Well well well, if one thing is for certain its that Sunday’s race at the Australian Grand Prix certainly made up for the shitstorm that was Saturday afternoon. I think the Australian GP was probably one of the most exciting non rain affected races we’ve had in recent years and I do hope that potential F1 fans watch the race before reading too much into the all familiar podium trio of Rosberg, Hamilton and Vettel. There were standout performances all through the field today, and I have to agree with Martin Brundle in his Sky F1 commentary when he suggested that this current grid is one of the most talented and capable in recent years.
Despite Mercedes kicking off 2016 with another one-two finish the race was a lot more interesting than the result appears and I think we can finally look forward to a much closer battle between Mercedes and Ferrari this year, probably in the race more so than qualifying. So, without further ado you can find my first F1 report card of the 2016 season below. As always, I’ve graded each driver who was classified as a finisher on a scale of A+ to D.
1st – Nico Rosberg – Grade : A
I think there were a couple of drivers which could have deserved to win the race today and Rosberg is most certainly one of them. From the moment Vettel came out of the pits on supersofts after the race restarted Rosberg must have known he had pretty much secured victory and I liked his attitude towards Hamilton at turn one on the first lap. It was firm but fair, much like many of the times the two faced each other on the opening laps in 2015, but this time it was Rosberg who came off better. Of course, it’s only early days but winning the first race of the season, and his fourth on the trot will do Nico the world of good going into Bahrain.
2nd – Lewis Hamilton – Grade : A-
I don’t think Lewis made a bad start by any stretch of the imagination, so I think we can put his troubles on the first lap down to bad luck and good racing. Hamilton said himself that considering he was down in sixth at the end of lap one, second place represented a good result and he certainly matched the pace of Rosberg and Vettel. Whether he could have held off Vettel in the closing two laps remains to be seen but Hamilton enjoyed a strong start to his quest for his third title in a row.
3rd – Sebastian Vettel – Grade : A
Most people will agree that Ferrari’s decision to fit supersofts on Vettel at the restart cost him the race win, and it was an unfortunate strategy call. In some ways Ferrari were stuck between a rock and a hard place in terms of their tyre choice and I don’t think they should be blamed for fitting the supersofts, after all I’m not sure anyone expected Mercedes to switch them on right away. Nevertheless, Vettel’s start was sublime and his form off the line will no doubt have Hamilton and Rosberg worried. All in all third place should represent a fine result for Sebastian Vettel, and Ferrari are certainly closer to Mercedes on race pace, however it also leaves us with the feeling that this race win was one that got away from Vettel and Ferrari.
4th – Daniel Ricciardo – Grade : A
I think everyone at Red Bull will be pleasantly surprised at their pace, and my preseason prediction that they would be scrapping for the lower end of the points looks set to be proved wrong very early on in the season! Ricciardo drove a mature race to fourth place and Red Bull certainly look much stronger than they did at this point last year. The new Renault power unit certainly allows Red Bull to at least compete with Williams and Force India and I’m looking forward to seeing the step forward the Renault engine can produce for Montreal. It would be great to see a three way fight at the front between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.
5th – Felipe Massa – Grade : B+
Massa had a quiet weekend however he, and Williams were extremely consistent and a fifth place finish is probably about the best Williams could have hoped for on Sunday. Their status as F1’s third best team looks a little less secure after Red Bull’s pace on Sunday but I think we’ll have to wait until at least Bahrain before we should start passing judgements. Nevertheless, Massa drove a strong race, keeping out of trouble and ensuring he brought home some solid points.
6th – Romain Grosjean – Grade : A+
These sort of drives were exactly why Haas hired Grosjean and on his debut for the all new outfit he certainly didn’t disappoint. The red flag came at the perfect time for Grosjean but lets not forget that even before Alonso’s huge accident he was also running very strongly. I mentioned a couple of posts ago how important these first few races were for Haas, Sauber and Manor and based on Haas’s race performance in Australia I think they’re looking like they have the pace to challenge in the midfield on a regular basis. Grosjean and Gutierrez were both caught out by the new (now old) qualifying system on Saturday, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least one Haas car make it into Q2 in Bahrain. Grosjean stepped up to the plate exceptionally when Haas needed him most. Lets not forget that he was actually driving away from the chasing pack behind him in the closing few laps, on very old medium tyres. And that he came from 19th on the grid.
