The 2016 Formula 1 season got off to an exciting start with the Australian Grand Prix, with Sunday’s thrills overshadowing the negative reactions over the new qualifying format. Many drivers outpaced their machinery, with Romain Grosjean being the standout driver of the day, scoring points on Haas’ first race in F1.
While some may argue that Grosjean’s sixth place result on Haas’ F1 debut was entirely down to a timely red flag period, there is no doubt that the Frenchman drove like a world championship during the second stint.
Grosjean, who started the race from 19th place on soft compound, took advantage of the red flag to gain a free pit stop - switching to the medium rubber. The 29-year old took it easy on tyres in the early stages, allowing him to fend off a trail of cars including Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and the Williams of Valtteri Bottas.
It was a classic case of pouncing on an opportunity - and pounced he did. The result is also important from the point of view of the constructors’ championship as Manor - a team Haas is expected to blow horns with - will now need a major points haul to move ahead of the American team in the standings.
Like Grosjean, Daniel Ricciardo exceeded his car’s (read power unit’s) capabilities, securing a strong fourth place finish, just behind the leading Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg and the sole remaining Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel.
Ricciardo started the race on supersoft tyres, moving up to sixth place before coming to the pits for his first pit stop. Red Bull mechanics bolted another set of the red-striped compound. As a result, the Australian quickly moved up to fourth position, until the red flag halted the proceedings.
Unlike the rest of the grid, Ricciardo changed to the soft tyres, which meant he had to make another stop to make it to the chequered flag. But it made little difference to his finishing position (he gained one position after Kimi Raikkonen’s car caught fire, and lost one after Lewis Hamilton passed him), as he equalled the best record for an Australian on home turf.
The 2016 F1 season kicked off in unexpected fashion with the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel blasting past the Mercedes drivers to take the lead of the race. Vettel controlled the situation from there on; he was on course for his fourth victory for Scuderia. But the red flag - waved after Fernando Alonso and Esteban Gutierrez were involved in a massive crash - changed the whole scenario as Ferrari chose not to change the tyres on Vettel’s car.
It meant that the German had to make another stop, while direct rivals Rosberg and Hamilton could make it to the end on the same set of tyres.
Moreover, when Vettel was on the quicker compound, he failed to establish a significant lead over second-placed Rosberg. So, after making his final visits to the pits, the 28-year old came out in a net third place.
On fresh tyres, Vettel closed in on Hamilton, but a costly mistake at the second last corner ruined any chance of overtaking the British driver.
Although Rosberg made a poor getaway and subsequently made light contact with teammate Hamilton at turn 1, overall, it was a calm and composed race for the German driver.
He made the difference in the second stint, when he remained in closing distance of then race-leader Vettel, despite being on the slower tyre. So, when the Scuderia driver made his final stop, he had no chance of catching him and regaining the lead.
Rosberg’s drive is made to look all the more impressive by the fact that he managed to make it to the end of the race, despite brake issues.
All in all, Rosberg has started his championship on the perfect note, carrying forward the momentum from late-2015.
While Valtteri Bottas’ drive in Melbourne was nowhere as applaudable as the aforementioned quartet, it was good enough to earn a spot in the list.
Bottas started well down the order in 16h place following a gearbox penalty, but took advantage of the early stages of the race to break in the top 10.
Unlike his teammate, he was unlucky to pit a few laps before the red flag came out, which compromised his final result.
While it was a decent recovery drive, one would expect him to overtake a Force India on track, rather than having to keep the Toro Rossos at bay.
by Rachit Thukral