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Winners and Losers - Australia

21 Mar 2016

The record books will show Nico Rosberg and Mercedes as the victors in the 2016 Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix. But results alone don't necessarily reflect a race in its true light. We take a look at who came away from Melbourne on a high, and who heads to Bahrain on a low...

The Winners...

Nico Rosberg

Desperate to prove his end-of-2015 surge was no fluke, and to keep momentum within Mercedes firmly in his camp, this wasn’t exactly a perfect weekend for Rosberg. He was out-performed by his team mate throughout Friday and Saturday, and suffered the ignominy of crashing and ruining a new nose in FP2. Not that he will care now. Sunday is where it matters, and it’s where Rosberg came good. Admittedly Hamilton’s poor start and the red-flag stoppage may have aided his cause, but the German kept a cool head and, crucially, kept in touch with Vettel during the vital mid-race phase when he was shod on medium tyres, Vettel on supersofts. The reward was obvious: victory at the first attempt of the year, and the championship lead for the first time since Monza 2014.

Haas

Not since Toyota in 2002 has an all-new F1 team scored on their debut, but on Sunday Haas did it in style with Romain Grosjean’s superb drive from 18th on the grid to sixth at the flag. Yes, he benefitted - somewhat ironically - from his team mate’s accident, having not pitted prior to the stoppage, but as the saying goes, you make your own luck, and Grosjean grasped his good fortune and refused to let go. Even with a set of very used medium tyres, which were fitted on the 18th lap, he found the pace to stay ahead of Hulkenberg’s Force India and Bottas’ Williams. Some achievement for a team who were targeting the lower midfield - and serious food for thought for the likes of Manor and Sauber.

Daniel Ricciardo

A stonking drive from eighth on the grid to fourth at the flag - and the fastest lap to boot. Red Bull's RB12 doesn’t quite have podium pace yet, but Ricciardo said he loved every moment of his home race. The only pity was that he fell one place short of the top three. Australia’s wait for a home podium continues...

Fernando Alonso

Alonso was in racy form in the early going, after grabbing 10th place, and was in strong contention for a good haul of points when he seemingly misjudged his braking going into Turn 3 on the 17th lap and had a violent accident after colliding with Gutierrez. Not a great end to his weekend you could argue. However, anyone who saw the crash - and the wreckage from which the Spaniard climbed unharmed - would concur that he was very much a winner. The fact that he was back in the paddock and joking with the press just a few minutes later was a tribute to the ever-continuing advances in F1 safety.

Jolyon Palmer

Reigning GP2 champion Palmer put in a cool and collected performance on his F1 debut. After out-qualifying his more experienced - and highly rated - team mate, Kevin Magnussen, Palmer drove a confident and mature maiden race, battled strongly and aggressively with Bottas and the Toro Rossos, and just missed out on a point in 11th place. Father Jonathan - who finished 13th in his first Grand Prix back in 1983 - was no doubt proud.

The 2016 title fight

Over the winter, there were tantalising suggestions that Ferrari could challenge Mercedes this year. In Australia, it was proved. That’s not to say the Scuderia don’t have a slight pace deficit. But from the moment Vettel and Raikkonen jumped ahead at the start, they were comfortably quick enough to stay ahead of the Silver Arrows on merit - and there is a good argument to be made that, without the red flags, they could have held out for victory. For reference, they were 35s behind at the chequered flag last year in Melbourne. On Sunday, Vettel was only 1.5 behind Hamilton and less than 10 off Rosberg - quite some turnaround. That’s not the only cause for optimism. Last year Hamilton’s early run of triumphs lent a sense of inevitably to the title fight, and allowed him to wrap it up early. This year, he starts on the backfoot, against a man who has now won four Grands Prix on the bounce. Game on.


And the losers...

Daniil Kvyat

Red Bull driver Kvyat failed to even make the grid for the second year running in Australia - again through no fault of his own. He surely must take more of the blame for qualifying though - traffic might have forced him onto a second lap on supersoft tyres, but 18th was not a good look when team mate Ricciardo was seven places and a full second up the road in the same session.

Force India

After all their pace in pre-season testing, Force India came down to earth with a bump in Melbourne. Neither car made Q3, but starting from ninth and tenth with free tyre choice, the team were at least hopeful of making a one-stop strategy work. Hulkenberg was indeed always in contention for some points, but surprisingly he could do nothing to find a way past Grosjean and was forced to settle for seventh. Perez, meanwhile, looked racy for a period against Palmer before he had to ease back to cool overheating front brakes, trailing home 13th almost a lap down on the leaders.

Qualifying

The revised knock-out format was hugely anticipated, with the final nine minutes of each phase seeing a driver eliminated every 90 seconds. In Q1 it seemed intriguing, and by Q2 the true challenges were beginning to surface, as teams tried - and often failed - to get their timing right. However, it was Q3 that produced the most surprising spectacle, with Ferrari opting to sit out the closing minutes, content instead to conserve tyres and settle for row-two grid spots. The upshot was that polesitter Lewis Hamilton was out of the car and celebrating in pit lane long before the chequered flag fell - as one former champion pointed out, he could have waved it himself. Hence it was no surprise that for Q3 at least, the new system received an almost universal thumbs-down, and after a meeting on Sunday morning, the teams were united in their call for the old format to be immediately reinstated.

Sauber

This time last year Sauber were celebrating after getting both cars into the points, with then rookie Felipe Nasr finishing fifth on a dream debut. But a lot can change in 12 months. This time out 15th was the Swiss team’s best result after a tough run for Nasr, while Marcus Ericsson’s C35 quit with rear-end vibrations. That was after the Swede picked up a drive-through penalty for his crew failing to ready his car in time at the restart. In Nasr’s words, ‘a lot of work ahead’ here.

Toro Rosso team harmony

For a man who famously likes his drivers to be ruthless, Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost will have some delicate calming to do after Australia. Max Verstappen was the main offender, turning the airwaves blue several times as he lambasted the team’s decision to pit Carlos Sainz first, and then the Spaniard’s attempts to find a way past Palmer. Sainz, meanwhile, refused to switch places on track, before diffusing any talk of tension with typical grace after the race. But while both drivers clearly get on away from the circuit, neither take any prisoners on it. And with Toro Rosso's STR11 capable of fighting near the front, tension is inevitable. As Verstappen put it, “We have a fantastic car, and to finish P10 is not where we should be.” This one is going to run and run…