After Saturday’s new qualifying format was unilaterally panned as farcical and anti-climatic F1 needed to bounce back quickly. It did so with an action packed Australian grand prix.
Naturally, before the start of any race several scenarios run through your mind, all them which include some situation that will spice up the race from the get go. The catalyst was an extra formation lap after Dannil Kvyat’s Red Bull was stranded at the back of the grid.
The exhilaration is delivered by the two Ferrari’s of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen who blast past Nico Rosberg and Pole sitter Lewis Hamilton and first and second place. Behind the two Ferraris Rosberg fights to maintain his position and squeezes Hamilton to the edge of the circuit which causes the Brit to fall down to seventh place.
Immediately Vettel is able to open a two second gap over teammate Raikkonen who in turn keeps the Mercedes of Rosberg at bay. It’s a dream start for the Italian team who is more than able to match the race pace of Mercedes.
On lap sixteen the race changes. The race is red flagged for a crash between Haas F1 driver Esteban Gutierrez and Fernando Alonso’s McLaren. The Spaniard’s McLaren clipped the left-rear of the Haas, flipped through the air and came to rest, on its side, against a barrier. The damage to Alonso’s car looked horrific but he exited the car and walked away without injury. There is no question that had this accident happened in any other era of the sport it would’ve had a far different outcome. Once more, this proves that the advancement of safety in F1 should never be taken for granted nor rejected because it may not be visually appealing.
This red flag is where the race changed for Ferrari. As the cars stood in the pitlane teams were able to make changes including which tyre compound to restart the race on. Ferrari opted for the red-walled supersoft tyre while Mercedes fitted the medium compound. It was evident that the Silver Arrow’s aim was to get to the end of the race without another stop.
For Raikkonen it didn’t make much difference as he was forced into retirement a few laps after the re-start. With fire and smoke pouring out the Ferrari it looked ominously like the engine had let go however the team later confirmed that it was a turbo failure.
Ferrari still had Vettel in the lead of the race but the tyre choice meant that the former champion had to pit again. It was a strategic error by Ferrari and it cost them a definite shot at winning the race. The possible reasoning for why Ferrari didn’t go with the medium tyre could be because of a lack of confidence that they could get the tyre up to working temperature in the cooler conditions. Vettel nearly recovered to second place but a slight error at the end sealed his fate in third behind Hamilton and Rosberg, respectively.
Sebastian Vettel said after the race that he feels that Ferrari can challenge for the title this year and given that he’s not the type to say things just for the sake of talking, it’s a great omen for the rest of the season.
Nico Rosberg may have taken the big prize but the Haas F1 Team owns the performance of the day. A sixth place finish for Romain Grosjean on the team’s debut is what Formula 1 dreams are made of. Coming into Formula 1 has always been a monumental task and this team is doing it with a staff of only about 170 people. It’s as great debut as we’ve seen in at least three decades.
If you were to look only at the result of this race another Mercedes 1-2 would make you think it’s pretty much the same story, different season. But they really had to work for it. An overheating right-front brake caliper and critical tyre wear on Rosberg’s car is indicative of just how hard they had to push. Twenty races remain in this F1 season and we may just have ourselves a real championship.
(All images courtesy of Pirelli Motorsport)