After Formula One kicked off the 2016 season, take a look at eight things we learnt from the Australian Grand Prix.
Australia. The opening race of the 2016 Formula One season started as a damp squib but ended with a solid race Down Under. With the weekend as a whole drawing much speculation and scrutiny at the new elimination qualifying format. Yet come Sunday, that format was supposedly abolished before 57-laps of action saw Nico Rosberg open the campaign with a win.
- Elimination qualifying was a fail
Firstly, the biggest talking point of the Australian Grand Prix weekend was the elimination styled qualifying format that was rushed into F1 weeks before the opening race.
No fans wanted it and the teams were not convinced by its possible impact. And they proved to be right, as the session saw limited running as drivers could not set a time, come back in and change tyres before going back out for another run before they were eliminated. With most eliminations occurring while drivers were sat in their garage.
The idea also did not create the grid mix up it desired. Out of all the drivers, the only two to be seriously out of position were Kvyat and Bottas. But Kvyat was out in Q1 when he suffered a mechanical issue that would have seen him out of Q1 in the previous format anyway. As for Bottas, he simply did not set a strong enough time. The only real victim of the format, as with the old format he would have set another lap time and potentially gone faster.
Similarly the Haas duo went out of qualifying when they were unable to post strong laps straight away. But they went out while the teams seemed to still be confused with how the session worked.
When Haas sent both Gutierrez and Grosjean back out, they began their laps within the 90-second elimination phase. But as they ended their laps outside of the window, they both were eliminated despite going faster when they crossed the line to complete their laps.
As the hour long qualifying session came to a close with Q3, all eight drivers posted their first timed laps and returned to the pits. But before they could even go back out they were beginning to be eliminated. This even led to Ferrari opting to save a set of tyres for the race and keep both Vettel & Raikkonen in the garage instead of pushing for pole. A shoot-out that lasted one lap each for the Mercedes drivers before it was settled with minutes to spare.
But by this point it was too late and fans, along with team bosses, were chomping at its bones. Even Toto Wolff, the team principal of the team on pole, admitted the format was wrong while Christian Horner of Red Bull apologised to the fans “because that’s not what qualifying should be, it should crescendo into something.”
Last month when I wrote about the system’s introduction, I looked at some of the issues that could arise from the change of format. One of which was that there could only be a couple of cars on the track at the end of the sessions, leading to fans not receiving good value for money.
This value for money point again was arisen yesterday when qualifying ended. Social media was littered with fans voicing their complaints and others creating alternative ways to voice their views.
But now as we look back at the disaster elimination qualifying proved to be it seemed as if it would be no more. As after just one run, an emergency meeting between the team bosses saw them decide to abolish the new format and revert to the previous version as of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Leaving Formula One with egg on its face.
Yet, despite the Sunday morning meeting, at a further meeting of the F1 commission – on Thursday, March 24 – a decision was made to keep the full elimination format for Bahrain. They chose that rather than a full revert, elimination Q1 and Q2 followed by the old Q3 or a host of tweaks.
The commission came to the decision not to change a thing as they did not want to make any knee-jerk reactions and give the format another chance at proving it’s worth before further review. But if qualifying is anything like Australia, this could be a huge error.
- McLaren are making progress
Moving away from the qualifying format, the Australian Grand Prix seemed like certain teams had made a lot of progress over the winter. Take McLaren for example, last year they were lingering at the back of the grid during pretty much every race.
While now, one year on, they had both cars qualifying right in the middle of the pack. Their best lap times would even have been enough for pole position at the 2015 Australian Grand Prix.
Unfortunately for McLaren however, their race did not go as well as their qualifying with Button finishing one lap off the lead and down in 14th place.
Alonso meanwhile was highlighting another strength of Formula One, its crash survival ability. This comes after a horrific crash for the Spaniard saw his car dart into the wall at turn three before summersaulting into the air as the sidepod dug into the gravel. When his car came to a rest, the entire rear end was destroyed but thankfully he was able to walk away without any injuries.
- Toro Rosso are going to have a good start to the year
Despite Toro Rosso using a 2015 Ferrari engine after the team struck a late deal to move away from Renault, the small Italian outfit managed to out-qualify their big brother team, Red Bull.
Max Verstappen was even able to fend off the attack brought to him by Lewis Hamilton after the reigning Cham got his season off to a poor start, with a poor start. They even forced Mercedes hand when it came to strategy, as Lewis could not get past Verstappen so they changed him onto a one stop, conservative race.
