Formula One: ‘Party Mode’ for Ferrari in Australian Grand Prix

It was a memorable outing for Ferrari at the Australian Grand Prix as Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen both finished on the podium in the first race of the new Formula One season.

other sports Updated: Mar 26, 2018 21:58 IST
Formula One,Ferrari,Australian Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel won the Australian Grand Prix title by beating Lewis Hamilton in the first Formula One race of the season in Melbourne.(AFP)

Is there an all-guns-blazing “Party Mode” that allows Mercedes cars a preposterous burst of speed?

Saturday talk during the Australian Grand Prix was dominated by a rumoured engine mode on world champion Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. Hamilton refuted this with the straightest of faces — despite taking pole position by a jawdropping six-sevenths of a second, following what was, till then, a bitterly contested Qualifying session — yet Mercedes boss Toto Wolff conceded there was indeed a mode of that name, and Hamilton used it to catapult himself up the ranks.

READ | Opportunistic Sebastian Vettel steals Formula 1 Australian GP win from Lewis Hamilton

Why would he not? Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo may call this “a punch in the stomach” but it would be daft of Mercedes to forego any advantage, even though a sizeable lead for the top team — after four very Mercedes years — would be less than ideal for those watching the sport. “He’s free to have a party tonight,” said Sebastian Vettel on Saturday, skeptical after Hamilton’s denial, “and hopefully Kimi [Raikkonen] and myself will have a party tomorrow.”

This they did.

Despite starting third, Vettel’s Ferrari finished comfortably ahead of Hamilton with Raikkonen completing the podium. Vettel was fortunate with a safety car period to score a win, but his lap-times were flawless and Hamilton, desperate in pursuit, locked his wheels and lost time. Consider the gauntlet thrown.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton drives during the Formula One Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. (AFP)

The lap-time duel is real. On the second lap, Hamilton smashed out a 1:30.265. Right behind, Raikkonen’s Ferrari threw down 1:30.266. This see-saw struggle between the top teams continued — encouraging those eager for a year-long dogfight — with Mercedes unable to dominate and Ferrari consistently responding. The fastest lap came from Red Bull, Ricciardo evidently spurred by the gut-punch. Then Fernando Alonso took his pumpkin-coloured McLaren to fifth place ahead of the garrulous Max Verstappen, thus teasing a season that could have several anthems blaring for many a driver and team.

Vettel’s victory delivers the most classic of champagne-soaked combinations — German anthem followed by Italian anthem — that will always evoke Michael Schumacher and his five successive Ferrari championships. Vettel and Hamilton, with four titles apiece, are gunning for (an overall) Number 5 this year, and this generation’s bragging rights.

READ | Lewis Hamilton breaks records to take pole in Australian GP

What, meanwhile, of this generation’s sights? We must respond to the new halos, those horseshoe-like protectors meant to shield drivers, that also make on-board cameras appear hideous. My fear is that they may impede a driver exiting a burning car, though we are assured modern F1 cars are likelier to crumple than burn.

Unsightliness aside, the spectatorial concern is that it has become dashed difficult to tell teammates apart. We used to do this by the customised colours and designs of helmets, but they are barely visible beneath the halo. Perhaps that’s the answer: let the drivers zing up their halos at will. Let’s have horseshoes with personality. Give everyone a party mode.

(Raja Sen is a film critic who has been writing about Formula One since 2004. He shares his birthday with Michael Schumacher. Views expressed are personal)

First Published: Mar 26, 2018 16:22 IST