Australian Grand Prix: Start me up

The class of 2016.
The class of 2016.

I had fully intended to blog the all-singing all-dancing brand new qualifying format yesterday but I was a broken woman by the end of it. No one seemed to know if they were coming or going. Flying laps were aborted because drivers couldn’t beat the 90 second countdown and the only action in the second half of Q3 involved drivers (still in contention!) getting out of their cars and disappearing for lunch.

Surely it didn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that it would be pretty dull to only have a couple of cars left at the end. A total shambles and, at the anticlimactic end of it all, we still had a Mercedes front row lock out. Well thank god that is over and hopefully it was just a horrible experiment that shall never see the light of day again.

Race Day (and let us never speak of qualifying ever again!)
Race Day (let us never speak of qualifying ever again!)

Onwards and upwards to race day and the first #MartinsGridWalk of the season. Nobody does it better. Even after all these years. Martin makes a beeline for Jolyon Palmer who was about to take part in his very first Grand Prix. He seems very relaxed and just so nice. Brundle almost appears to be trying to psych him out with mentions of various world champions a few metres in front of him but Jolyon just seems overjoyed to be there mixing it with the big boys. Just please don’t stall at the start and Good Luck! Continuing the Brit theme, Martin ambles over to Jenson Button who I thought seemed somewhat downbeat yesterday. He says he is happy enough with his position on the grid but I’m not sure I believe him. Has he lost a little bit of his mojo this season?

Ah the tartan trousers of JYS. Check. And Martin spots Arnold Schwarzenegger. Lets start the stopwatch on ‘Terminator’ soundbites now…although I’m not actually taking in a word he says as I’m strangely mesmerised by his hair. Do you reckon he goes to the same hair stylist as the Donald? So much money and such bad hair.

Arnie on the grid
Arnie on the grid

Breaking news from Niki Lauda: teams are now allowed to talk strategy to the drivers over the radio. According to Niki, Charlie quickly changed this rule after the quali debacle yesterday where teams couldn’t help their drivers and it all fell apart. I’m going to guess that Charlie didn’t have the greatest day in the office yesterday.

Its Kevin Magnussen or K-Mag in Martin speak. Everything is good and the car feels good. The 8 year old declares K-Mag to be ‘cool’. Lewis (who the 8 year old no longer thinks is cool because he has ‘geek glasses’) doesn’t have time for a word with Martin. Well no loss really. So I have just conducted a quick straw poll in Power Towers as to who everyone is rooting for this season in F1:

5 year old – Real Madrid (I’m not sure she fully grasps F1).

8 year old – Alonso.

The husband – Vettel.

Me – Anyone but Hamilton (just how I feel, sorry!).

Early dramarama even before lights out. We have a stopped car. Kvyat has broken down in the middle of the track and that looks a lot like race over.

It is time. Five lights and out! Its Go! Go! Go! The F1 season of 2016 is finally underway! Show us what you have got.

And its one of the GREATEST starts I have ever seen (and I have watched a lot of races) as Vettel scythes through both Mercedes to fly into the lead. And for good measure, Kimi pulls off the same double overtake proving despite all the last chance saloon rumours he has still got it. By the first corner it’s a Ferrari 1-2 leading the pack. Oh happy happy happy day. To make matters worse for Hamilton, he is down to P6 by the end of the first lap having been passed by Rosberg, Verstappen and Massa. Can you imagine the radio exchange between Lewis and his mechanics! Barely time to note that poor old K-Mag has suffered a puncture and has already pitted.

If Carlsberg did starts...
If Carlsberg did starts…

How freaking fast are those two Ferraris?!!!! The 8 year old is dismayed that Alonso is only in 10th place. I can foresee a change in allegiance. We have just seen footage that Rosberg’s rear tyre touched Hamilton’s endplate. What are the chances of yet another “Nico ruined my race” headline? Rosberg is now catching up on Kimi while Vettel streaks away into the distance. Meanwhile, Hamilton is swarming all over the back of Verstappen who is doing a very good job to keep him at bay.

Forza Ferrari!
Forza Ferrari!

