Australian GP Bottas was faster than Hamilton, but backed off knowing his chances of passing with the new cars was zero|
(GMM) Niki Lauda says Melbourne proved that Mercedes chose "the right driver" to replace reigning world champion Nico Rosberg for 2017.
During the season opening Australian grand prix, now retired Rosberg 'tweeted' a photo showing him watching the race on TV with his wife and daughter.
Many people wanted Mercedes to hire a more exciting replacement like Fernando Alonso to replace him, but after switching from Williams, Valtteri Bottas qualified and finished third in Australia.
"He did a faultless race under great pressure," F1 legend and Mercedes team chairman Lauda declared. "And his speed was not far from Lewis (Hamilton)'s. It was Rosberg-like.
"We selected exactly the right driver," he added.
Indeed, while the Finnish driver admitted he was "angry" after qualifying, he was happier following the race, having even got within overtaking distance of Hamilton.
As for attacking the Briton, Bottas said: "It would not have made any sense. To attack Lewis, I would have had to be at least two seconds faster than him, and I wasn't."
But another theory as to why Bottas didn't attack is a rumor the new Mercedes is particularly bad at following in another car's aerodynamic wake.
"This is a questionable theory," Lauda insisted. "After one race I wouldn't make too many conclusions."
Liberty will not set F1 rules – Todt
|It would be good for F1 if Jean Todt (R) would retire|
(GMM) Jean Todt has made clear the FIA will continue to make the rules in formula one.
As the Liberty Media era begins in earnest, new F1 sporting boss Ross Brawn said in Melbourne he is prepared to "fight" for changes if the spectacle is not right.
FIA president Todt, also in Melbourne, responded: "I'm glad the Liberty people are thinking about the future.
"I am willing to listen to their thoughts about the regulations," the Frenchman is quoted by Auto Motor und Sport, "just as I respect any input from any side.
"But the final responsibility will always be in the hands of the FIA," Todt insisted. "We make and control the rules."
The next set of rules is already being thought about because, while the new cars are more aggressive looking and faster, most agree that the spectacle could suffer due to one-stop races and a lack of overtaking.
Todt admitted that is a problem.
"The cars are more spectacular and faster," he said, "but I'm a bit worried about the racing and the gaps between the teams.
"As nice as it is that Mercedes has an opponent in Ferrari, the gap of 2 seconds from the midfield to the top is too much.
"Another thing that surprised me is that we were promised a time improvement of up to 5 seconds, but pole was only 1.7 seconds beneath last year's time. Perhaps this is due to the circuit only," Todt added.
Nonetheless, rule changes are already being discussed, including the dire need for cheaper, simpler and louder engines to satisfy the trackside spectators.
But Todt insists F1 is actually in good health.
"Your question implies that we are talking about a dying sport," he said. "The organizer in Melbourne sold 300,000 tickets, where last year it was only 220,000.
"The media center is also full, so there is no crisis here. Why do we always see only the negative? Let a few races pass and then we can make a judgement."
Montezemolo hails return to winning for Ferrari
(GMM) Former Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has hailed the Italian marque's return to victory.
Tension between the long-time Ferrari chief and his successor Sergio Marchionne has been obvious, but Montezemolo insisted Ferrari fully deserved to win in Melbourne.
"I'm really happy for the men and women of Ferrari," he is quoted by La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"It was a clear and well deserved victory. Ferrari was the quickest car on the track, even if Mercedes called Hamilton to the box too early and with these machines it seems impossible to overtake.
"But I'm really happy for everyone because this very important success is the result of the great work that has been done at Maranello," Montezemolo added.
Mercedes 'not too far ahead' – Horner
|Christian Horner knows his Red Bulls are too slow|
(GMM) Team boss Christian Horner has denied losing its 'trick' suspension system is the reason Red Bull struggled in Australia.
Many observers are surprised that, with the rules changing and designer Adrian Newey reportedly fully motivated again, Ferrari and Mercedes turned out with clearly faster cars at the 2017 season opener.
Mercedes also removed a controversial suspension layout prior to Melbourne, but it was reportedly done so voluntarily to save weight.
On the other hand, the FIA actually told Red Bull to remove its system.
