March 20, 2016

F1 Update: Australia 2016

The best weather of the race weekend greeted the F1 Circus as they rolled onto the grid for the inaugural race of the new season.  As has been the case for what feels like forever, the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg locked out the first row, with the twin Ferraris of Seb Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen right behind them.  Could someone stop Hamilton, the reigning World Champion, or would he run away with the race and get the year off to a terrifying start?  Or will someone stand up for the fans and dethrone the Brit?  And what of the new team on the grid, America's Haas F1, how would they fare in their first race?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Australia!

*LIGHTS OUT: In the past, it's been traditional to see the polesitting Mercedes to go stampeding away over the nearest hill, leaving everybody languishing in its dust, save for a grim-faced second Merc desperately trying to remain in contact. Not so today, as the start saw Seb Vettel make a glorious getaway as Hamilton appeared to bog down slightly.  Vettel nipped right between the two Mercs, getting ahead of them both.  Then the other Ferrari took advantage of Rosberg and Hamilton having a little spat in the first turn, moving into second while Hamilton dropped all the way down to sixth as a result.  And, wonders of wonders, neither Ferrari seemed particularly threatened by the Silver Arrows, though they couldn't pull away from them, either.  By Lap 10, Vettel had a three-second gap to the third-place Merc of Rosberg, and nine seconds on Hamilton in fifth.  Good, but nothing like we often saw from the Constructor Champions last year.

*PIT STOPS... OR NOT:  The first of the leaders to come in for new tires was Rosberg, on Lap 13 for soft tires.  The next lap saw race leader Vettel come in for super-softs, exiting the pits just barely ahead of the newly-shod Rosberg.  If you were ever curious what sort of difference tire compounds could make, we saw it here.  While Vettel was on cold tires and Rosberg's were up to temp, the super-softs were almost immediately ready to go; the Mercedes tried gamely, but just could not hang with the Ferrari.  In the space of a few turns, a gap between the two opened and just kept getting wider and wider.  Up ahead was the other Mercedes, now in the lead as Hamilton tried to stay on track on worn tires to strategize his way past the surprising Toro Rosso of Embryo Verstappen (who pitted a few laps earlier).  When Vettel retook the lead, Hamilton pitted.  Meanwhile, the Haas of Lettuce Grosjean had worked its way up to 12th and had to be considering a pit stop soon, while his teammate was only a position or two behind but under threat from the McLaren of Fernando Alonso. 

*RED FLAG: Heading towards the right-hand Turn 3, Alonso had the Haas of Esteban! lined up for a pass.  His plan was to swoop outside the American car, then he'd be in the better position into the left-handed Turn 4.  Easy-peasey!  Just as he began his swoop, Esteban!'s Haas kicked into ERS-charging mode, and the drag on the power-unit slowed the car more than Alonso was expecting.  The McLaren's right-front wheel clipped the left-rear of the Haas, and Alonso was sent into the outside wall at high speed.  Rebounding, the car quickly dug into the gravel trap protecting Turn 3, rolled and got airborne... touching down again just short of the end of the trap.  Of course, it dug in again, flipped end-for-end in mid-air, then ended up leaning up against a wall.

When Alonso slithered out of the inverted McLaren, he was understandably shaken, but mostly unharmed.  Esteban! had a much easier ride, his broken Haas sliding to a sedate halt rightsideup in the middle of the kittylitter.  Considering the amount of debris left behind by the two, it was an easy decision for Race Control to red flag the race.

*PAUSE THAT REFRESHES:  Because of the red flag rules, teams were able to do work on the cars as they sat in the pit lane.  For example, Mercedes reportedly changed Hamilton's nose, repairing some front wing damage suffered at the start.  Everybody put on fresh tires as well, with Ferrari keeping their cars on the Super-Soft, and Rosberg joining Hamilton on Mediums.  This clearly meant that Mercedes intended to no-stop the rest of the way while Ferrari would have to stop at least one more time. Super-Soft tires had zero chance of lasting the rest of the race... or even 20 laps, for that matter.

*...AND WE'RE BACK:  There were no real surprises for the next handful of laps.  No surprises, that is, until Kimi Raikkonen brought his Ferrari into the pit lane, trailing a thin plume of smoke behind him.

Surprisingly, there was no effort from the Ferrari pit crew to put out the fire licking just inches above their driver's head.  It took a safety marshal strolling by with an extinguisher to put it out with a stream of foam.  Very odd.  Some laps later, it was clear that Vettel's tires were going off; he was losing time to the Medium-clad Mercedes.  He switched to the Soft tires, plenty sturdy enough to last to the end of the race... but his pit crew botched the stop.  A three-second stop might have gotten him out of the pits in close contact with Lewis Hamilton (who would have been promoted to second place).  Instead, a screwup on the front-left tire change turned it into a six-second stop and any realistic chance of a race win went out the window.

*THE END:  Which didn't mean that second place was out of reach.  For the rest of the race, Vettel reeled in the Silver Arrow of Hamilton in second place, closing to within one second by Lap 52.  As it turns out, though, the Ferrari pilot had chewed up his tires in the chase.  After catching up, Vettel soon went off into the grass, losing four seconds or so with only one lap to go.  This essentially ended the race; Rosberg led the way, followed some eight seconds later by his teammate.  Vettel was a second or so behind Hamilton, and the Red Bull of Daniel Riccardio was in fourth, 24 seconds behind.  Felipe Not Nasr Massa's Williams was in fifth, almost one minute behind the leader.

*OH, HIM?
:  The important question, however, was "Where was the Haas of Lettuce Grosjean?"  He finished the race 12 seconds behind Massa in sixth place.  In doing so, Haas F1 became the first new team to score points in their first race since Toyota in 2002 (also a sixth place finish).  They also became the first American team to score points since Haas-Lola (no relation) in 1986.  He was helped to this finish by making his sole tire change during the Red Flag period, meaning that he didn't actually make a pit stop during the race!  Having said that, this was a legitimate finish for the car... it deserved to be around sixth place or so on pace and driver performance.

*SELECTED DRIVER QUOTES OF THE RACE:

"Four in a row now.  It's becoming routine, ain't it Lewis?" - Nico Rosberg

"Thanks for running me off the road, teammate." - Lewis Hamilton

"Hey, guys, Ferrari's back, we're gonna beat you this year... guys?  Stop arguing with each other and pay attention to me.  Guys?" - Seb Vettel

"Oi, I'm Australian." - Daniel Ricciardo

"For a wonder, I'm not whining for once." - Felipe Not Nasr Massa

"Welcome to F1, Gene!  This is a win for us!" - Lettuce Grosjean (note: real quote)

"When I stopped, I saw a little space to get out of the car and I went out quickly just to make sure my mum, who was watching on television at home, could see that I was okay.  Oh, and AIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!" - Fernando Alonso (note: mostly real quote)

"Races we have many, but life we have only one.  I thank God we are all okay!" - Esteban!  (note: real quote.  Tweet.  Whatever)

"I hate Australia." - Kid Kvyat.  This is the second year in a row he has had a mechanical failure just before the race.

So that's it from Down Under.  The next race is in two weeks at Bahrain.  We'll see you then!

Posted by: Wonderduck at 09:33 PM | Comments (10) | Add Comment
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