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.

:  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.


"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
Post contains 1416 words, total size 9 kb.

1 So Ferrari kind of did it to themselves.  At least in the early season it looks like there will be real competition.  Two bad pits for Ferrari, though...someone got yelled at in Italian.

Posted by: Ben at March 20, 2016 09:16 PM (DRaH+)

2 I saw Alonso's crash.  At first, you only noticed Esteban's car, that lump of metal stuck to the wall didn't even grab your attention as being a car.  Then I saw the tires attached to it, and I was sure we'd lost a driver.  Amazing that he just crawled out and walked away.  That was probably one of those "I'm glad it happened so quickly, I never even had a chance to realize I should soil my suit." moments.

Posted by: David at March 20, 2016 10:32 PM (qFBUY)

3 Maybe it was because I was exchanging texts with Vaucaunson's Duck, but while I knew it was a bad accident, I was never concerned about Alonso's life.

Simply, it felt like we've seen worse.

Posted by: Wonderduck at March 20, 2016 10:37 PM (KiM/Y)

4 Maybe if I'd actually seen it happen, I wouldn't have been so freaked, but the video I saw showed the wreckage before we saw what caused it.

Posted by: David at March 20, 2016 11:31 PM (qFBUY)

5 It helped that by the time the announcers realized that there were in fact two cars off the track (Alonso's car being so mangled it was not readily identifiable as a vehicle from that angle!), Alonso was out and getting slapped on the back by Gutierrez. There wasn't that moment where you were going "man, is he still alive in there?"

Apparently the quals format is back to normal for Bahrain.

Was a pretty good race. Grosjean ran a clean and smooth run and benefited massively from the red (had he had to pit once, he'd have been outside the points), but even that would have been an accomplishment. If he hadn't had the speed in the car, he couldn't have kept what he had, that's for sure. A professional job, and a good demonstration of how much he's improved as a driver, as compared to the days when he was competing with Maldonado for most wrecks.

On the topic of professionalism, might we give Verstappen the sobriquet "Mad Max"? He was rather upset this weekend, first at a tire snafu and then at not being able to get around Sainz.

What do you think about the three tires? Was interesting to see some radically different strategies, but I don't know if it's a long-term net positive.

Posted by: Avatar at March 21, 2016 03:15 AM (v29Tn)

6 "Y'all kinda nonchalant about roasting your driver's head in its helmet, ain't ya?" Priorities, people, priorities.

So we might get a bit more of actual proper racing, just a bit, this season? That is, the quals idiocy couldn't have directly resulted in this better-race-than-expected, right?

Posted by: GreyDuck at March 21, 2016 07:24 AM (rKFiU)

7 I think Ferrari messed up even without the pit stop issues.  Assuming they felt they couldn't beat the Mercs flat out on mediums vs mediums (ie, declaring we're going to the end, take the position on track), then I think softs would have been the better tire choice out of the red flag.  Vettel probably could baby the softs to the end, but that would also leave them the option of matching a shift to supersofts if Merc does the same.

Posted by: ReallyBored at March 21, 2016 02:19 PM (ulGxe)

8 @ Avatar: re - the tires.  Meh.  One race is probably not enough to judge quite yet.  If you held a loaf of rye bread to my head, I'd probably say it didn't hurt anything.  And alas, I'm amused by calling Verstappen "Embryo."  Just like I'm amused by nicknaming a driver after a questionable piece of Japanese animation.

@ GreyDuck: Yep!  While that Quals format was a stupid, stupid thing, it didn't actually generate a grid that was particularly off-kilter.  I mean, sure, Haas was hurt by it, as was Kid Kyvat, but... really, were we expecting greater things from Haas in their first quals session ever?  I wasn't, not really.  And it's not uncommon for one of the Big Teams to dribble something down the leg of their firesuit once in a while...

@ RB:  Ferrari didn't seem to be happy with the Mediums all weekend... I think I remember hearing or reading somewhere that they couldn't get them up to temps.  That would indicate that the Red Cars are relatively gentle on their tires, which means the Softs would have been the better choice.  Still, I understand their thinking, and I actually applaud the audacity of the move.  That it didn't work is unfortunate.

Posted by: Wonderduck at March 21, 2016 05:06 PM (KiM/Y)

9 It should have been good enough for 2nd, a respectable first foray with two Mercs on the grid; pit snafus happen, you can't plan against them.

Maybe the fire was a system to get the Iceman up to operating temperature?

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at March 21, 2016 11:03 PM (/lg1c)

10 @WD:  Yeah, I can kinda see the thinking.  Burn the supersofts off for maybe 10-15 laps to pick up a 15ish second lead, pit for softs and drop to second then run the old mediums down in the final 20ish.  I dunno, though.  It might also just be that they weren't sure Vettel could baby the softs to the end, in which case, yeah, that was probably the best chance at a win.

@Avatar:  Eh, even without the pit snafu, going with SS out of the red flag meant that they would have to pit again.  With Mercs on mediums, that meant Vettel needed to build a fairly large lead before the pit for the win.  According to WD, Ferrari didn't like the mediums, so if, and this is admittedly a big if, Ferrari's testing showed that softs could last to the end then I think going out on softs gives them more options.  OTOH, I wonder if they were burned by the race last season where Vettel was babying a set of tires that just catastrophically failed. 

Posted by: ReallyBored at March 22, 2016 09:04 AM (ulGxe)

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