The F1 community can breathe easy this week. After the shambles on Saturday, the race itself was at a real risk of becoming nothing but an expensive procession had Mercedes bagged yet another one-two finish, yet that’s what we got. The all to familiar podium trio of Rosberg, Hamilton and Vettel collected all the silverware, and sprayed all the champagne however Sunday’s race was anything but boring with a wealth of overtaking, botched strategy calls and sublime driving making the 2016 Australian Grand Prix a race I think was easily one of the best dry races in recent memory. There are a multitude of topics to talk about over the next week and half before Bahrain, in what is going to be an MEGA weekend for motorsport.
We’ve got the Bahrain GP, Tasmania Supersprint and the opening round of the BTCC all happening over the weekend of 2nd/3rd April and I can’t wait to get down to Brands Hatch too see the new BMR Subaru’s in action! Anyway, back to F1, in case you missed my Australian GP Report Card you can find that here, and below you can find four conclusions/talking points I gathered over the weekend.
Jolyon Palmer looks set to achieve big things
I’ve been continuously racking my brains since the race to try and think of a driver who I can compare Palmer too. I don’t think I’ve seen such an assured rookie in all my time following F1. I’m not talking about just on track performance, I’m talking about everything from his interaction with fans, honesty, attitude in interviews, and of course his driving. Not that we should be surprised, as the 2014 GP2 champion comes from the same exclusive club as Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Nico Hulkenberg, all former GP2 champions who have forged successful careers in F1. I do appreciate I may be a little biased when it comes to this! Hailing from Britain it is nice to have a strong, and extremely successful sporting heritage in one sport (motorsport) as we seem relatively inept at most others!
I think how much we see of Palmer this season largely relates to the progress Renault make over the next few months. We all know that relative to Mercedes and Ferrari their engine is down on power, something which isn’t ideal when you consider the next few races. Renault will have to contend with Bahrain, China, Russia and Spain. Haas look strong and as we saw on Sunday the combination of Romain Grosjean and Ferrari power makes them a real threat and I actually think Haas may have the stronger overall package, I guess we’ll see for sure in Bahrain.
Either way, I was really impressed with Palmer, he beat Magnussen more through luck than sheer speed but the way he handled himself on track, such as when he was finally passed by Bottas convinces me that he has what it takes to succeed in F1.
Where are Williams?
Williams are pretty difficult to read at the moment. Fifth and eighth are solid points scoring finishes, especially after they seemed to struggled a little in qualifying on Saturday but I think they’ll be a little disappointed that they haven’t kept their small advantage from last year intact. Albert Park is unique track and perhaps a return to the more “modern” Tilke designed circuits will suit the speedy Williams a little better, I understand they were also without their new nose last weekend but still it’s looking like Williams will face a much stronger challenge from Red Bull this season that they did towards the end of last.
One thing Williams really have going for them is their driver line up. Massa has shown more than enough times over the last two seasons that he is worthy of his Williams drive, and he’s certainly kept the highly esteemed Bottas honest since they joined forces in 2014. There’s an awful lot of expectation on the shoulders of young Valtteri Bottas and some people are quick to suggest that he’s not performing to his full potential, and I have to disagree. Bottas has been the epitome of consistency over the last two seasons, and mature drive through to eighth on Sunday in Melbourne further goes to affirm his abilities at what is still a relatively young age. He has scored a handful of podiums when Williams have enjoyed a competitive car, however the resurgence of Ferrari has understandably seen Bottas’s chance of podium finishes diminish, I don’t think Bottas and Massa can extract any more out of the Williams cars. It’s simply just the financial might of Mercedes, Ferrari and now probably Red Bull that will make life a lot more difficult for the Grove squad, especially as Ferrari and Renault make progress with their engines.
Max Verstappen is another driver who I feel the media have been giving a bit of a slating to after Australia, and again I feel criticism is a little unjust. At the age of 18 Verstappen is vastly more competent race driver that we can ever hope to be, and there’s no way you can expect him to have the composure and demeanour of the likes of, let’s say Button and Vettel when most people his age are still in school. Nevertheless, I think Sunday was the probably one of the first times we’ve seen Verstappen lose his cool behind the wheel when tucked up behind Sainz in the closing stages of the race.
I don’t understand why Toro Rosso chose to pit Sainz over Verstappen, especially when Verstappen at the time was the lead car but I’m sure they had their reasons. However, I think Sainz was perfectly within his rights to keep Verstappen behind him, it would be wrong for team orders to come into play so early in the season! We did see glimpses of Verstappen’s now infamous overtaking prowess on Sunday, it took Sainz all of three or four laps to get past Jolyon Palmer as opposed to Verstappen dispatching the rookie in less than half but I do think criticism of his performance on Sunday is unfair. Whether you think that Verstappen’s temper tantrum on Sunday is a case for drivers waiting until they mature before they enter F1 or not, I think to still score points on what could be considered a poor weekend for Toro Rosso, at just 18 years of age is quite remarkable!
Haas Better Than We Thought
Well, certainly better than I thought at least. I was a little worried about Haas coming into Australia as they endured a less than stellar second test in Barcelona however Romain Grosjean delivered a stunning drive to take their maiden points with a sixth place finish. I mentioned in my F1 testing report card how I thought it was important that Haas took advantage of any slip ups from establised midfield teams and they certainly did more than that in Melbourne. Kvyat failed to start, Perez and both the Toro Rosso’s endured difficult races and for Haas to capitalise on the bad luck of their competitors in their first race in a fantastic achievement, and one which should cause worry in all of the debriefing rooms of the midfield teams.
Haas appear to be very strong, powered by a good Ferrari engine and on their day they look to be more than a match for the likes of Renault and McLaren which should make for some very interesting racing. Gutierrez was understandably a little rusty on his F1 return but I’m sure we’ll see a steady improvement from him throughout the year. I think the next few races will be a tough ask for Haas, but they also represent a great opportunity. I mentioned above about how Renault may struggle a little more on power hungry tracks with long straights such as Bahrain, China and Russia and if Haas can capitalise on their powerful Ferrari engine then we can expect more points finishes for the newcomers in the next couple of months.