But team official Dr Helmut Marko insisted in Australia: "For weight reasons we wouldn't have used it here."
And when asked if the suspension system contributed to Red Bull's lack of pace in Australia, boss Horner answered: "I don't think so.
"In the winter, we had just started to implement and improve it, and honestly, even if we had the opportunity to use it, it's not a fact that we would have continued down that path because of the weight.
"In fact, the configuration of our suspension now is the same as last season," he added.
Horner said Red Bull was actually pleased its race pace was better than it had been in qualifying, but he admitted the team is still trailing the top two teams.
"We want to progress quickly," he said. "Our car is clearly third, but in the next two races, we intend to reduce the gap.
"In Melbourne, Ferrari made the strongest impression and they probably have the strongest car, but quite honestly, I don't think Mercedes is too far ahead of us. In my opinion we need to add about half a second per lap," he said.
Giovinazzi to wear Ferrari red in China
|Antonio Giovinazzi wore Sauber blue in Melbourne|
(GMM) Antonio Giovinazzi says he will be back in red gear when he returns to the F1 paddock in two weeks.
Ferrari's new reserve driver got a shock call-up to the race grid in Australia, when Sauber's Mercedes-backed main driver Pascal Wehrlein pulled out with apparent fitness concerns.
Giovinazzi, a standout in GP2 last year, was widely hailed for his performance.
"It was a perfect weekend because an Italian driver was back in F1 and Ferrari returned to winning," he told the Italian broadcaster Sky in Melbourne.
Giovinazzi, 23, admitted that although Wehrlein pulled out due to a lack of training, he too suffered with fitness issues in Australia.
"Physically it was tough," he said, "especially my neck in the closing laps. It takes practice because cornering in F1 is completely different.
"In two weeks I will be in China dressed in red. Then we'll see."
Indeed, German Wehrlein has said he is determined to be fully fit for Shanghai, even if there are rumors political influences could see Giovinazzi back in the Sauber soon.
"Antonio has a good future," A Ferrari insider is quoted by Speed Week.
"His talent is obvious — everyone at Ferrari and Sauber can see it. Now we have to observe whether Wehrlein is fit for China and Bahrain. If not, Giovinazzi is there.
"And then it's clear — if Kimi Raikkonen is not interested in 2018 or Ferrari wants to invest in youth, then Antonio will take his place," the insider added.
Lauda scoffs at Raikkonen struggle theory
|Raikkonen too slow in Melbourne|
(GMM) F1 legend Niki Lauda has scoffed at one controversial explanation for Kimi Raikkonen's Melbourne struggle.
The Mercedes team chairman admitted he was surprised by the performance gap between race winner Sebastian Vettel and his Ferrari teammate Raikkonen on Sunday.
"I don't know what went wrong for Kimi," Lauda told the German broadcaster RTL. "The difference to Sebastian was significant, when normally the two of them are quite close together."
One arguably malicious explanation is that, now at the age of 37, Finn Raikkonen might be struggling physically with the new-generation F1 cars, particularly amid rumors he indulges in alcohol and tobacco.
Shortly after the race in Melbourne, Lauda hit back: "He was behind from the start. And we can see that he is not tired. Look at him sitting there comfortably in his sunglasses and not a bead of sweat!"
FIA to investigate Melbourne spectator invasion
(GMM) Officials are investigating the invasion of the Albert Park circuit by spectators while F1 cars were still completing their post-race in-laps on Sunday.
Winner Sebastian Vettel, a lover of F1 history and a racing 'purist', admitted he actually enjoyed how trackside spectators breached the circuit perimeter just after he crossed the checkered flag.
"It was mad – in a positive way – when there were people running on track going wild with Ferrari flags," said the German. "It was unbelievable."
Less impressed were the local race organisers, however, as well as the sport's governing FIA, in light of the serious safety breach.
"Normally, spectators are only allowed on the track once the course car completes the lap behind the last driver in the field," F1 race director Charlie Whiting is quoted by Auto Motor und Sport.
"This time, for some reason the gates were opened in turn 15 before this happened. There were probably some overly euphoric Ferrari fans," he added.
"Fortunately, no dangerous situation arose but we will investigate what happened," said Whiting.
Andrew Westacott, the boss of the race promoter the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, thinks what happened was "a mistake in the signals".
