We have to start with the elephant in the room, the stupid, embarrassing qualifying session using the new timed knockout format for 2016. To say it was an unmitigated disaster is an understatement, after the initial rush to post a lap time, many drivers sat out the remainder of the session in their cars waiting for their time to run out. Heck, Sebastian Vettel was out of his race suit wearing jeans before he was eliminated in the final Q3 session. The result, the 2015 qualifying format returns for Bahrain in 2 weeks.
Now we have addressed the elephant in the room, e.g. disastefying; we can move onto the race and it was a half decent race thanks to incidents and shock pace from some runners. Maybe my perception is skewed a little as I had such low expectations that the race seemed pretty good from my point of view.
The initial start was aborted due to Red Bull’s Kvyat stopping out of position on the grid which resulted in the Russian not even taking the start. After another installation lap, everyone managed to get off the line with Ferrari duo Vettel and Raikkonen getting amazing starts to be first and second by the exit of turn 2, while Mercedes duo Rosberg and Hamilton got bumped back to third and sixth places respectively.
Hamilton soon dispatched the Williams of Massa by lap 4 to take 5th place then cruised upto the back to Verstappen’s Toro Rosso in 4th place by lap 8 but got stuck behind the Toro Rosso until lap 33 when the Dutchman made his second stop for tyres. Hamilton also had to endure the insult of being passed by Vettel’s Ferrari after the German had made a stop two laps earlier, Hamilton still on his original tyres.
Talking of the Toro Rosso’s, Verstappen was acting like a royal dick in the season opener, having a full on expletive laden tantrum over the radio because his team mate Sainz would not slow and let him pass. The Toro Rosso pit wall said a number of times that Verstappen could attempt to overtake his Spanish team mate, but couldn’t get the job done, so he bitched some more over the radio. Put your big boy pants on and get the job done, stop bitching over the radio, trying to force your team to give you preference.
Unfortunately for Vettel and Ferrari, McLaren’s Alonso had a coming together with Haas’ Gutierrez resulting in the Spaniard hitting the wall, then flipping end over end before finally coming to rest deep into the gravel trap. Alonso amazingly walked away from the horrific crash that all but destroyed his McLaren. The net result of this was that a red flag was called meaning Vettel’s strategy was ruined.
I think Ferrari still had a chance to win from the safety car restart of the race, but for some reason elected to install super soft tyres on his Ferrari, which were not significantly faster than Rosberg’s medium tyres meaning that as soon as Vettel pitted for tyres, his German compatriot took the lead. And because the STR’s released Hamilton on lap 33, Vettel also fell behind the Englishman when he pitted on lap 35.
Vettel managed to make up the gap to Hamilton on soft tyres; but by that time the German’s tyres were shot and he ended up sliding wide at the penultimate corner giving the Briton some breathing room meaning Vettel had to settle for that all too familiar third step on the podium while it was another 1-2 for the all conquering Mercedes duo, Rosberg extending his run to four wins, including last season.
Meanwhile Aussie, Ricciardo made the pass on Massa into turn 1 under DRS to claim fourth place, matching Mark Webber’s best ever finish in an Australian GP. Grosjean drove a solid race, keeping out of trouble to bring his Haas F1 home in sixth place, an amazing result for the brand new American team. The squabbling Toro Rosso drivers finished the race in 9th and 10th where they had been for the majority of the race. Hulkenberg and Bottas claimed 7th and 8th places respectively with solid if anonymous drives.
Overall I would give the race a solid 7/10, we had a shock start with both Ferrari’s darting off the line getting ahead of the Mercedes. We had spectacular crashes, red flags and a safety car restart, great racing in the midfield and temper tantrums from 18 year old Max Verstappen. Next we’re off to Bahrain.