The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX : Australia : Ferrari Fluff their Strategy

06-04-2016

Report by Arthur Beattie

 

The sight of the two Ferraris bursting away at the start was quite emotional to behold, although we all knew that they weren’t the quickest cars there.  But we really didn’t expect a tyre-choice blunder to hand the race back to the Mercs.

During pre-season testing the silver ones showed that they were still class of the field, stroking round for lap after lap with not a single issue, and the Ferrari pace, although good, showed that there was still a huge gap in F1 terms. Still, the others hadn’t done much to catch up either but the Force Indias were going quite well, and the Torro Rossos had really benefitted from the Ferrari engine and were flying along.

The Maccas were still Honda nobbled and had made no progress during the closed season and, quite frankly, there looked to be nothing on the horizon either, personnel changes notwithstanding.  It’s always gratifying to see Ron with that hurt look on his face…

But on the other hand, the Haas Ferrari B-team looked in very good shape, having had a fairly trouble-free pre-season test and benefiting from the latest-spec Ferrari engine. In Grosjean it signed an accomplished driver although the choice of Gutierrez puzzled a lot of people in view of his pretty dismal record in F1 thus far.

In the lesser teams there was the usual driver shuffling going on, depending on who had the biggest wallet and which Fathers had exhausted their piggy banks. Pascal Wehrlein was place at Manor by Mercedes, along with Rio Haryanto courtesy of  Indonesian sponsors, and the two at the resurrected Renault team were not seen as too much of a risk in what was going to be a long slog to get the team back on its feet.

The rest of the perplexing world of Formula 1 was much the same as we left it last season. The sight of squabbling teams trying to find unanimity about rules was as unedifying as ever and the FIA had clearly washed its hands of the whole problem, pleading that it had no authority to interfere with existing agreements. Bernie appeared as much in charge as ever, master tactician that he is, and CVC continued to skim off the money despite continuing rumours of a sale of their shareholding. But that constantly-shifting scenario, with a little rumour here, a shove there, a threat elsewhere, meant the status-quo remained safely in existence. The EU investigation might have something to add to all this, but that could be years away.

But just before we even got to the first ’16 race, we had another of those PR clangers that F1 seems so prone to. From nowhere, a new qualifying format was announced, something that on paper looked utterly inexplicable but everyone thought let’s give it a try. And it did indeed turn out to be utterly inexplicable, with not even some of the teams understanding it let alone the spectators. What in many cases could be even more exciting than a race was reduced to a shambles of gigantic proportions. A curse on those responsible.

Lewis Hamilton utterly dominated the free practice sessions, being quickest in all of them, and he did the same during the three qualifying sessions, sitting out the final minutes as spectators stared at an empty track. A dejected Rosberg joined him on the front row, quite a way adrift on times, and then came the two Ferraris with Vettel in front of Raikkonen. Worryingly, the red ones were some three quarters of a second away from pole…

The two Torro Rossos were also in the final 8 shoot-out as was Massa’s Williams and, in a heroic effort, Ricciardo in the still TAG (Renault) –engined Red Bull.

The start and the first 15 laps were hugely pleasurable to watch, as first Vettel led and then, when the German, dived into the pits for his first tyre change, it was Kimis turn. But Rosberg was never far behind, his car comfortably faster and he was just waiting and watching. Hamilton had dropped back with a tardy start and was struggling with some of the quicker midfield boys.

The frightening accident which befell Alonso brought out the red flag and, with it, put paid to Ferrari’s chance of a win.  Whilst the cars waited in the pits tyres were changed, and the Ferraris inexplicably went onto super-softs which would guarantee another pit stop. The Mercs went onto medium tyres, which would get them through to the end.

Raikkonen retired shortly after the restart with an engine problem, and Vettel lost his lead with the inevitable extra pit stop that allowed the two Mercs into the lead, with Rosberg leading the hard-working Hamilton across the line for his fourth straight win. Lewis must be wondering how the heck he managed to win that championship last year.

There was some entertaining racing going on behind the leaders.  The two Torro Rosso boys managed to get on each other’s nerves and finally had a coming together when Verstappen got too frustrated; Ricciardo made a poor start but battled his way up to fourth, and Jolyon Palmer, from whom not a lot was expected, did a fine job in outqualifying and outracing his much more fancied Renault team mate, Kevin Magnussen. But the driver of the day was probably Lewis Hamilton – he fluffed the start (again) but never gave up and gave us some great moves as he fought back to the sharp end again.

Finally, an admiring word about the Haas team. Günter Steiner’s baby, sponsored by Haas Automation, used all its various Ferrari bits to great advantage and in the hands of Grosjean finished a splendid 6th, partly thanks to its one-stop strategy. Even team mate Gutierrez raced quite well until taken out in the Alonso accident. All this must be very galling to the other back-row teams of recent years: they’ve managed to survive (just) but those elusive points seem as far away as ever.