F1 Season Opener Review
It began with a failure.
A new qualifying system would determine the grid for Melbourne. A qualifying system designed to improve the show ended up being so complicated that is was beyond explanation. Saturday qualifying left a cloud over the season start as the new system resulted in a session where the excitement was drained away by a countdown clock that eliminated drivers rather than the driver's hot lap times. It was so bad that within hours of the spectacle the teams, FIA and F1 management met and decided to revert back to the previous system for the rest of 2016.
It was under this cloud that the race started amid questions about qualifying and whether F1 could still bring the excitement. Every pre-season, the web is full of pundits and fans forecasting the death of F1. Every year F1 management and the FIA design various schemes to make things more entertaining. Nonetheless, once Sunday arrives all the plans in the world will not change that a driver has to drive and the cars have to survive. If the Australian Grand Prix is a preview of the 2016 season then we say, don’t change a thing. From lights out to the checkered flag everywhere on track had action.
Key Story Lines
Ferrari appeared to have caught up to the dominance of Mercedes as Ferrari’s Vettel launched from third to the lead in the first corner of the opening lap and from there continued to open up a gap. A crash early the race that would lead to a red flag full race stop would change everyone’s strategy and lead to Mercedes coming back on top. During the red flag, Ferrari made no changes to Vettel’s car meaning he would have to pit later under Green. Ferrari had great pace but this strategy call effectively handed the race over to Mercedes.
Around lap 17 the double yellow flags came out and the helicopter overhead revealed Esteban Gutierrez beached in the runoff area and in a corner of the shot crumpled next to the barrier was an indistinguishable mass of an unidentified car. Another camera shot revealed it was the McLaren-Honda of Fernando Alonso and there wasn't much left. The replay of the incident would reveal a stomach-sickening sight of Alonso’s car air-born, tumbling over and slamming into the tire barrier. Miraculously, Alonso walked away seconds after crashing. It was a testament to the split second danger that exists in F1 and the safety designs of these 200mph rocket ships.
The American F1 team with its French and Mexican drivers and British engineers managed to score a 6th place finish in their very first F1 race. Haas became the first brand-new team to score points on their Grand Prix debut since Mika Salo finished sixth for Toyota in 2002. Its worth noting that Toyota is estimated to have spent a billion dollars before they finally left the sport. Hopefully the emergence of an American team will bring more interest to F1 from American fans coupled with the history of Gene Haas in American racing such as NASCAR.
Credit goes where credit is due. During the red flag stoppage, due to the Alonso shunt, teams were allowed to make any changes they wanted to the cars. Mercedes put medium tires on Rosberg’s car while Ferrari failed to make any changes. This meant that Vettel would have to pit with a possibility that Rosberg could go till the end. Rosberg got his win with a whiny Hamilton in 2nd place who hinted several times in post race interviews that Rosberg had caused them to slightly come together in the opening laps. Mercedes still has the race pace, but the strategy call is what kept them ahead of Ferrari.