"I am concerned because we have very, very strict processes that for 21 races have worked beautifully so something went amiss," he told Speedcafe.
An initial investigation conducted by circuit operator CAMS found that spectator gates were indeed opened "without clearance from race control".
Vandoorne says McLaren slowest car in F1
|Vandoorne says the McLaren-Honda is a slug|
(GMM) Fernando Alonso is not the only team driver who is highly critical of former F1 grandee McLaren-Honda's current predicament.
Many observers have interpreted Alonso's post-race comments in Melbourne as a clear sign that his patience is finally up, as the Anglo-Japanese collaboration continues to falter for the third consecutive season.
"Optimism? I think what I was able to do this weekend will be impossible to do again," Alonso is quoted by the Spanish press.
He is referring to the fact that he is "proud" of having qualified and raced just outside the points-paying positions in Melbourne, despite having the slowest car in the field.
"I cannot reach the points by myself," Alonso told the Spanish broadcaster Movistar. "When we get to normal circuits, our position will be much further back.
"I never had a better race but I've rarely sat in a less competitive car," he added. "In terms of performance, we are the last — we are (the) tenth (team).
"My qualifying lap was extremely good but under normal conditions on a normal track, we should be last and second to last," Alonso said.
Another interpretation of Alonso's comments is that he is applying pressure amid rumors McLaren is considering dumping Honda to return to top-line Mercedes power.
There are also rumors Alonso could quit McLaren mid-season if this doesn't happen.
But even his rookie teammate Stoffel Vandoorne sounded highly critical of the McLaren-Honda situation after Australia.
"The only positive point is that I finished the race, because I honestly didn't expect to," he is quoted by the Belgian newspaper La Derniere Heure.
"We went to the end, but never able to fight for anything. We lack so much power that it is impossible to fight. We're really driving in another category," added Vandoorne.
"We are more or less last. Our package is really not competitive," he said.
However, Vandoorne might have some reason to be satisfied, because at certain stages of the race he was actually faster than double world champion Alonso.
Vandoorne replied: "I do not value my laptimes compared to Fernando in the situation we are in, especially when he fought in the field and I was more or less alone."
Finally, the 24-year-old said that although his career as a full-time F1 racer has now begun, he is not happy with McLaren-Honda's situation.
"I'm not happy but that's normal," said Vandoorne.
"When you're 3 seconds down, it's not enjoyable because you're not really racing.
"We're getting new parts for China and Bahrain and we'll try to improve, but we know that it will take time. The next races will be just as difficult," he predicted.
McLaren CMO Praises Impact Of New Formula 1 Owner Liberty Media
When Bernie Ecclestone "finally handed over the keys" to the F1 brand, marketers "delighted at the previously unthinkable prospect of a revamped commercial model" under Liberty Media, according to Katie Deighton of THE DRUM.
And "going by the account of McLaren, the changeover’s new regulations appear to be exactly what the sport has been looking for." Rules on sponsorship that were developed and "staunchly protected by the old guard" were infamously restrictive and "one dimensional," according to CEO Chase Carey.
McLaren Technology Group CMO John Allert said, "The old fashioned model was a team like McLaren was [seen as] a rights holder, and access to the drivers, access to the team, the car … all those kinds of things were seen as rights. Now … we're treating all of our sponsors as partners.
"We're not as worried about specifically what those rights are so much as what their ambitions are for the program. We're working with them much as an agency would do to help them."
Outside of sponsorship, "the world of owned media is opening up to McLaren now that regulations on content ownership have also been relaxed." Digital and social opportunities "have been widened — for once, the team can provide fans" with what they are asking for.
Allert: "In the old world of Formula 1 we were oddly prevented from using any kind of moving image footage that was taken at races. In an era where fans are demanding not just rich content but immediate content, it's been hugely fortuitous for us that we now have new commercial owners who share the team's visions for meeting the demands of their customers and their fans, as well as new fans, by using moving images, highlights, clips with the drivers … to bring people closer to the sport."
This "newfound ability" to self-distribute content "is also an antidote to Sky’s hold" of the F1 broadcast rights, which "immediately limited the amount of people who can watch a race due to the network’s pay-to-view model" THE DRUM