Class B: Midfield Report, 2017 Australian GP

Antonio Giovinazzi (Sauber, No. 36) in action against Lance Stroll (Williams, No. 18). Both were competing in their F1 debuts. Photo from: F1Fanatic

Because F1 today is not just about the frontrunners Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull, this new-for-2017 section will be dedicated to the teams that make up the rest of the field. I’ll be calling this section “Class B”, where Force India, Williams, Toro Rosso, McLaren, Haas, and Sauber shine.

  • [Class A-minus] Red Bull wasn’t exactly a threat to the Mercs and the Ferraris this past weekend. Sure, Verstappen finished a solid fifth and there wasn’t much he could do about that. On the other side of the garage, Daniel Ricciardo didn’t have a dream weekend in his home race and it all started when he crashed out of Qualifying. A penalty from a necessary gearbox change relegated him to a fifteenth place start but he wouldn’t even make it to the grid as he’d encounter problems half an hour before the race. He was forced to start his race from the Red Bull garage, two laps down. About halfway through, his car eventually broke down on track, and that was the end of the day for the affable Aussie. He’ll definitely bounce back in Shanghai two weeks from now.
  • Felipe Massa had a rather lonely race but the supposed-to-be-retired driver had sharp form even since pre-season testing. He finished sixth for Williams, neither being a threat for fifth nor being threatened from seventh.
  • In stark contrast, Massa’s young teammate, 18-year-old rookie Lance Stroll, had a weekend as shaky as his steering technique. On Saturday, he hit the wall in FP3 and qualified 19th, which was over two seconds slower than Massa. Come Sunday, he tried to work his way up the field but couldn’t get past the formidable defense of Antonio Giovinazzi (more on him later). Late into the race, a brake failure forced the billionaire’s son into retirement.
  • Sergio Perez of Force India contributed at least two on-track overtakes to this race’s measly tally of five. Both his passes were on Toro Rossos, which is fitting considering he spent most of his race fighting off the two Toro Rossos of Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat. Perez, Sainz, and Kvyat finished in that order for seventh, eighth, and ninth places.
  • The other Force India driver Esteban Ocon contributed a highlight reel overtake that involved him, Fernando Alonso, and Nico Hulkenberg going three-wide on the main straight late in the race. Ocon passed Alonso, giving him tenth place and his first F1 championship point. Hulkenberg also managed to get past Alonso on that same moment, consolidating an eleventh-place finish for his first race with his new team, Renault. Alonso meanwhile, suffered a problem shortly after being overtaken, and retreated to the garage with a stricken McLaren.
  • Antonio Giovinazzi, last year’s runner-up in GP2 and current Ferrari test driver, was called up to the Sauber team on Saturday following Pascal Wehrlein’s withdrawal due to lack of fitness. Wehrlein sustained a neck injury last January in the Race of Champions event, hence missing training time and the first four days of pre-season testing. Okay, back to Giovinazzi. This kid has lots of promise and he definitely deserves a full-time seat in F1—if not this year, then 2018. He narrowly missed on out-qualifying teammate Marcus Ericsson but in the race, he didn’t put a foot wrong and brought home a 12th place finish. Also worth re-emphasizing that he did indeed hold off Lance Stroll in the theoretically faster Williams during the first half of the race. I’m glad that Giovinazzi not only was given an unexpected chance to race but also that he impressed the paddock with a solid F1 debut. Great effort.
  • Stoffel Vandoorne drove a hobbled McLaren to a thirteenth-place finish, last among all finishers. Like Giovinazzi, I also highly rate Vandoorne to be an intriguing young talent but that McLaren is just horrible, sadly.
  • Romain Grosjean qualified his Haas up to a lofty sixth place but retired after 13 laps in the race, pulling into the pits with smoke coming out of his car. It’s an unfortunate result but the Frenchman didn’t appear to be entirely disappointed because he thinks that his car’s got some serious pace. He’s already looking forward to the next race.
  • Kevin Magnussen and Marcus Ericsson tangled at Turn 3 in the opening lap. Both drivers eventually retired later on, not necessarily related to the incident, as far as I know.
  • The most wretched weekend belonged to Renault’s Jolyon Palmer. He crashed during FP2, culminating an unproductive Friday. This lack of running caused him to qualify dead last on the grid. Brake problems early in the race caused his retirement after 15 laps.
  • Earlier, I noted Stroll’s two-second Qualifying gap from teammate Massa. Aside from the Williams pairing, huge gaps between teammates were also found at Renault and Haas. Based on Q1 lap times, Hulkenberg outpaced Palmer by more than three seconds, while Grosjean bettered Magnussen by about 1.4 seconds. Breakdown according to Qualifying results:
    • Massa (7th) – (19th) Stroll
    • Hulkenberg (11th) – (20th) Palmer
    • Grosjean (6th) – (17th) Magnussen

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