Rosberg streaks to 5th consecutive win with victory in Bahrain, Hamilton settles for P3 after more problems at start; Raikkonen lifts Ferrari with P2 after Vettel’s engine blows up on formation lap
Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg made the best possible start to his 2016 campaign with a dominant win in Sunday’s GP in Bahrain giving him victories in the first two races of the year. Starting from second on the grid alongside his pole-sitting teammate, Lewis Hamilton, Rosberg had a better getaway than his archival and overtook the reigning World Champion going into Turn 1. Worse yet for Hamilton, Williams’ Vatteri Bottas, who got a blazing start from back in P6 on the grid, tried an over ambitious underneath pass on the Englishman and smashed into the side of his Silver Arrows, sending carbon fiber all over the track and partially spinning Hamilton. Other cars swamped him while he struggled to point the Mercedes in the right direction again and Hamilton’s race was essentially one of damage control from then on out. While Rosberg ran away from the chaos behind him to a dominant lead & eventual victory in the well-lit desert night, Hamilton nursed his injured car to a decent P3 finish. That makes it 5 consecutive Grand Prix wins for Rosberg dating back to the end of last season and the German seems well and truly determined to end his irritating role as Hamilton’s foil and capture a first ever Drivers’ Championship of his own. And if Hamilton can’t figure out how to make better starts from the line when the lights go out he’ll surely be helping Rosberg achieve his dream.
Ferrari had another decidedly mixed day despite showing potentially Mercedes-challenging speed over the course of the first two races. Their ace Sebastian Vettel suffered a shocking engine failure on the formation lap, the second DNF for Ferrari to open the season and a troubling display of unreliability for this year’s car. That left Kimi Raikkonen to shoulder the whole load for the legendary Scuderia and the veteran Finn, who had his own race ending turbo failure in Australia, proved up to the task of saving Ferrari’s blushes on the day. Showing excellent pace after recovering from a sub-par getaway of his own, Raikkonen managed to come home with a reasonably comfortable P2, keeping Hamilton securely behind him and with no signs of any further technical trouble on the SF16-H.
Below the top 3, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo drove another strong and smart race showing off the much improved engine and chassis to take P4. And the Cinderella season for first year American F1 team Haas continued when their French veteran leader, Romain Grosjean, made a risky tire strategy work and fought with gusto for a remarkable P5. Coming on the heels of his stunning P6 in Australia, that makes two excellent points scoring fishes in a row for the Frenchman and the debutante Ferrari-powered team from Kannapolis, North Carolina. Now if they can just get Grosjean’s teammate Esteban Gutierrez to finish a race — the young Mexican crashed out after his terrifying tangle with Fernando Alonso in Melbourne and suffered engine failure in Bahrain — the upstart Yanks could put together something that is nearly unprecedented for a team in this most demanding form of motorsport: a successful first year.
Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen recovered from his tantrum in Australia, channeling his aggression into dicing hard with his competitors rather than yelling at his team to come home a solid P6. Continue reading →
Rosberg earns victory in first race of 2016, Hamilton fights back for P2 after poor start; Vettel settles for P3 after early lead
After Saturday’s wet firecracker of a Qualifying, where the new and now-aborted elimination rules left the track empty for long stretches and the majority of the teams unable to strut their stuff, Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix unleashed a corker. Perhaps perversely aided by the limited track time in quali hiding their true performance, Ferrari seemed to sandbag mighty Mercedes as the lights went out for the race start. Front runner Lewis Hamilton, who appeared destined for another victory procession after earning his remarkable 50th career pole, bogged down a bit at the start under the new single-clutch pedal rule and that was all the opening Sebastian Vettel needed. The Ferrari driver shot past not only Hamilton but also his P2 teammate Nico Rosberg, splitting them into turn one and grabbing the race lead out of the gate. Better yet for the Prancing Horse, Kimi Raikkonen also managed to sneak through as the two Mercedes diced to recover, making it a very encouraging Ferrari 1-2 to start the new year. Could the legendary team from Maranello be ready to present a real championship challenge to the heretofore untouchable Silver Arrows?
Before that answer could be known for certain, the race took a very hairy turn on Lap 18 when veterean McLaren driver Fernando Alonso misjudged his pass on young Haas F1’s Esteban Gutierrez, sending the Spanish former champion catapulting through the air over a gravel trap and into a catch fence. Despite the fact that Alonso’s McLaren wound up looking like a balled up piece of aluminum foil both drivers walked away unharmed. That scary shunt led to an extended Red Flag period, which neutralized Vettel’s advantage, as all the cars were able to change tries without costing them time. And while Ferrari chose to keep Vettel on the high-performing, quickly degrading super soft tires, the rest of the field opted for the long running medium compound. Ominously for Ferrari, shortly after the Red Flag restart the highly placed Raikonnen was forced to retire on Lap 22 with a fiery engine failure as he pulled into the pits. That continued the star-crossed Finn’s run of bad luck since rejoining the Scuderia.
Meanwhile, Hamilton found himself stuck in 6th behind the very competitive Toro Rossos of Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen. Between pit stops and his typically aggressive driving Hamilton was able to make up ground and work himself up to P4 by Lap 33. At the front Rosberg was catching up to Vettel. And when the Ferrari team had an uncharacteristically poor pit stop while changing Vettel’s tires, the Mercedes driver inherited a lead he would never relinquish. The Ferrari bobble also insured that Hamilton would be able to catch Vettel despite the former 4-time World Champ’s best efforts at holding the Englishman off, albeit with both finishing far behind Rosberg. And so just when it appeared that either Ferrari might take the whole enchilada or Hamilton would once again crush Rosberg’s fragile confidence with a dominant victory, it was Rosberg who flipped the script and left Hamilton chasing him in futile pursuit at the end of the Aussie Grand Prix. Hamilton’s unlikely poor start and Ferrari’s surprising woes gave Rosberg just the leg up he needed to try and wrest the crown from his archival and chief tormentor. We’ll have to see if his momentum, which now includes an impressive four consecutive race wins dating to last season, can give Rosberg the impetus he needs to break Hamilton’s stranglehold on the title and earn the German aspirant his first Championship. Time will tell.
In other notable results, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo had an excellent run to finish P4 in front of his home fans in his newly “Tag Heuer”-powered chassis (really just a re-badged Renault with improved performance over last year’s woeful power plant). Continue reading →