Sunday, 20 March 2016

Australia: post-race analysis

Thankfully the race was a lot more entertaining than qualifying. It was also red, by the narrowest of margins, alas.

Kvyat didn’t even have a dreadful start because a technical failure on his car required a second formation lap whilst his broken Red Bull was pushed into the pits. An uncommon DNS for the Russian.

Off the start Vettel and Raikkonen pounced like man-eating cougars on Hamilton and Rosberg. In fact, the Englishman had a dreadful start, slipping back to 6th, or thereabouts. At the back, Wehrlein had a tasty start, making up a quintet of places.

The two Prancing Horses galloped away, opening a gap between themselves and Rosberg, whilst Hamilton floundered behind Massa (the Brazilian being 5th, with Verstappen ahead).

Things looked bad for Hamilton. He did pass Massa after a few laps, but Verstappen was another kettle of monkeys. The Toro Rosso’s looking tasty, and the Mercedes just couldn’t get in a passing position.

Alonso and Gutierrez collided, with the Spaniard’s car barrel-rolling in a gravel trap and ending up on its roof. Thankfully, Alonso is completely fine. The crash brought out a brief safety car, and then a red flag.

And then Ferrari threw the race away. Raikkonen’s car was halted by a technical problem, and at the red flag which followed the substantial Gutierrez/Alonso crash the team inexplicably decided against changing Vettel’s tyres (which is permitted when a red flag necessitates a re-start). He was on his second set of the supersoft compound, and, in dry conditions, two different compounds must be run. A pit stop takes around 21 seconds.

Perhaps the team thought he could make that easily over Rosberg, who had a harder compound on. But, if so, they were utterly mistaken. When Vettel pitted, he came out behind Hamilton (who had bolted on some medium tyres at his one and only, and perfectly timed, pre-safety car pit stop). The German closed on him rapidly, but made a mistake pushing too hard and had to settle for 3rd. Hamilton, after an atrocious start, nabbed an unlikely 2nd, and Rosberg cruised serenely to take 1st.

Ricciardo made it a day of mixed fortunes for Red Bull, with an impressive 4th for the Aussie and Kvyat’s DNS. Massa didn’t get much radio coverage but must have driven well to retain 5th.

Driver of the day may well go to Grosjean, who got a great 6th for Haas (must admit, I feel a bit daft for not looking at his points/top 6 odds more closely). Very good start for him and the Haas team, and I did say they’d hit the ground running.

Annoyingly, this means Hulkenberg was 7th, so that bet was red by the smallest of margins. Still, losing’s losing, whether it’s by an inch or a mile. Bottas got 8th, with Sainz and Verstappen following close behind (indeed, Verstappen’s petulant bleating was all over the radio. To be fair, he was right to be pissed off about Sainz [then behind him] getting the advantage of the earlier final pit stop, but whined to excess to be let past).

Palmer’s debut was a good race. Unfortunately, he didn’t get points, finishing 11th, but he drove well (including in tight wheel-to-wheel encounters) and outraced Magnussen, who took 12th.

Perez was an oddly slow 13th, 18s down on Hulkenberg. Not sure why. Might just be he was unlucky with pit stop traffic.

Button, Nasr and Wehrlein were lapped.

I did smile wryly (or possibly swear) when Vettel leapt into the lead of lap 1 after I’d decided against backing that at 13. Still, if betting were easy everyone would do it.

Another gut instinct I mentioned in pre-qualifying was a feeling Raikkonen wouldn’t finish. My psychic Ferrari powers wax, it seems.

However, Ferrari should be gutted. Technical faults happen, but they made two errors with Vettel. The first, changing to the same compound at the first pit stop, was entirely understandable and may not have been an error had there been no red flag. But there was. The decision to leave the tyres on and force another pit stop was just plain stupid. I don’t know what they were thinking. Vettel had very little chance of winning after that.

Anyway, the title order for drivers is just the result of the race, of course, but here’s the Constructors’:
Mercedes 43
Ferrari 15
Williams 14
Red Bull 12
Haas 8
Force India 6
Toro Rosso 3

Worth noting Ferrari, Red Bull and Haas each had one car fail to finish (or start, in Red Bull’s case).

The next race is Bahrain, in a fortnight. My expectation is that Williams may do better, and Red Bull a little worse. Haas could be the most interesting team to watch.

In good news, the stupid new qualifying format has been dropped. Huzzah! The old approach will be used in Bahrain.

Morris Dancer

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