Turns 8-9, Albert Park
A few early impressions at the new season’s dawn
Warm gusts scoot across the parkland lake as Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari bursts out of the shadow of the trees, downshifts echoing off the surroundings as he approaches the Clark Chicane, Turns 8-9, a niggly tight right, a building speed left but with a wall waiting to greet you if you get it wrong. While this may be the early autumn of Melbourne’s year, it’s the very dawn of the new season, Vettel is officially the first car out on track in 2018.
The smell of cut grass mingles with burnt oil and over the next hour-and-a-half the pace and intensity build, comparisons between the cars become more clearly defined. The Ferrari looks OK here, maybe a little understeery. The Red Bull looks alive by comparison, more nervy, but faster responses to its driver’s inputs. It doesn’t like the first exit kerb though, twitching and leaping off there, giving Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen lots of work to do keeping it out of the wall as they accelerate. Partly, it’s down to the car oversteering as it hits the kerb, the impact only exaggerating what’s already there. But partly it’s down to suspension compliance, too – something made very obvious when a Mercedes shows up. It just smothers the inner kerb, treats it with disdain – so much so that Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas can get about a foot farther over it, thereby reducing the angle of the whole corner and allowing them to be in a relatively unstressed neutral state as they hit – and smother – the exit kerb, turbo hybrid rasp taking on a hard edge as theynail the throttle upon exit more confidently than can the Red Bull or Ferrari drivers.
The most difficult car through here is the Williams, locking front tyres from not much braking, needing at least three small stabs to get it turned in. Sergey Sirotkin is at least co-ordinating steering with throttle with great dexterity as he uses the power to help counter the understeer upon exit, hands busy upon the wheel as the front tyres get within a breeze-skimming distance of the barriers.
Sebastian Vettel: The Ferrari driver uses ample kerb and, for the most part, the car seems reasonably balanced through here
Valtteri Bottas: No drama. As customary with recent Merc F1 cars, the W09 absorbs kerbs almost as though they’re not there
Max Verstappen: The Red Bull RB14 looks more responsive than the Ferrari, but is also nervy – and perhaps harder work
Lewis Hamilton: Kerb immunity enables both Mercedes drivers to reduce the corner angle and maintain a neutral stance