So at the 10 lap mark, the front runners are: 1. Vettel 2. Kimi 3. Rosberg 4. Verstappen 5. Hamilton 6. Ricciardo (who has just executed a super-smooth move on Massa to much jubilation from the home crowd). So the big mystery is where Mercedes’ fabled race pace has gone? Looks like a tactics change for Lewis who is probably moving to a one-stopper. If I was Maurizio Arrivabene I’d be immediately moving Kimi to the same strategy. Not many people do one-stoppers as well as Kimi.

Some fabulous defensive driving from Jolyon Palmer to keep Bottas in a far superior Williams behind him. Ultimately he had to concede the place but a nice way to show F1 he has arrived. Nico pits and rejoins the track ahead of the Hulk by the narrowest of margins. Mercedes are officially switching Lewis’s strategy as he just cannot get past Verstappen.

Race-leader Sebastian Vettel pits!!! Turns out that Ferrari saved another set of supersofts from quali for today and Vettel has come out just ahead of Rosberg. It is Game On between the two Germans. Kimi still hasn’t pitted and is still out in the lead. Vettel is tearing up the Albert Park track and has just obliterated Lewis Hamilton (who is still to pit) to move into 2nd place. Lap 16 – Kimi pits to go on to supersofts and Hamilton pits and opts for mediums. This could be an inspired Mercedes masterstroke. Or not as the case may be.

OH MY GOODNESS. There appears to have been a spectacularly huge crash and there is literally nothing left of Alonso’s car. When the commentators first said Alonso was out, my initial thought was that is a Haas car not a McLaren. And then the camera panned over to the concertina-ed mangled wreck of the McLaren which could pretty much only be identified by its dental records. The footage of Alonso barrel-rolling in the air was simply horrifying and Gutierrez almost looked more shell-shocked than Alonso walking away. It is a total miracle that Alonso has walked away seemingly unhurt. Thirty years ago that would have been a fatality.

Alonso crash
Alonso’s crash. Just heart-stopping.
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Alonso and Gutierrez post-crash. F1 driver solidarity at its best.

The race has been red-flagged and that’s ALL the strategies out of the window. All those little leads that drivers had painstakingly built up just gone like that. And perhaps more distressingly the prospect of finishing this race before I need to take the 5 year old to her Infant Disco is ebbing away. Having said that, will she notice if she misses the start? Its something I’m seriously considering (mother of the year right here!).

The 8 year old has just informed me that he now supports Kimi. Well that’s loyalty for you. Alonso dices with death in a catastrophic crash and he is cast aside like yesterday’s chip paper.

Oh my Good Lord, I think we have got the BEST Random Celebrity EVER at a Grand Prix. Timmy Mallett is in town in full-blown Timmy Mallett costume (which fellow children of the 80s will recall as basically being dressed in multi-coloured vomit). Any moment now I expect him to leap into the next team’s garage and whack Arnold Schwarzenegger over the head with a pink foam mallett. And then Arnie goes all Terminator in the direction of the Malletted one.

timmy mallett
Just no.

And we’re off again on lap 20. Just the 37 laps of unpredictable mayhem to come. The Infant Disco begins in one hour. C’mon we can do this! Kimi suddenly pits and retires on lap 23 – he appears to have a jet of fire coming out of the air-box right above his head but is supremely unbothered. So we are one Ferrari down. Boo. The 8 year old says he is now supporting Vettel. It has just occurred to me that the 8 year old is the Kiss of Death having adopted Alonso then Kimi. I am ever so slightly nervous that he has now chosen Vettel.

Someone tell Kimi his car is on fire!
Someone tell Kimi his car is on fire!

The husband is very excited that Ricciardo is now in 3rd. This is a superb drive from the guy with the big smile that everyone likes. Hamilton is STILL behind both Toro Rossos. Ericsson has a drive through penalty after his team worked on his car in the 15 second cut-off period before the restart. Naughty naughty. Rosberg is now only 3 seconds behind Vettel and the big worry is has Ferrari blown it? Have the supersofts gone off? The smart tyre to have on right now is clearly the mediums but nonetheless the red flag came at just about the worst time for Seb.

Ricciardo - doing the home fans proud.
Ricciardo – doing the home fans proud.

Lewis Hamilton is finally released to race as Sainz pits. Verstappen makes a late tyre call and loses valuable time in the pits. He is NOT happy that Sainz pitted before him as he apparently had a problem with his tyres (like Sainz didn’t!). Jolyon Palmer is now up to P9 which is truly tremendous.