7th – Nico Hulkenberg – Grade : B+
Hulkenberg made progress in the race as Force India enjoyed a solid, if unspectacular start to their season. Like the Williams drivers, both Hulkenberg and Perez enjoyed a quiet, incident free race and seventh place is a good result for Hulkenberg. He managed to fend off the advances of Bottas in the closing laps as he battled to get past Grosjean and on the evidence of today Force India certainly have the pace to challenge in the top ten on a regular basis.
8th – Valtteri Bottas – Grade : B+
After starting 11th Bottas made good progress through the field and was another driver to fly relatively under the radar. Nevertheless, it was another mature drive from the young Finn and I’m sure Bottas will be much higher up the grid for the Bahrain GP. The long straights of Sakhir should suit the Williams down to a tee and it will be interesting to see if Red Bull can keep themselves ahead of Bottas and Massa on a high speed track.
9th – Carlos Sainz Jnr – Grade : B+
Sainz started from 7th on the gird so you can understand why Toro Rosso would be slightly disappointed with their performance in the race on Sunday. Sainz was unfortunate with the red flag however like Ferrari, Toro Rosso made a fatal error when starting out on supersofts after the restart. Sainz’s race failed to really recover and I’m sure he would have finished much higher up had they been fitted with mediums. Still, 9th place in what can be considered a bad race can’t be baulked at and I think we’ll see a much stronger performance in Bahrain.
10th – Max Verstappen – Grade : B-
I think this was the first time since he made his F1 debut last year that we saw signs of Verstappen’s age and (relative) immaturity. Of course, Max is still just 18 years old so i don’t think anyone should be coming down too harshly on him, he’s still the biggest young talent in F1 by a country mile but I think Sainz was perfectly within his rights to go about his own race. Verstappen proved time and time again last season that he has a serious knack for overtaking and it would have been extremely harsh had Toro Rosso ordered Sainz to move over. However, like with his teammate, Verstappen scored points on what can be considered a bad weekend all round for him and his team in Australia so I’m sure we’ll see them come back strongly in Bahrain.
11th – Jolyon Palmer – Grade : A
F1 seems to be blessed with a wealth of young talent at the moment, I mean, there was no way you could tell that this was Palmer’s F1 debut. Jolyon displayed some great defensive driving, first with Bottas and then defending from the much faster Toro Rosso’s in the closing stages of the race, as well as finishing ahead of his teammate. Yet again, I’m not sure we have any reason to be surprised. Palmer won the 2014 GP2 title for a reason and I bet Renault must now be rubbing their hands with glee at the potential of their young driver line up, especially when you consider they were extremely close to having Maldonado as Palmer’s teammate. The Renault is clearly slower than many of its nearest rivals but with upgrades promised by Canada, then I’m sure we’ll be seeing Palmer score his maiden F1 points at some point this year.
12th – Kevin Magnussen- Grade : B
K-Mag’s full time F1 return was pretty much over after he sustained a first lap puncture which ensured he went a lap down early on. He was allowed to unlap himself at the restart but his race unfortunately never recovered and 12th place in what is an underpowered Renault was probably about the best Magnussen could hope for.
13th – Sergio Perez – Grade : B
Perez was another driver undone by the red flag and was unfortunate to finish in 13th after lining up 9th on grid. He didn’t enjoy the best of starts and Perez is another driver who I’m sure will enjoy a much stronger weekend in Bahrain.
14th – Jenson Button – Grade : B-
From all the promise of qualifying, Sunday’s race was a familiar scenario for JB and McLaren as he finished a lap down in 14th. In a similar fashion to Sainz and Verstappen, Button’s race was undone by a poor strategic call to restart the race on the supersoft tyres and the 2009 champion never recovered.
15th – Felipe Nasr – Grade : C+
I’m not even sure Nasr got mentioned once in the race commentary (on SkyF1 anyway) such was the low profile of his race on Sunday! 15th pace from 17th on the grid is a far cry from his healthy haul of points in Australia last year and I fear 2016 is going to be very difficult for Nasr, Ericsson and Sauber.
16th – Pascal Wehrlein – Grade : B
Wehrlein was running as high as 14th in the opening stages of the race however like Nasr, hardly got a mention after the restart. Manor have quite clearly improved since last season but we’re yet to see any signs that they’ll progress from their role as F1’s de-facto backmarkers this season.
My drivers of the day: Grosjean and Palmer