F1 Australian Grand Prix: Red Flag Spells Danger

f1-2016-australia-podiumFor all the rules changes during the off-season involving qualifying and the radio ban, all it took was new rules over tyre selection and usage and a red flag to shake up the Australian Grand Prix. Remove the red flag and it’s likely that Sebastian Vettel would have won the season-opening race. However, a red flag for a massive crash involving Fernando Alonso and a questionable strategy call gave the win to Nico Rosberg.

The race started with Lewis Hamilton on pole to open the season after topping each of the three free practice sessions as well. Unfortunately for Lewis and supporters, his lead didn’t last the length of the front-straight. Possibly thanks to the new single-clutch paddle rule (down from the two-clutch starting systems of recent years), Vettel blitzed past the two Mercedes to take the lead.

More importantly for the race, Rosberg was able to stay even with Hamilton into Turn One despite starting on the dirty line. He took Lewis side-by-side into the first turn and pushed him wide. Rosberg assumed third-place behind the two Ferraris (the Merc battle allowed Raikkonen through to second) while Hamilton came back on-track in sixth and was slowed greatly in pursuit of the leaders as he had to fight his way through traffic.

f1-2016-australia-alonso-gutierrez-virtual-crashThe race progressed fairly uneventfully until a crash on Lap 18 between Fernando Alonso and Esteban Gutierrez. Alonso was trying to pass Gutierrez into Turn 3 but a series of unfortunate events resulted in a massive crash. Alonso had DRS active while Gutierrez slowed early due to his power unit kicking into power recovery mode and had the track effectively blocked. With the difference in speed, Alonso had nowhere to go but into the back of Gutierrez’s Haas.

f1-2016-australia-alonso-crashThe resulting collision left the McLaren in shambles as it hit the wall on the straight and rolled twice in the gravel trap before stopping next to the retaining wall. While the crash looked violent and the car is probably a complete write-off, Alonso walked away from the crash and did so quite quickly because he knew his mother was watching so he wanted her to know he was alright.

The race was immediately put under a safety car and quickly switched for a red flag for 20 minutes to clean the debris and remove the cars from the gravel trap. What the red flag on Lap 19 allowed for was everyone to re-evaluate their strategy and plan their attack for the remaining 38 laps. The result was differences in strategy. Ferrari put both their cars on super-softs while Mercedes went on mediums. The plan was for Ferrari to make one more stop while Mercedes was going to push to the end.

Vettel led away from the restart while teammate Raikkonen couldn’t play rear gunner as his engine caught fire. Without a blocker, Rosberg caught Vettel and wouldn’t let enough of a gap emerge to make the one-stop strategy work. Vettel put in a race-long 17-lap stint on the supers before going to softs. He was able to catch up to Lewis Hamilton for 2nd but couldn’t pass him and a mistake with three laps remaining made the result academic.

With Vettel pitting, the win went to Nico Rosberg who won his fourth race in a row dating back to last season. While luck played a part in his victory, clearly he didn’t let Lewis’s early weekend success throw him off his game. Hamilton and Vettel rounded out the podium.

Daniel Ricciardo put in a solid performance in front of the home fans with a 4th. Felipe Massa rounded out the top five.

f1-2016-australia-grosjean-haasThe next car was something of a surprise. Mostly on strategy but somewhat on pace, it was Romain Grosjean in the debuting Haas who finished in 6th. In one race, Haas has already outscored the three teams that debuted in 2010. Grosjean was the only car to not have pitted before the red flag and switched from softs to medium tyres fulfilling the two-compound rule without making a pitstop. The VF-16 also had enough speed to make the strategy work and finish ahead of the three-quarters of the grid.

Nico Hulkenberg was 7th and probably should have but couldn’t catch the Haas. Valtteri Bottas finished in 8th after a grid penalty for a gearbox change dropped him to 16th at the start. The Toro Rossos of Sainz and Verstappen rounded out the points. They looked faster in qualifying but lacked the straight line speed to pass anyone as evidenced by Sainz’s lengthy battle with Jolyon Palmer’s Renault.

One of the disadvantages of the Australian Grand Prix is that it’s a very early morning race here in Canada and the lovely folks at TSN don’t have a consistent replay schedule nor do they know what race replays available online are. That meant I missed out on everyone else’s Saturday fun.

f1-2016-australia-vettel-qualifyingThere were very few people who were impressed by the new elimination qualifying format. During Ted Kravitz’s Notebook on Sky F1, it was noted that there were no cars on track at the end of any of the qualifying sessions. Sebastian Vettel had changed into his jeans and team merchandise between his Q3 run and the end of the session. Fans were leaving the track before the chequered flag fell. It was basically an embarrassment.

Well, the day had barely started on Sunday when the team principals met and unanimously agreed to change qualifying back to the 2015 format. It has to go back through a few levels of approval before that becomes official. At the very least, they have to go through the F1 Commission. Some reports indicate that the F1 Strategy Group and the World Motor Sports Council also have to approve the change in the sporting regs to allow for a return to the older qualifying format.

It’s been a long time since we last talked about Aston Martin in Formula One. Last June, they were linked to a partnership deal with Red Bull. Last fall, AM and Johnnie Walker were supposed to be joining forces to rebrand Force India as an Aston Martin F1 team.

It turns out that where there was originally smoke, there is fire. Aston Martin and Red Bull announced a technical partnership between the companies ahead of the Australian Grand Prix.

The full extent of the deal isn’t known yet. What we do know is that the RB12 will carry the Aston Martin logo (currently on the nose) this season. On the Aston Martin side, Adrian Newey will be collaborating with them to design a new hypercar called the AM-RB 001.

f1-2016-australia-red-bull-aston-martinTo coincide with the announcement of the partnership with Aston, rumours have started anew that Red Bull is looking into developing its own engine. That was one of the options that Red Bull was examining over the last couple of years was developing its own engine, often believe to be based on the Renault engine. Their current engine deal with Renault is done at the end of the year according to Christian Horner.

Now, it looks like they’re going examining that engine option again. The inability to secure a Mercedes engine deal is believed to have killed the Red Bull – Aston Martin deal last summer. Apparently, Renault / Tag Heuer engines aren’t a deal breaker now but the long game for all parties involved might be a Red Bull developed engine from a program led by former Porsche LMP1 technical director Alex Hitzinger. If this is a part of the deal between RBR and AM, we could be looking at AM-branded F1 engines and these engines (or some aspect of the hybrid power system) used for the AM-RB 001.

Speaking of engines, the FIA has disclosed the number of engine development tokens used during the offseason.

Of a possible 32 tokens, Ferrari was the offseason leader by using 23. Mercedes used slightly fewer with 19. Honda cashed in 18 tokens. Renault used the fewest tokens during the offseason with seven used. While that may seem like a surprise, Renault was said to have used their tokens late last year for a D-Spec engine developed in-season. With 25 tokens left for the 2016 season, they have that option again this year.

f1-2015-bahrain-startThe next round of the 2016 Formula One World Championship won’t be in Malaysia. As part of a slight restructuring of the F1 schedule, Malaysia has been moved back to the fall as part of the series’ second Asian swing of the season. Instead, another Tilke-drome will be the host to the second round. It’s off to Bahrain for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Mercedes has won the last two Bahrain Grands Prix with Lewis Hamilton picking up both wins. I don’t see any reason why the same wouldn’t happen this year. If the GP wasn’t a night race, I could see the potential for a Ferrari upset on a hot track like in last year’s Malaysian GP. Perhaps, though, the use of those aforementioned engine tokens could provide Ferrari with a needed power edge on a track that has four fairly lengthy straights.


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