The gap between Vettel and Rosberg is down to 1.1 seconds and still Vettel doesn’t pit. They are clearly trying to get Vettel into some kind of soft tyre window. He comes into the pits on lap 35 and something goes wrong with his front wheel costing him over 2 seconds. Oh g-r-eat. Seb is now down to 4th place behind Rosberg, Ricciardo and Hamilton. I’m going to make the driver jinx that is the 8 year old support Lewis Hamilton in the next race.

Verstappen is having a total meltdown at being stuck behind Sainz and both Toro Rossos are boxed in behind Jolyon Palmer’s Renault. To be fair no one is probably more surprised than Palmer. Anyone would think that Verstappen is calling for team orders which, correct me if I am wrong, are illegal. Duh. Well Max, if you think you would have no trouble taking Palmer, then it shouldn’t be a problem to pass your team-mate. And why should Sainz move over if they are racing for position?

Jolyon Palmer indeed mixing it with the big boys
Jolyon Palmer ahead of the warring Toro Rossos

Back up the field, Hamilton now moves into second after finally passing Ricciardo (whose tyres have fallen off a cliff) but all the time Vettel is closing up on him. Finally those Toro Rossos get past Palmer and at the risk of repeating myself, I am just so impressed how well and how maturely he is driving in his first F1 race.

Just ten laps to go: Rosberg, Hamilton, Vettel, Ricciardo, Massa, Grosjean. SORRY can I just point out that GROSJEAN is in P6 in a HAAS. Who knew?! That is all kinds of incredible! The Sainz -v- Verstappen fuel is now playing out behind Bottas. It may be only a battle for 8th but it is a scintillating one. I am in total agreement with Martin Brundle – this is one the most talented and exciting set of drivers that we have had on the grid in years!

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Grosjean making a remarkable debut for Team Haas

Vettel is now taking chunks out of Hamilton’s lead and the gap is down to 2.8 seconds, then 0.9 seconds. Well this will be interesting. Go on Seb! You have 5 laps to make your move. I actually do not want this race to end! Mainly because that will mean I have to face Infant Disco hell. I love my daughter but the Cheeky Girls on a Sunday afternoon (or indeed ever) is beyond any normal levels of human endurance.

Just as I might have voiced a small wish that Verstappen could mess up (nothing personal) to give Palmer a point in his first F1 race, Mad Max crashes into his team-mate and spins around for a bit. Well that was coming all afternoon! Tin hats all round in the Toro Rosso garage. And its all kicking off. Just two laps to go and Vettel veers off onto the grass. His tyres are well and truly gone. All least that mistake, having driven so brilliantly all afternoon, didn’t cost him a position.

After a breaktaking, dizzying couple of hours, we’re on the final lap. Countdown to the first podium and chequered flag of the season. We could not have had a better, more thrilling opening race than that.

4 wins in a row now for Nico (going back to the Mexican GP last season)
4 wins in a row now for Nico (going all the way back to the Mexican GP last season)
  1. Rosberg – A huge statement of intent to get the first spoils of the season. A commanding drive.
  2. Hamilton – After a horror start, probably the best result he could have expected.
  3. Vettel – Would have loved the win but can take great heart from his performance and the Ferrari’s performance going to Bahrain.
  4. Ricciardo – A great drive by the crowd favourite and Red Bull looks like it will be much stronger this year.
  5. Massa – Kept calm amidst all the chaos but Red Bull look like much more of a threat to Williams this season.
  6. Grosjean – A phenomenal drive by Grosjean and must have surpassed the wildest dreams of Gene Haas.
  7. Hulkenberg – As always, head down, clean drive and job done.
  8. Bottas – From 16th on the grid to P8 is a great result but Williams will be hoping to be much more in the mix going forward.
  9. Sainz – Capable of a better finish (also see Verstappen below) but at least was the top placed Toro Rosso.
  10. Verstappen – So immensely talented but today it was very evident he is only 18 years old. The teenage strops won’t do him any favours.

So that was Australia and this has been a long long blog. But then not all races shred the nerves and set the F1 world alight quite like this one. So many talking points but the main thing is that going into the Bahrain Grand Prix we will have the same 22 drivers that started the Australian Grand Prix and that is the most important thing of all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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