Five things we learned from the Australian Grand Prix
Five things we learned from Formula One’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park, Melbourne:
— Halo or no, car safety is remarkable
Fernando Alonso said he was just “happy to be alive” after surviving a terrifying high-speed smash when his McLaren flipped and flew upside-down into a barrier. It demonstrated just how safe F1 cars are, even without the proposed cockpit “halo” head-height safety rail system scheduled for 2017. Alonso was able to clamber out of the wreckage almost instantly, something that critics of the halo said might not be possible next year. But Alonso’s team-mate Jenson Button had a swift riposte. “There was no need for him to get out (quickly),” Button told reporters. “He was fine, wasn’t he? There’s more safety risk of things hitting our head than anything happening when the car’s upside down.”
— Rosberg a genuine threat to Hamilton
For two years at Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton has had it almost entirely his own way as he swept to back-to-back drivers’ titles. But Nico Rosberg has now won four grands prix in row, suggesting the Englishman may have a fight on his hands in 2016. Mercedes supremo Niki Lauda has declared that the duo will be allowed to race each other this year, with no team orders. Given that, and with the improved Ferrari of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel looming in their mirrors, the longest ever, 21-race Formula One season could be a scrap all the way to the final chequered flag in Abu Dhabi in November.
— Back to the future after qualifying farce
Niki Lauda said it was the “biggest nonsense” he had ever seen in F1, while supremo Bernie Ecclestone didn’t waste so many syllables, calling it “crap”. And so the much-maligned experiment with knock-out qualifying ended in farce with spectators paying through the nose to look at an empty track in the final few minutes. It looks likely F1 will revert to the old system next up in Bahrain after a Sunday morning meeting of teams, who could be forgiven for telling the FIA “we told you so” or “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
— Superbrat Verstappen turns air blue
Max Verstappen, the youngest driver on the grid, may be quick but he has some growing up to do after launching an extended, expletive-splattered tirade on Toro Rosso team radio when he couldn’t get past team-mate Carlos Sainz after a botched pit stop. The team’s strategy was a “joke”, the 18-year-old fumed, before then running into the back of Sainz and spinning. TV viewers were none too impressed by the teenager’s constant complaints. “Turn his radio off,” tweeted one in disgust.
— Red flag means red-letter day for Haas
An ecstatic Romain Grosjean revelled in his sixth-place finish for Haas in their maiden grand prix — declaring it was like “a win” for the new American team. Grosjean calmly held off the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg and the Williams of Valtteri Bottas after making his only tyre change during the red-flag stoppage for Alonso’s crash. “Guys listen to me, this is a win for us,” an emotional Grosjean declared on team radio. “This is history, guys.” Haas are the first entirely new team to score points on debut since Toyota in 2002. “The key was the strategy, the red flag,” Grosjean told UK broadcaster Sky Sports. “We stayed on those tyres to the end. It wasn’t easy but we kind of got it right.”