“I’ll Be Back” – these may have been the words that race-winner Lewis Hamilton shared with Arnold ‘Terminator’ Schwarzenegger on the podium, but how else do you sum up an explosive season opener that only saw eleven drivers complete the race?
During winter testing, it was announced that the Manor Marussia team had exited from administration but would not be competing at the season opener. Despite turning up at the Grand Prix, the team worked on a modified version of last year’s car until Parc Ferme rules came into effect – not a wheel was turned for the team, who had already missed their contractual total of three races during last year’s penultimate rounds. It was also announced that Gene Haas had taken ownership of Manor’s headquarters in Banbury, UK, which will act as a European base for the Haas F1 Team, which is said to be entering the F1 grid in 2016.
Also during winter testing, a mysterious crash at the Circuit de Catalunya ensured that McLaren’s injured Fernando Alonso would not be racing in Australia, and would instead be replaced by Kevin Magnussen for the Grand Prix weekend.
Valteri Bottas would also be out of the race due to back problems during practice; the Williams team were unable to replace him for the Grand Prix, meaning Felipe Massa would be the sole Williams driver for the first race of the new season. Two further drivers were taken out on the pre-race formation lap; Red Bull’s Daniel Kyvat pulled over purportedly due to gearbox issues, followed shortly by McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen with smoke pouring out of his engine.
A field of 15 cars was reduced even further at the start of the race – as the drivers battled for position, a turn one incident sparked a chain reaction which resulted in the inevitable retirement for Pastor Maldonado as he spun into the barrier. Shortly after, and under yellow flag/Safety Car conditions, teammate Romain Grosjean started to lose power from his Renault-powered Lotus E23, and was told by his team to trundle on around into the pits.
With only thirteen drivers still competing, Massa was jumped in the pits by Vettel, and Carlos Sainz Jr suffered a pitiful disaster after the Toro-Rosso team struggled to remove a wheel from his STR10 during a rather long pit-stop.
The next retirees were Toro-Rosso teammate Max Verstappen who, after a pit-stop, reported on the radio that there was smoke in the car; and Kimi Raikkonen, who exited the pits with a wheel not being properly attached. Due to the new regulations for 2015, Raikkonen could receive a penalty in the next race for an unsafe release.
After the mid-field antics had taken its toll on the race, including a close-call between Button and Perez, Hamilton cruised home to take the win, starting off strong in a season of title-defending against his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg who finished closely behind in second.
Hamilton has apparently never been starstruck on the podium, but that all changed when the Terminator himself stepped up onto the podium to conduct the post-race driver interviews:
Although Vettel was unable to close the gap to Rosberg, he managed to maintain the gap to Felipe Massa who strolled home in fourth position, showing for the second-year running just how close Williams really are to the Mercedes team.
But Vettel’s exemplary performance in his new Ferrari SF15-T, after a torrid 2014 season in a Red Bull RB10, begged more questions than it answered. Many fans and journalists believe that Alonso left the Maranello squad too early, and that McLaren are going to be out of the points for a while given the inevitable teething problems that are sure to come their way with the new partnership with Honda.
The reason Alonso left Ferrari for McLaren was the same reason Vettel left Red Bull for Ferrari – a poor showing in 2014 caused both drivers to reassess their careers for the 2015 season. But, based solely on Vettel and Button’s performances in Australia (Button struggling home in 11th and thus failing to finish in the points), should Alonso have stayed with Ferrari for 2015?
Finally, the success stories of the weekend must lie with the F1 rookies – Sauber’s Felipe Nasr, who finished 5th in his first Grand Prix (with teammate Marcus Ericsson cruising home in 8th), while Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr, son of the great WRC driver, came home in 9th, losing only one place after an impressive qualifying run that saw him start in 8th place.
If the opening race is anything to go by, the action is far from over… see you soon for more F1!