Rosberg capitalises on red flag to take Australian Grand Prix victory

Nico Rosberg kicks off 2016 with victory at the Australian Grand Prix.

Nico Rosberg opens the year with victory at the Australian Grand Prix after Lewis Hamilton suffered a poor start and fell to seventh. A red flag later waved as Alonso went air-born, hampering Hamilton’s progress while strategy allowed Rosberg to win as Ferrari went aggressive with Vettel. 

Before the race had even begun or cars had left the pit lane, Formula One was already clearing the egg from its face as they conceded that the new qualifying format was a disaster. Now, from the second race of the year, the previous version will return and elimination qualifying has been eliminated.

Daniil Kvyat was also eliminated from the race before the lights went out as he stalled right at the end of the formation lap. An electronics issue hampered his Bull, leading to the Russian exiting his car while the field carried out a second formation lap.

Effectively one lap into the race, the field re-lined up on the grid to engage the first race of the year. Hamilton lined up on pole-position and angled his car towards the left of the track with Rosberg to his right.

But when the red lights went out, Hamilton’s lead was over as Vettel stormed from third to move ahead of both Mercedes’. Rosberg’s line into turn one also forced Hamilton to lift off and lose more places before residing down in sixth place at the end of lap one.

It took the reigning champion until the sixth lap of the race before he began to make his way back towards the front by passing the Williams of Massa. Yet the next car in his sights proved too much for Hamilton as he could not find a way around Verstappen until the Toro Rosso took to the pits.

Lewis however had began to stretch his stint and change strategy as his supersofts began to degrade. Out in front, the Ferrari’s and Rosberg’s supersofts were also degrading leading to the two German’s pitting while Raikkonen remained out as if to cover Hamilton.

Nico had pitted one lap prior to Sebastian after running in third place. But the one lap allowed Rosberg to gain a lot of time to the Ferrari and when Seb left the pits, they were side by side. Although Vettel instantly edged ahead.

As Lewis and his crew discussed stretching his stint, Jolyon Palmer was showing Bottas the skill that saw him crowned the 2014 GP2 Champion as he defended from the 2011 GP3 Champ. Unfortunately for the Renault driver, Valtteri made his way ahead eventually but the defensive work was a good sign from a driver who sat out from racing in 2015.

After trying to extend the stint, Hamilton soon came into the pits to change from supersoft to mediums in a bid to one-stop the race. But as Mercedes split the strategy between their two drivers, Alonso and Gutierrez were out of the race after a high impact crash leading to a red flag.

Alonso had been following the Haas of Gutierrez and changed from the right hand side to the left as they approached the braking zone. However the Mexican also began to move over to the left hand side of the track for better turn in to the corner, causing Fernando to clip his rear wheel and dart into the wall.

As Fernando’s McLaren span off the wall and dug into the gravel, he was launched into the air and barrel rolled to a halt. His car was destroyed and in tatters but thankfully he was able to walk away with a slight initial hobble. Gutierrez himself walked away from the incident after spinning to a stop, but all the attention was on Alonso.

A live screen shot of Fernando Alonso's crash.

A live screen shot of Fernando Alonso’s crash

With the race under red flag, the field fed back into the pit lane while track marshals cleared the debris from the Alonso/Gutierrez crash. While in the pits, teams could work on their cars with Hamilton taking on a new front wing and Rosberg taking on the mediums.

Shortly after the restart Ferrari were down to one car like Haas, Red Bull McLaren and Manor as Raikkonen retired from the race. Kimi was forced into ending his race early as smoke eked from the rear and flames spat from the air-box. Haryanto meanwhile had retired under the red flag.

Hamilton on the other hand had pitted prior to the red flag and found himself behind Carlos Sainz. Earlier in the race, Lewis had struggled to overtake the other Toro Rosso but would not have the same issue this time round as Carlos pitted.

Both Sainz and Verstappen had radioed the team to complain about tyre life, with the team responding by pitting both. But to the displeasure of Verstappen, they pitted Sainz first – teeing up a great battle between the pair and Jolyon Palmer.

Carlos was hunting the position Jolyon held with Verstappen biting at his heels. Yet the Spaniard was not prepared to halt his attack to the benefit of Max, but with each failed attempt at an overtake Verstappen edged closer. So much so the team told Sainz to push or swap places.

Carlos replied with he was pushing and this was clear as he eventually gained the place under DRS. But it only took Verstappen two more corners before he was ahead of the Renault as he sent his car down the outside at T3. Jolyon did his best to cover Max off but with Carlos on the apex, Palmer had to lift and allowed Verstappen to hold on for the inside of turn four.

Meanwhile out in front Vettel was being hounded by Rosberg as his tyres began to fade once more. Yet laps were ticking bye without Ferrari pitting their remaining car. They did eventually pit him however but he came out behind Hamilton and just ahead of Massa after a left-front issue slowed the stop.

While Vettel set about charging after Hamilton, Max continued to be angry at Toro Rosso and Carlos Sainz as they continued to not allow Verstappen to ease bye. But as he swore and chased, he also had to make a great catch to a huge slide out of turn 12. Grosjean, Hulkenberg and Bottas were also now coming into sight.

Verstappen though took himself out of the chase as he span at the penultimate corner on lap 53 of the 57. Carlos was tucked in behind Valtteri and co. as the lap came to an end, but locked up heavily. Verstappen may have thought he saw an opening and, especially after a heated drive, attempted to take the apex but clipped Sainz’s rear tyre, spinning and braking part of his front wing.

Further down the road, Vettel was within a second of Hamilton after Lewis lost over a second to the German. But as the chequered flag approached, Vettel pushed too hard and locked up slightly into the same corner as Carlos. But as Seb hit Hamilton’s turbulent wake, he ran wide and nearly span – costing him a chance at second.

After his poor start and then the red flag after pitting, Hamilton would have to settle for the second place Seb could not take from him. As for Rosberg, he took a comfortable win after the change to mediums under the red flag saw him last the distance without another pit stop.

But Rosberg’s P1 was not the only victory of the day as the Haas F1 team scored points on their debut with Romain Grosjean finishing in sixth place. The joy was clear when the team radioed him to tell him he scored points.

“This is a win for us, a win! Unbelievable!” exclaimed Romain.

Compare Haas’ debut with other new teams, the last to score points in race one was Toyota back in 2002 when Mika Salo also finished in sixth place at the Australian Grand Prix.

The red flag was a major factor in Grosjean’s high finish as the Frenchman did not make a standard pit stop during the Australian Grand Prix. Instead, his only change of tyres came during the red flag which is entirely within the rules of Formula One.

Looking in the history books again, the last driver to score points without pitting was Heinz-Harald Frentzen – who finished fifth in the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Position Driver Time Laps Points
1 Rosberg 01:48:16 57 25
2 Hamilton +8.606 57 18
3 Vettel +9.643 57 15
4 Ricciardo +34.33 57 12
5 Massa +58.979 57 10
6 Grosjean +1:12.081 57 8
7 Hulkenberg +1:14.199 57 6
8 Bottas +1:15.153 57 4
9 Sainz +1:15.68 57 2
10 Verstappen +1:16.833 57 1
11 Palmer +1:23.399 57
12 Magnussen +1:25.606 57
13 Perez +1:31.699 57
14 Button +1 lap 56
15 Nasr +1 lap 56
16 Wehrlein +1 lap 56
DNF Ericsson Drivetrain 38
DNF Raikkonen Fire 21
DNF Haryanto Mechanical 17
DNF Alonso Collision 16
DNF Gutierrez Collision 16
DNS Kvyat Electrical 0

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