he initial two races of the 2017 F1 season have suggested that it will be a much closer season, with Mercedes not having all their own way for a change!
However, the two Mercedes had locked out the front row of the grid for the first time this season, but surprisingly it was new boy Valtari Bottas who took pole by less than a tenth of a second, with Vettel in 3rd several tenths further back.
At the start. Bottas lead the way from Vettel who got past Hamilton at turn 1. But he was not pulling away by that much, and it seemed that an intriguing tactical battle was to come!
And so it turned out! Vettel was first to pit on lap 10, but then shortly afterwards Lance Stroll clashed with Carlos Sainz in the Toro Rosso. The Spanish driver attempted a very ambitious move up the inside of stroll in the Williams as he came out of the pits, but instead of that, he ploughed straight into the Canadian rookie’s side-pod and eliminated him on the spot! In Stroll’s defence, there’s no way he could have seen that coming. After the race, Sainz was given a 3 place grid penalty for the next race, and few would be able to argue with that decision!
With Stroll’s car stranded on the inside of turn 1, the safety car was deployed, and Mercedes decided to bring both drivers in at the same time. It looked like this would save Mercedes’ race, but 3 time World Champion Hamilton made a crucial mistake. As he entered the pits, he could see that his team mate Bottas was in the pit box, and to try and avoid having to wait behind them and be “stacked” as they say in F1, he deliberately slowed down unnecessarily, to avoid having to wait, but in the process, he held up the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo who was right behind him.
The stewards noticed this, and a few laps later issued Hamilton with a 5 second penalty, which he had the option of taking at this next pit stop, or having added to his overall time at the end of the race.
For the meantime though, he had emerged in 3 place behind Vettel he was now leading and his team mate Bottas in 2nd.
Vettel was starting to pull away, but he and the Mercedes needed to pit again.
The German pitted first, with Bottas following suit a few laps later.
Hamilton now led but he had a decision to make. Take the penalty in his last pit stop, or take it at the end of the race?
He chose to take it at the pit stop, so that once back on track he could get the hammer down and know exactly where he would stand.
As he pitted, the crew had to not touch the car for 5 seconds before changing the tyres. That 5 seconds seemed like an eternity for Hamilton, and his frustration showed with a rye shake of the head.
Once the tyres were changes he emerged from the pits in 3rd position.
He now had 15 laps to catch Vettel, and this looked possible, as his tyres were fresh, whereas Vettel’s were starting to wear.
Mercedes ordered Bottas to let Hamilton through seeing as it was the Brit who had the clearer chance of winning.
Hamilton was catching Vettel at approximately a second a lap on average, but in the last few laps it became clear that he wasn’t going to catch him in time, and he was resided to 2nd place for the 2nd race in a row.
After 57 dirty, dusty laps, Vettel took the chequered flag for his 2nd win of the season for Ferrari!
Vettel now re-takes the lead in the championship with Hamilton and Bottas in 2nd and 3rd, with Kimi Raikonnen currently the best of the rest.
It seems we really are in for a superb, close championship battle!
Next time on Formula 1………….Sochi, RUSSIA!