What an opening to the Formula One season in Australia that was. A race of excitement and unpredicability if we get 20 more like that this year, then 2016 could go down as one of the best in recent memory. Here are five of the biggest talking points that Melbourne provided us with.
Where to start with the new qualifying regulations? In short, the powers that be decided they wanted more unpredictable grids, and in theory better races. Maintaining the old three-segment format, in Q1 after seven minutes, the slowest would be knocked out and this would continue every 90 seconds until the end of that segment. The same would happen in the other two segments until two drivers remained, to fight for pole. Only at the end of Q1 did we see how the idea was meant to work, work properly, with Renault's Jolyon Palmer facing elimination and as the clock ticked down on him, kept his composure to survive, at the expense of Marcus Ericsson.
At the end of Q3, farcial scenes were beamed around the world, with the Ferrari's of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen getting weighed in Parc Ferme, even before they were knocked out, in a bid to save tyres. Fans, pundits and team personel were immediately lambasting the format with many even questionning whether it would make it to Bahrain, in two weeks. Despite securing a 1-2, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff called the format "rubbish". Christian Horner of Red Bull insisted that the sport apologise for the "embarrasing" scenes.
Indeed, it was announced on Sunday morning that a vote would take place to revert Saturday afternoons to the old, familiar, style of qualifying, with the slowest group of seven knocked out in both Q1 and Q2, before the final eight fight for pole. When, in Barcelona, the changes were announced many team personel pointed out the downfalls of the system, which were then played out exactly in Melbourne. Drivers were asked for their opinions, but were ignored. At a time when the sport could do without negativity, Sunday's race soon made qualifying inconsequential, but it is clear: What happens in Australia, stays in Australia.
Ferrari can match Mercedes
When during Q2, the Mercedes went over a second clear of the Ferrari, the extent to which the Silver Arrows had been sand-bagging became clear, and many feared a dull season in prospect, depsite the evident improvements made by the Scuderia. However, at the start, the Ferrari's rocketed away and comfortably led the race, and should've won it. Their race-pace was strong and Raikkonen was able to hold Rosberg off, at a distance, before he retired. With no other team seemingly so well placed to take the fight to Mercedes, what we saw in Melbourne was a sign that if a triple-championship double is to head to Brackley then Mercedes have both internal and external fights to contend with...
Gene Haas created a new way to do Formula One
When a new team enter F1, expectations in their first few races are often down-played whilst they get up to speed. But not Haas. Gene Haas, the great Nascar team owner has decided to take the challenge of F1, and immediately decided to do things differently. By buying everything permitted from Ferrari, the team can keep costs down and put their resources exactly into the right places and not waste them. It is a inventive way to go about things, and many were unsure about what the outcome would be.
Romain Grosjean, sensationally claimed sixth place in Australia, the best result for a wholly new constructor since 2002 and Toyota. The technical partnership that has been formed effectivly make Haas a Ferrari B-Team. But, if this partnership can work out, it will intice other constructors to enter the sport, and have more competitive cars. However, this could also lead to increased power dominace from the engine manufactuers.
Renault show improvement
Or the Tag-Heuer badged one bolted in the back of the Red Bull. Having proved incapable of producing a competitve Power Unit since the current regulations inception, Renault runners have often struggled at power tracks. Over the winter, returing as works team, Renault have a long term ambition to win the championship, and sorting out their PU is their number one priority. In testing, the car proved solid, and the other Renault runner Red Bull posting some quick times. In dry conditions in Melbourne the size of the improvments was apparent.
Daniel Ricciardo was able to close a gap to Felipe Massa's Williams, albeit on softer, fresher tyres and then pass the Brazilian, powrred by a Mercedes. Despite Danill Kvyat suffering an electrical problem, the new PU is both reliable and more powerful. After the big mid-season upgrade, expect some smiles from messers Horner, Marko and Mateschitz . A competitive Red Bull is vital for Formula 1. If, like last season they stuggle with their PU, owner Dietrich Mateschitz will pull both his teams out and that would be catastrophic for the sport. The pressure is on Renault to prove that this years promising start isn't a flash in the pan.
F1 is safe
On lap 17, we got a demonstration of how safe and strong these moern F1 cars are. McLaren's Fernando Alonso terrorfyingly fllipped his car after contact with Esteban Gutierrez. The car's survival cell did exactly it's job, protecting the driver. Alonso walked away unhurt. This is testament to the many hours of work the FIA dedicate to research and the team's themselves for having caron-fibre chassis's.
Much debate was started after the crash, about the Halo cockpit head protection device, due to be introduced next season. and whether it would've traped Alonso. Every accident is unique and on the sad occassions in the recent past, Henry Surtees, Dan Wheldon, Jules Bianchi and Justin Wilson, when drivers in motorsport have succumbed to head injuries, the conditions were freak. With the current field divided over use of the Hao, this debate will rumble on.