2016 Australian Grand Prix Analysis

Rosberg capitalises on Ferrari’s strategic mistake

The 2016 F1 season is underway and some things never change. Mercedes achieved their second consecutive Australian Grand Prix one-two finish, while Sebastian Vettel occupied the final step of the podium for Ferrari. However, read only the final result at your peril, as this year’s season opener was a thriller. With Ferrari matching their pre-season performance and challenging Mercedes down to the wire, it is game on in 2016.

A lovely race tyre

While yesterday’s dire qualifying session highlighted one of the worst decisions made by F1’s power players, today’s race demonstrated their capacity to create a spectacle. This year’s season opener was packed with fascinating strategy, largely facilitated by the introduction of a third tyre compound available at each race weekend in 2016.

The medium tyre emerged as the best tyre to run in Melbourne, contrary to popular opinion. On the strategic backfoot, Lewis Hamilton made the switch to the compound before lap 19 and the red flag for Fernando Alonso’s horror crash. With the majority of teams believing that the medium could last until the end of the race from that point, half the field soon followed Hamilton’s lead.

As it played out, the medium tyre not only had longevity but also surprisingly solid pace. This was bad news for Ferrari, who had opted to stick to the plan of running two supersoft stints followed by a final on the soft compound.

Given that the Ferrari has historically preferred the softer compounds, it is difficult to say whether Vettel would have led Rosberg home had he matched Mercedes for strategy. However, having track position will have undoubtedly left him better placed to take victory compared with when he emerged from his final stop with a 24 second margin to close to Rosberg.

Nevertheless, the medium tyre injected a fascinating dynamic to the race, giving strategists plenty of opportunities to try something different. Hopefully the theme of split-strategy and general confusion regarding the optimal race will be a trend of 2016.

Without wanting to be too pessimistic, its important to remember that a lot of running was lost to the inclement weather on Friday, potentially leaving the team’s shorter on data than they would normally be.

Rosberg bursts Hamilton’s bubble

Despite only being round one of a 21 race season, today was critical for Nico Rosberg. The German ultimately lost the 2015 World Championship in the opening four rounds, when he lost significant ground to Hamilton. Albeit closing the margin down in later races, Rosberg could not penetrate the bubble of confidence and belief that Hamilton had constructed early on.

With Hamilton having beaten his chief rival to pole position, therefore ending Rosberg’s streak which stood at six consecutive poles, the latter was loosing all of the momentum he gathered at the end of 2015. Today’s victory – the 15th of his career – was therefore worth more than the seven point advantage it earned him in the championship battle with Lewis. For Nico, it was a statement of intent for the season.

Never Haasume anything

It was not only Mercedes who capitalised on the red flag. F1’s rookie team Haas managed to score a stunning eight points on their debut, as Romain Grosjean made a non-stop strategy work to come home sixth. The Frenchman made his mandatory tyre change at the red flag and, with medium tyres aboard his VF-16, managed to hold off Nico Hulkenberg and Valtteri Bottas to claim the team’s maiden points.

Eight points is an excellent start. Those alone could even earn them ninth in the constructors fight, given the decidedly meager start to the campaign made by Sauber and Manor this weekend. An excellent launchpad for the team and early evidence to prove that hiring Romain Grosjean was a management master-stroke.

A duo to rival Mercedes

Mercedes may not be the only team having to juggle a fierce inter-team rivalry with the best interests of the team this season. After rumblings were quelled in 2015, it seems the gloves have come off between Carlos Sainz Jr and Max Verstappen today, as the Dutchman was seething at his team’s refusal to benefit him via team orders.

A heated radio exchange and a collision with the back of Sainz at turn 15 was evidence of the 18 year-old showing an element of petulance. It was a reminder of his inexperience. With the 2017 driver market potentially opening up several key opportunities, Verstappen will need to regain the cool, calm and collected demeanor which earned him plaudits last season. Otherwise, his stock could fall at the most inopportune of moments.

Conclusions

Driver of the Day

Jolyon Palmer

Having been hung out to dry by his hero Fernando Alonso on lap one, Jolyon Palmer could be forgiven for becoming flustered on his debut. However, the Briton not only regained composure on the opening lap, but settled into a rhythm and only narrowly missed out on points. His defense against the Toro Rosso’s was impressive and the type of race craft that saw him crowned 2014 GP2 Champion was evident.

Overtake of the Day

BOTTAS vs Palmer

On what was a quiet day for both Williams and Valtteri Bottas, one of the Finn’s only appearances on the world feed was his impressive move around the outside of Palmer’s Renault at turn nine. Always a difficult place to overtake, Bottas was uncompromising on the exit but made the move stick.

Team of the Weekend

Haas 

The obvious choice, but obvious because of the phenomenal achievement. Gene Haas may enter the fray with huge motorsport expertise, but F1 is an entirely different level of competition to NASCAR. Haas have demonstrated that it is in fact possible to enter the sport and succeed early on as a brand new team, assuming the business model adopted is a pragmatic one.

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