After a disastrous qualifying session on Saturday, Formula One managed to save its face by delivering a fantastic race on Sunday. For once, this wasn’t by accident.
The powers that control Formula 1 pressed for the new elimination based qualifying format despite reservations from team engineers who had predicted that the session would end with an anti-climax. Result? A qualifying session that had everyone including the drivers and commentators confused, leave aside the fans who tuned in to the season’s first competitive session. The new format relied on two theories; first, to pressurize the drivers into attempting faster lap times to avoid elimination and second, a competitive field where teams would attempt out-qualifying each other.
In reality, qualifying flopped horribly and caused major embarrassment to the Formula 1 teams and organizers. But, Formula 1 isn’t new to such ‘facepalm’ moments either. The new format failed on many counts. The sport isn’t technically equipped to run such a format since the preferred Pirelli tyre compound used for qualifying (super soft) would drop off in performance after the first few qualifying laps. Even if a driver had an extra set of tyres to use, he would almost certainly run out of time to make a pit-stop. Luckily for us, the sport made a sensible decision on Sunday and reverted to the older format. Thank you!
The race itself was one of most competitive ones in recent memory. The Ferraris made a better start and charged their way through to lead the race, Vettel followed by Raikkonen. While the pace difference between Ferrari and Mercedes was evident in qualifying, they did seem evenly matched in the race. As Vettel led comfortably, a Ferrari victory seemed possible – one that the Italian team and the sport would’ve welcomed with open arms. However, an unexpected and horrible crash for Fernando Alonso brought out the Safety Car and tilted the race back in Mercedes’ favour.
Pirelli are usually blamed for making races boring by offering two tyre compounds that would make for predictable race strategies. However, for 2016, the sport has decided to offer an extra compound for each race for each driver. An interesting addition to the rules that saw the top six drivers finish the race in Australia using six different strategies - an unusual statistic for a Formula 1 race.
The availability of an extra tyre compound made the Ferrari vs. Mercedes battle even more interesting in Australia. Rosberg and Hamilton opted for the longer lasting medium tyre compound over Vettel’s use of softs which meant that they could finish the race with one stop less. One could argue that the eventual result of the race was the same (2 Mercedes drivers + Vettel), it must be noted that each of our podium finishers had to work hard to clinch their podium spot.
The other notable performers in Australia were the duo of Toro Rossa, Sainz and Verstappen. They scored double points finish for the team (P9 and P10), but should’ve finished higher had it not been for their team’s slow pit-stops. The all-American funded team and newcomers Haas F1 Team (Grosjean) too made the most of their luck during the Safety Car period to finish P6 on their debut. Haas’ efforts should be applauded as they beat the much competitive mid-field teams of Force India, Toro Rosso and Sauber.
Mclaren’s Fernando Alonso survived a horrific crash as he misjudged an overtaking move on Haas’ driver Gutierrez. The mangled remains of the Mclaren car and safe self-extraction by Alonso indicated that the sport (FIA in particular) should be patted on their back for relentlessly pursuing safety in the sport. There were post-crash discussions on whether Alonso would’ve managed his extraction had his car been fitted with a ‘halo’, but I believe that it is best to leave these experiments with the experts.
Finally, if statistics are anything to go by, the team scoring a 1-2 and the driver winning in Australia go on to win the Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championship respectively. At the moment, it does seem that Mercedes might have the edge to clinch the Constructors’, but will Rosberg be able to fend off Hamilton and Vettel? Let’s hope the new F1 season lives up to the hype generated by the ever-entertaining Australian Grand Prix. Over to you, Bahrain!