Tuesday, 22 March 2016

"If It Ain't Broke Don't Fix It" - Australian Grand Prix Report

After some disappointing races at the end of last year and the long break of winter it was up for Formula 1 to deliver. And thankfully we were in for a classic start to 2016...

New Qualifying Format Flops

Qualifying certainly didn't deliver
As expected the rushed new knockout qualifying format flopped miserably. At first things looked promising. Rosberg made a mistake on his opening lap on cold tyres while Lewis lost track position to Grosjean's Haas while adjusting his seat belts. As the time ticked away teams rushed to get into Q2 and there was an air of excitement and good track action. However major flaws started to show in the next two sessions. The ever ticking clock was not allowing drivers in the pit lane enough time to set another lap. To add insult to injury there was no final shootout after Ferrari opted not to run at the end of Q3. It was judged too much of a sacrifice to compete with the Mercedes for track position than use up another set of tyres. A number of other drivers also followed suit and soon enough a big hole emerged in the logic of this last minute hash-up of the rule book. Thankfully for once there was universal agreement in the paddock - Christian Horner admitting that F1 "didn’t put a great show” and Totto Wolf declaring the new format "pretty rubbish". Talks were carried out on Sunday evening with old qualifying likely to prevail ready for Bahrain in two weeks.

Hamilton Bogged Down As Ferrari Fly

Last summer the FIA rightly decided to increase the skill required at the start of the race. If you've driven a manual car or motorbike you will be familiar with with the point in which you start to pull forward from a stop once throttle is fed and you 'release' the clutch. This 'biting point' as its known can be a bit more challenging to find in an F1 car. Their carbon clutches are strong but sensitive to heat meaning this point is changing all the time. Previously a team would 'learn' the perfect setting with  ''bite point finder' software off the grid and information from practise starts. Feedback  could then be relayed to the driver to preset the biting point for the start of the race. From the Belgium Grand Prix onwards drivers would now have to set the biting point themselves with no feedback and no use of bite point finder sofware on race day. Fluffing your start is now more likely with greater chance of spinning wheels or slipping the clutch. To further spice up the action in 2016 drivers must now also pull away with a single clutch paddle on the steering wheel rather than two. Two paddles allowed drivers to release one to begin the process and release the second once the car gained good traction allowing a smooth get away. Now with one paddle getting good traction off the grid is more of a challenge. Lewis Hamilton came a cropper off the grid as both Ferraris and Nico Rosberg sailed past with ease. Reflecting on this poor getaway Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted the more difficult start procedure "certainly plays a role". He went on to explain that "in the past if you would have a bad start off the line for the formation lap you could see how much the slip was. And if you can't adjust it makes a difference. Yesterday our practice starts weren't very good, and we weren't sure if this would cause a problem in the race. Lewis was a couple of metres worse up to 100m than Nico, but I'm not sure if it was a hardware problem or a software problem, a vibration or a slow reaction. We have to look into it."

Rosberg left little room for his team mate squeezing him wide into the first corner. Now Hamilton was on the back foot losing position to both the Williams of Fellipe Massa and the Toro Rosso of Max Verstappen. Thankfully he kept his fighting spirit and managed to overtake Massa by Lap 3. The Brazilian was caught out by the out of kilter Renault of Kevin Magnussen that had suffered a puncture on the opening lap. Hamilton found a way around the outside and moved back up to fifth. He would have to contend with the Ferrari engined Toro Rosso of Max Vestappen next. Although not as fast around a lap as the Mercedes the significant power of the Ferrari would make overtaking very difficult. In his own words he became "stuck behind this guy" and needed to look at a change of strategy as winning looked more and more unlikely.

Sebastian Vettel had completely aced the new starting procedure with himself and team mate Kimi Raikonnen out in front. However the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg was keeping within a second of the the pair. Rosberg pitted onto the soft tyre on lap 12 and Vettel quickly followed suit, not wanting to lose track position.

Alonso Walks Away From Horror Crash

Fernando Alonso had an extremely lucky escape on the run into Turn 3. Caught out by the closing speed of his McLaren on the Haas of Esteban Guiterrez under braking, the Spaniard clipped his right front wheel at around 190mph. This sent him slamming into the wall and sliding toward the gravel trap. As the car bounced with energy it dug into the gravel trap sideways and flipped. Now reminiscent of Martin Brundle's 1996 accident the car rolled twice in mid air until finally impacting the barrier. In a surreal moment a winded Alonso pulled himself immediately out of the mangled McLaren. "When I stopped, I saw a little space to get out of the car and I went out quickly just to make sure that my mum, who was watching on television at home, could see that I was okay".