As for Toro Rosso, they had both cars running highly in the race until the red flag. When they came into the pit lane again, the team changed their tyres to fit another set of softs on however once these started to fade, the duo fell down the order having to stop again. Come the chequered flag, ninth and tenth was far worse than they could have managed.
- Haas have a decent package
Although Haas may have been eliminated from qualifying in the first stage due to misjudging the elimination time, their debut race was a massive success. Their car was clearly quicker than where they qualified as mentioned, and when it came to the race they were running very well.
In their first stints, both Grosjean and Gutierrez managed to last 18 laps up until the red flag without having to change from the soft tyres they started the race on. All other soft starters were not able to do so. Although Gutierrez was involved in the incident with Alonso that brought his race to an end and the red flag out.
As for Grosjean, he fitted the medium compound of tyres on and managed to reach the end of the race without stopping again. And when he took the chequered flag he was in sixth place – a points scoring position in Haas’ debut.
The last team to score points on their debut came fourteen years ago when Toyota entered the sport. Back in 2002 though, the Japanese manufacturer had already completed a full year of running before turning up in Australia for their first Grand Prix thanks to the regulations allowing far more extensive testing – something Haas have not been able to do.
- Tyre strategy
Unlike the qualifying change, tyre regulation changes were a new regulation that proved to be a success.
In previous years teams would all have the same two compounds of Pirelli tyres to do the race weekend with, but now they have three compounds they can choose from – opening far more strategy options to the teams.
Take Ferrari and Mercedes for example. After Hamilton’s poor start left him behind Verstappen, they chose to go from the supersoft tyres on to the mediums as they felt they would be able to last the rest of the Grand Prix. Whereas Rosberg had changed to a new set of softs four laps earlier and Vettel received new supersofts.
Come the red flag two laps after Hamilton pit however, the split in strategy Mercedes attempted was no longer active as they gave Rosberg medium tyres as well so he could go the distance without stopping again. While at Ferrari, they kept Vettel on the same supersoft tyres they had just fitted.
Their aggressive strategy call came down them did not believing Mercedes could go the distance without stopping again and this would give them the faster tyres. However, it proved not to be the case and Sebastian was forced to pit again later on before challenging Hamilton for second place rather than the lead.
- Red Bull release their canopy concept
Outside of the racing, Red Bull released a visualisation of what their canopy design could look like. Although these are just visualisations of what it may look like, it has received good praise from fans who were unsatisfied with Ferrari’s halo.
Again though, with it being visualisations, they did not state how it how it will work or if bug splats and dirt get on-screen, what will be done. This also is a pressing matter after the FIA have announced drivers will no longer be allowed to pull visor tear-offs off their helmets and throw them out of the car while on the circuit or going down the pit lane.
- Crashes cause cockpit concerns
Another concern related to the canopy, and Ferrari’s halo, is what impact would it have in scenarios like Alonso’s crash.
When Fernando’s McLaren came to a rest, it was on it’s side and he was forced to slide out of the cockpit. Should the halo be fitted, concerns lie on whether or not he would have been able to still slide out.
As for the canopy designed by Red Bull, concerns were raised on whether or not it would create a low-pressure zone that would attract flames should a car catch fire. This became more evident in Kimi Raikkonen’s retirement from the Australian Grand Prix when his air-box caught fire.
- Channel 4 cover their first F1 race
And finally, Channel 4 covered their first Formula One Grand Prix. Their highlight package was the first broadcast of Formula One on Channel 4 since picking up the TV rights from the BBC over the winter and was a solid start.
With the programme only being highlights, they managed to fit a decent amount into their half hour of build up and explain the new qualifying regulations to the audience. They also included a strong interview between Lee McKenzie and Fernando Alonso where he appeared very open and willing to talk on a personal level.
After the session, they also had a strong interview with Lewis Hamilton before interviewing both Toto Wolff and Christian Horner at the same time. In these interviews, they all gave their thoughts on the elimination qualifying format and what should be don’t about it – as the programme came before they reverted to the old format.
The only issue with these interviews and the fifteen minute after Q3 slot they had were you did not get a wide range of interviews and analysis. Rather they focused on the issues qualifying presented.
But despite a few areas for improvement, they still have their first full live race weekend coming up next in Bahrain and their graphics department has done a splendid job with what they have come up with. Their on-screen visuals are clear and are not overcomplicating a job that is not need. Instead they look good and regularly include social media elements that drive conversation online.