The Formula 1 Grand Prix race weekend is always a massive one on the Australian Motorsport calendar, and the 2018 edition was no exception.
The Virgin Australia Supercars Championship competed for points for the first time, making the four races across the weekend more important than ever before.
After a strong showing at Albert Park in 2017, the Shell V-Power Racing Team was keen to continue that form.
Practice and qualifying opened proceedings on Thursday, with the cars quickly on the pace. Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard qualified first and second for the opening race of the weekend, and second and third for the second race – a great start. Another pole for Scott came in the third race of the weekend, with the final race seeing the boys start from sixth and ninth on the grid.
The opening race on Friday was a strong one for the team. Scott got the jump and lead from the start, defending from a charging Jamie Whincup at turn one to maintain the lead until his first stop on lap 12. A slightly slow stop allowed Whincup, who had stopped one lap earlier, to undercut Scott and steal the lead.
Scott rejoined 1.5s behind Whincup, and then spent the next four laps chasing him down before he slid past Whincup with a fantastic move into the lead through turn four, driving away to take victory by 1.3s from Whincup.
Fabian also started well and slotted into third position. He was challenged by Shane van Gisbergen early but maintained his position, and good work in the pit lane kept him in third place on the track. He was chasing Whincup down over the last few laps, but ran out of time to make a pass, finishing one-second behind.
Saturday was a mixed day for the team with the heavens opening early in the day. Pouring rain soaked the track in the lead up to the second race of the weekend, which was started in extremely wet conditions. The traditional standing start was replaced by a rolling start controlled by the safety car.
Jamie Whincup got the jump from pole at the start and maintained his lead across the full race distance. Scott stayed strong in second position from the start and despite some pressure from teammate Fabian at points during the race, finished where he started to claim another podium.
The Saturday evening race started strongly with Scott on pole and Fabian starting from seventh. Scott lead the opening couple of laps before making an error at turn one that saw him run through the gravel trap. He lost five places, rejoining in sixth, with Fabian elevated up to fourth as a result. Fabian took his first stop on lap ten, rejoining in fifth. The issues continued for car no.17 with a radio failure that lead to Scott missing the call for his opening pit stop.
The team reverted to a pit board to notify him, and he took his stop on lap eleven, two laps later than planned. Scott slotted into seventh, with Fabian fifth until rain started to fall on lap 20. The team made the call to pit the cars for wet tyres, with both cars rejoining back in the pack. Others took the choice for wet tyres, however the leaders continued on slicks. The rain slowed, and unfortunately the wet tyres proved to be the wrong call. The cars continued in a train to finish 12th (Coulthard) and 15th (McLaughlin).
The final race of the event was almost an anti-climax, with a mid-race safety car intervention nullifying any threat that the Shell V-Power Fords may have had to make more ground through the pack. Both Scott and Fabian had a good start, getting through the first turn cleanly with Scott executing a clever pass at turn four to gain two positions on the opening lap.
They then ran nose to tail for several laps until Scott passed Fabian and attempted an attack on the Walkinshaw Andretti United car of Scott Pye. The safety car boards and flags were shown not long after, and the cars rolled around behind the safety car for four laps while the fire-damaged no.34 of James Golding was removed from the circuit.
When the race went green again the clock had passed the time-certain finish limit, and as such it was the final lap of the race. Fabian got past Scott at the end of the lap, with Fabian finishing sixth and Scott seventh.
Scott now sits third in the drivers’ points, with Fabian 14th. The team is fourth in the teams’ points.
The next event of the season in the Tasmania SuperSprint, across the weekend of April 6-8.
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