Alonso clambers out
The twisted remains were a testament to the safety of a modern F1 car, absorbing maximum energy and protecting the driver. Alonso was clearly affected by the incident, later stating he was "lucky to be here and thankful to be here. I am aware that today I spent some of the luck remaining in life. I want to thank McLaren and the FIA for the safety of this car. I am alive thanks to the job of the last 10-15 years in Formula One."

Unfortunately 15 years ago track marshall Graham Beveridge was not so lucky when Jacques Villeneuve and Ralf Schumacher were involved in a near identical incident at the same corner. A rogue wheel fatally wounded Beveridge when it flew through a gap in the catchment fence. A spectator was also injured.

Red Flag Shakes Up Strategy

Pace on the ultra-softs wasn't enough
The resulting red flag had teams having to re asses their strategy with teams allowed to change their tyres before the race restarted. Rosberg could fit the medium tyre which would complete his mandatory tyre usage and get him to the end of the race. Ferrari made a howler of a call which ultimately cost them victory, choosing not to fulfill their mandatory usage and fit the ultra soft. This would mean they would definently have to stop again and lose track position. The superior pace of the ultra soft they banked on didn't last, and as Vettel got further into his stint his lap times were marginally faster than Rosberg on the medium tyre. This wasn't going allow the lead Ferrari to keep out in front after his pit stop and the race win was doomed. To add insult to injury team mate Kimi Raikkonen had worse luck retiring to the pits on lap 22. Flames poured out of the Ferrari air box when it came to a stop as Raikkonen calmly got out. There was an air of frustration and dejection however as he walked to the back of the garage. The excitement of the opening laps had now fizzled out for the Maranello outfit.

Lewis Hamilton and the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo had made up positions on both Ferraris, with Hamilton also managing an overtake and moving up to second on lap 42. Vettel attempted to catch on fresher tyres but ran wide chasing Hamilton 2 laps from the end. The race order would remain with home favourite Ricciardo finising a respectable 4th. A blocked brake duct sent temperatures through the roof on Rosberg's Mercedes towards the end of the race, but he was able to nurse his car home to victory.

Further down Romain Grosjean put in a stellar performance to give the new Haas team a sensational 6th place on its debut. After all the teething troubles in testing this handful of points felt as sweet as victory. There was no love loss between the Toro Rosso team mates with Max Verstappen making contact with Carlos Sainz Jnr a few laps towards the end and spinning. The Dutch teenager had been infuriated with his team's strategy which saw Sainz pit first. Expecting his team mate to move over there was signs of teenage angst when he declared the situation on team radio a "f****** joke'. The pair finished 9th and 10th respectively. Just behind the Brit Jolyon Palmer took a solid 11th place on his debut in the Renault.

Final Result

Pos # Driver
1 6 Nico Rosberg    Mercedes                        
2 44 Lewis Hamilton    Mercedes                 
3 5 Sebastian Vettel    Ferrari                
4 3 Daniel Ricciardo    Red Bull-TAG Heuer
5 19 Felipe Massa    Williams-Mercedes
6 8 Romain Grosjean   Haas-Ferrari
7 27 Nico Hulkenberg    Force India-Mercedes
8 77 Valtteri Bottas    Williams-Mercedes
9 55 Carlos Sainz Jnr    Toro Rosso-Ferrari
10 33 Max Verstappen    Toro Rosso-Ferrari
11 30 Jolyon Palmer    Renault                
12 20 Kevin Magnussen  Renault         
13 11 Sergio Perez         Force India-Mercedes
14 22 Jenson Button    McLaren-Honda
15 12 Felipe Nasr    Sauber-Ferrari 56
16 94 Pascal Wehrlein    Manor-Mercedes

Not classified
9 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari
7 Kimi Raikkonen         Ferrari
88 Rio Haryanto         Manor-Mercedes
21 Esteban Gutierrez Haas-Ferrari
14 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Honda
26 Daniil Kvyat         Red Bull-TAG Heuer


  1. Seeing all the wheels stay attached to Alonso's car owes a great deal to the tragic accident that killed the marshal at this GP. The front wheel on initial impact was prevented from hitting Alonso's head by virtue of the tethers, and even after the absolutely HUGE energy crash the wheels were all still attached to the chassis. Quite incredible.

    1. Definitely. I remember some years ago the tethers were not really working and an impact like this would have snapped them. Generally speaking it's not the crashes that kill but debris.