The more things change the more they stay the same. You’d be forgiven for thinking that not much had changed in Formula One if you looked at the results of the 2016 Australian Grand Prix without knowing the story behind them.
Another Mercedes 1-2 finish with Sebastian Vettel once again on the podium for Ferrari at the end of the race, but when the lights went out it was a much different story. Lewis Hamilton set the headline times in practice and took pole position in a maligned qualifying session – the 50th of his career. The talking point prior to the race weekend was the new elimination style qualifying session that would see cars eliminated throughout the three sessions, rather than a number being put out at the end of each.
That was the plan anyway. Instead it turned into a clock watching exercise with many drivers climbing out of their cars before they had formally been eliminated. Hamilton had pole position wrapped up and was out of his car with three minutes of the session remaining, such was the scale of the ridiculousness of the new system. It was 1 – 0 Hamilton over team-mate Nico Rosberg but it was to be a different story on Sunday.
Daniil Kvyat’s car broke down following the warm up lap meaning just 21 cars took the start of the race. Better numbers than last year, however, when just 15 actually managed to make the lights going out. When the race did get started it wasn’t the Mercedes duo – who had locked out the front row – who led by the end of the first lap.
Vettel swept into the early lead with team-mate Kimi Raikkonen taking up second spot. Rosberg and Hamilton lost out, with Hamilton dropped right down the order to seventh in the early phases of the race. Ferrari started to pull away and with the first stop of pit-stops out of the way it looked like Vettel would be hard to beat. A red flag gave the advantage back to Mercedes who were able to gain back lost time.
The red flag was brought out following a “racing incident” between Fernando Alonso and Esteban Gutierrez. Deemed a racing incident by the FIA and both drivers involved, it was a big impact with very little being left of the McLaren when it eventually came to a halt beside the barriers after being sent airborne. Thankfully both drivers emerged from their cars unaided and waving to the crowds. There was a brief delay as the debris was cleared up before racing resumed.
While both Mercedes had the medium tyres on after the stoppage, Vettel chose to continue on his set of supersofts. This meant he would have to pit again for tyres while the Mercedes duo would not. The main question was now could Vettel pull out enough of a gap to allow him a free pit-stop?
The answer was no. Rosberg took over the lead of the race as Vettel pitted and came out in fourth. He passed home favourite Daniel Ricciardo before chasing down on Hamilton. An uncharacteristic Vettel error on the penultimate lap – when the gap was down to less than a second – meant that he eventually finished in third.
Behind the trio Ricciardo came home in fourth – setting the fastest lap on his way – ahead of Williams’ Felipe Massa. An overjoyed Romain Grosjean was sixth, taking points on new team Haas’ debut, with Nico Hulkenberg seventh and Valtteri Bottas eighth. The Toro Rosso duo of Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen finished ninth and tenth respectively although their inter-team battle was not without fireworks.
As they got caught up behind a string of cars, Verstappen was busy on the radio telling the team that he should be in front of his team-mate. His engineer gave him the OK to overtake Sainz but it was clear he would have to do it on his own as the Spaniard would not be pulling over willingly. After many laps of squabbling and angry radio messages from Verstappen, the pair eventually touched with both lucky to escape with only very minor damage and able to continue to the end.
Jolyon Palmer was just outside the points in eleventh ahead of his team-mate who picked up a first lap puncture and ended up a lap down. Kevin Magnussen was able to recover this following the red flag period. Sergio Perez was a quiet 13th with Jenson Button 14th following poor tyre strategy. Felipe Nasr and Pascal Wehrlein were 15th and 16th respectively.
Elsewhere Raikkonen retired with an airbox fire, while rookie driver Rio Haryanto failed to take the restart after the red flag due to an issue with his car.