Much to the relief of the diehard fans such as myself, Formula 1 is back - with the Australian Grand Prix concluding itself on Sunday. But is it back with a bang, or are there still some fundamental issues that need ironing out?
The new graphics have divided opinion
If you watched any part of the Australian Grand Prix this weekend, one of the first things you would've noticed is the update to the graphics. The problem that most people have is that these graphical changes feel like "change for the sake of change" - perhaps the desperation for Liberty Media to give F1 a completely new face.
The new graphics also feature a new font that's incredibly hard to read, and throughout the race weekend, certain graphics were just outright missing, such as detailed telemetry.
There are rumours that Liberty are planning to tweak the graphics somewhat for Bahrain, but the point still stands: what was actually wrong with the 2017 graphics?
The race was a bit boring
Putting some excitement regarding the Haas drama aside, the race itself was very much a bit of a drag. I've been waiting for around four months for a F1 race since the conclusion of the 2017 season, and yet I found myself struggling to stay engaged with the Aussie GP.
The problem is more or less the same as what we saw last year; ever since the introduction of the aero-heavy cars in 2017, overtaking has become a difficult-to-impossible task for drivers - especially on a street track like Melbourne. The result is not so much a race, but more just a parade of cars going round and round and round, with no changes of position.
A clear example: during the pit stop window, Fernando Alonso managed to take advantage of the virtual safety car, and as such, got the jump on Red Bull's Max Verstappen. The Red Bull was a demonstrably faster car, and yet Max just could not find a way round Alonso in 25 laps. He was never much more than a second or two behind, but never managed to make a move. As a result, McLaren managed to snatch P5, though it certainly wasn't out of sheer pace.
Australia is a hard place to overtake, so here's hoping the action improves on the permanent European circuits.
Ferrari won, but Mercedes has the faster package
Much like how Alonso got the jump on Verstappen thanks to the VSC, Vettel managed to pull the same move on Hamilton. Once he grabbed P1, Vettel cruised all the way to the chequered flag for a near-perfect season opener for the Scuderia.
However, it was clear during the race that Hamilton had the faster car, and yet, like Verstappen on the McLaren, Lewis just had no real way through. At one point, Hamilton made a mistake and fell a few seconds behind Vettel, but it only took a couple of laps to get right back up behind the red car again - giving a not-so-subtle hint of just how much performance in reserve the Merc has.
Make no mistake: if there were no VSC this race, then this race would've been a classic Mercedes cruise and coast to the finish line. Bottas was not there to join the celebration, as he was well behind suffering from a grid penalty, thanks to a crash in qualifying.
Australia didn't show the domination from Mercedes that most people expected, but I have a feeling it won't take long for the German team to engage into overdrive.
Haas the surprising dark horses
If the two Haas cars didn't have their heartbreaking pit stop mess-up which caused them to retire, it would be safe to say the American based team would be making Red Bull a bit nervous. Magnussen made the jump on Verstappen right at the start, and stayed there - cruising in a very healthy P4 spot. Even Grosjean wasn't that far behind, in P6.
It's been murmured a lot within the community that the 2018 Haas car is more or less a replica of the 2017 Ferrari, but hey, it damn well works for them.
The real question will be whether Haas - who are only in their third season - can keep up this impressive performance, and fend off development from other midfield teams. McLaren and Renault both look very strong this year, and once they apply a couple of upgrades, they could be threatening Haas' "best of the rest" title.
So, there we have it. The first race was very boring, and yet, there's always many talking points. This season opener wasn't particularly the strongest there's ever been, but I'm optimistic things will improve as time goes on.
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