Formula Fun: Thunder Down Under

This time last year I was talking about how the race in Australia was a curious one. We had more retirements than any race the year prior, and the Mercedes duo were able to walk away with it again. This year was different in as many ways as it was the same. It was still a Mercedes one two, with a Ferrari behind them, but that isn’t the real story of this years Australian GP. While most of the weekend was the story of the debut of HaasF1 and the new look Renault team, the new qualifying format was the star of the headlines. With the new elimination system, the FIA and the F1 strategy group hoped to mix up the grid with a new system designed to punish mistakes and give fans a duel for pole. That didn’t happen. The new system was a mess, punishing no one other than the fans. At the end of Q3 the drivers could have waved the flags for themselves. It was a farce of a qualifying format, and was duly scrapped. The problem was in the fact that all of the top teams were still able to properly strategize and get in fast laps early. It was a joke and probably the most embarrassing thing F1 has done to itself since the 2005 United States Grand Prix. It showed what happens when the powers at be try to change something that didn’t need fixing. When the race itself was about to start with the cars on the grid, we had one loss already. Kvyatt from Red Bull grinds to a halt on the start finish straight, unable to get back into his grid spot, or even onto the grass. It was at that moment that I began fearing that we might have another repeat of 2015, with cars dropping left and right due to mechanical issues while the Mercedes duo leaves everyone else for dead. This was not the case. After the second parade lap and everyone forming up, something amazing happened as the lights went out. With the lights out the two Ferraris jumped ahead of the silver arrows, leaving them struggling behind them. Rosberg in third, and Hamilton back in fifth, Vettel was able to stretch his legs in the front, doing his best impression of his Red Bull career. That was until the red flag. As seen in the header photo there was a massive accident with Fernando Alonso and the Haas car of Esteban Guttierez. When I first saw the Haas in the gravel pit I assumed the new team must have had a suspension failure or a puncture. When the FOM Graphic with Alonso’s name appeared on screen I thought it was an accident. Then my eyes focused on the wreck. I gasped. I thought for sure we had lost another, or at least had another driver injured badly. Another gasp when I saw Fernando walking, gingerly, away from his car, into the warm embrace of Esteban. This was a testament to how far we have come in terms of safety. So, let’s give hats off to the McLaren chassis people, and to the FIA for pushing driver safety. After the accident the red flag was thrown and everyone returned to pit lane to swap tires and see if they can nail the strategy to win the race with the restart. Mercedes chose to try to go the rest of the way on the medium tire, while Ferrari put on a set of supersofts. Now, this is the moment that made the race. Ferrari committed to one more pitstop, while Mercedes could go the full way. In a stunning turn of events, the Germans are apparently really good at calling a race strategy. With the Siver Arrows able to go to the end of the race, Rosberg took first, Hamilton second, and Vettel third. Even though the race shook out to be what we experienced most of the year podium wise it was still exciting and one to go back and watch if you missed it. The battle throughout the field were entertaining, and seeing Romain Grosjean take 6th for Haas in their debut was really something. Fun fact, since the only tire change Haas did during the race was under the red flag, Romain was able to score points without completing a single pit stop. As an American, it was special seeing the flag represented in the world of F1, even if the team is sort of a melting pot itself. Ricciardo was able to secure fourth in front of his home crowd, showing that maybe Adrian Newey had done it again. Also notable about Red Bull this weekend were the wings of Aston Martin. The English marque has signed a deal for a technical partnership with Red Bull Racing, which includes Adrian Newey helping design a hypercar for the brand. Think the McLaren Mercedes deal of the early 2000’s. So what did we learn this week? Pace. The field has seemed to bunch up over the winter, with Renault and Honda making great leaps, and Ferrari getting oh so close to the Mercedes, and even being faster when it comes to race pace on the softer tires. Toro Rosso again seems to have a great car under them even if their reliability, with last years Ferrari power plant, seems to still be something to work on. Next time out we are in Bahrain where we will hopefully get more dry running, and see if the conclusions from this race pan out. Again, if you have comments, concerns, or any notes, please leave them here in the comments.

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