March 21, 2016

2016 Australian GP Executive Summary

(photo: Ferrari)

After the disaster Formula One served up for qualifying on Saturday, many expected the 2016 Australian GP in Melbourne to be more of the same dreaded, predictable procession the series has anesthetized us into.

But, while the podium was uncomfortably familiar,  the race itself was quite interesting, with several points boding well for the rest of the season.

The most obvious change are more varied race strategies now possible with the extra Pirelli compound available to the teams.  The top drivers all started on the softest compound but as the race unfolded, there were at least three distinct strategies at play.   A big improvement on what could be done with just two compounds.

With both Mercedes on the front row, not many would have bet on two red cars leading after one lap.   Vettel made an astounding start and when Nico gave Lewis some of his own medicine at turn one, ol' Kimi was brilliant sneaking through.  Great stuff.

Vettel was making like his old Red Bull self, building a lead in clear air on the delicate super soft tires.

Surprising everyone, Ferrari chose to keep him on  super softs for the second stint and Seb was able to stay ahead of a charging Rosberg who had stopped for softs a lap earlier and had a brilliant out lap.

After Alonso and Gutierrez's brutal crash and subsequent red flag,  the crucial question of the race:  did Ferrari make a mistake starting Vettel on the super-softs for effectively a third stint?    

On the face of it  yes, but I'm not sure that at that point Ferrari were not doomed to be passed by the Germans anyway.

(photo: Mercedes AMG Petronas)

Mercedes were amazing on the medium tires,  it was the same last year and it looks like that hasn't changed.  Ferrari had saved a set of super softs in qualifying (that's why they did not run at the end) and they rolled the dice.   Had they used mediums, Rosberg and Hamilton would have caught Vettel for sure.  With the risky strategy, Vettel had a good chance to get second but the slow pit stop was crucial.

So if it was another Mercedes 1-2,  it was not a cakewalk for the Silver Arrows, it's not a given Rosberg would have caught the red German without the stoppage.

Does it mean Ferrari has caught up?    I would be very careful, Melbourne is atypical and temperatures were not very high.  Very tough to make any intelligent predictions other than Ferrari's clutch works very well!

Alonso had a brain fart moment,  possibly in the excitement at the prospect of actually passing someone with his McHonda.      One of the scariest accidents ever and he walks away,  out of the car in seconds.   Amazing.   I hope Nando, played lotto and went to light a candle somewhere after that.

There was a lot of excitement about Haas scoring points  the first time out.  They caught a lucky break with the red flag but I don't think there was a single person out there who resents it in any way, great for the team, great for Grosjean and great for the sport.

Also a hat tip to Renault who did not score points but brought both cars home first time out.  Bodes well.

Finally Verstappen.   His fights with Sainz are going to be very entertaining.  Without a doubt Max is the better racer of the two (proof? I took forever for Sainz to find his way past Palmer while Verstappen dispatched the renault driver in three corners)   But the Spaniard, to his credit did not give up or give in, frustrating the hell out of his teammate.   I predict a racing dad on racing dad brawl before the end of the season!

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