With the overdose of cricket’s T20 World Cup and the business end of European football leagues reaching its crescendo, the anticipation of the first F1 race of the new calendar season almost went unnoticed.
The race itself became something any of the recent previous seasons couldn’t offer – exciting, thrill-a-minute stuff, with a surprising result and a throwing-of-gauntlet between two competitive teams. Hopefully, this season won’t end up like the previous two, where only Mercedes competes with itself, and the others battle for second place like infants.
Here’s how the 2016 Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne played out:
– Lewis Hamilton, defending and three-time World Champion, dominated the whole weekend and qualified on pole position.
– Nico Rosberg, his teammate, eventually won the race – his fourth in a row after winning the last three races of the 2015 season.
– Hamilton started slow, dropped to sixth, and had to fight his way back to second, ahead of Sebastian Vettel – who became a victim of Ferrari’s failed gamble tyre strategy (and an extra pitstop)
– Even though this was Mercedes’ 34th race win in the last 39 races, Ferrari showed signs of competence. Vettel led for 34 laps of the race, yet finished only third.
– An action-packed field meant that spectators were given a rousing start to the new season, with hope of plenty to come.
– Mercedes smart tyre strategy and quick thinking meant that it outwitted Ferrari instead of purely outracing them.
– Nico Rosberg has finished second for two seasons running, and could now finally give Hamilton the close fight we deserve to watch.
– Australian Daniel Ricciardo finished a credible fourth in his Red Bull.
– New US team Haas had their driver Roman Grosjean finish an impressive 6th in their first race after qualifying at the bottom.
– It was Jenson Button’s record 17th race at Albert Park – the highest for any driver at the circuit.
– Fernando Alonso, now with McLaren again, suffered a horrific barrel-rolling car-shattering crash on the 17th lap after clipping Esteban Gutierrez of the Haas team. While trying to overtake the Mexican near Turn 3, his front right touched the right rear, which sent the car careening towards the boards.
– The race was stopped at lap 17, after which Mercedes changed its strategy and outdid Vettel’s Ferrari (that remained on super softs) by the 35th lap when Vettel was forced to pit.
– Alonso walked away shaken, stirred but ready to fight another day. The car was destroyed and he later remarked how lucky he was to be alive. The FIA safety obsessions have finally come to the fore.
– The new qualifying layout was the biggest low of the weekend. It made for a dull, disastrous Saturday as people watched, shocked, as the new “idea” sucked out all the excitement – where each car gets eliminated slowly till the field is down to two cars only. Hamilton was quickest throughout, and the rest didn’t even bother to do their final laps.
– Immediately, it got criticism from all quarters, including drivers like Vettel and team owners. Thankfully, the old qualifying format will be reverted to from the second race at Bahrain.
– The increased ban on radio contact between drivers and their engineers at the beginning meant that Hamilton was like a wingless chicken unable to explore the shortcomings of his car.
12 out of the 20 times, the winner at Albert Park has gone on to win the title. Will Rosberg make it 13 out of 21, or will he ruin this uncanny record?