As the cars lined up on the grid on Sunday for the opening race of the F1 season in Melbourne, the headlines had already been grabbed by various protagonists, and not for the right reasons.
First, there was the contract dispute at Sauber, a team that had somehow managed to contract three drivers whilst only having two race seats, a rarely-seen level of incompetence in F1. Giedo van der Garde, the driver who had been disputing his position in the team (accusing the team of illegally terminating his contract) finally dropped his fight and allowed the team race without further court proceedings or the threat of the cars beings seized over them.
That situation could’ve got ugly; Monisha Kaltenborn had been threatened with jail should the team have been in contempt of court, and bailiffs were hovering around the team’s garages over the weekend, ready to seize their assets.
There were more team problems. Manor Marussia were struggling to make it out of the garage, Red Bull’s problems with engine supplier Renault continued for a second season running, and McLaren were even further off the pace than anyone imagined. With the possibility of the German GP being axed for the 2015 season, all in all, it wasn’t the start to the season the fans would’ve liked.
When it came to race day, Manor Marussia didn’t make it onto the grid, nor did Kevin Magnussen (engine trouble), Daniel Kyvat (engine trouble) and Valtteri Bottas due to a back problem suffered in qualifying. With just 15 cars on the grid, the 2015 F1 season coughed and spluttered to a start.
The racing was as good as last year’s. Close, tough but mostly fair. Former team mates Jenson Button and Sergio Perez squabbled over last place, resulting in Perez spinning, but it showed that these drivers are willing to earn their big wages when called upon. At the opposite end of the grid, the familiar silver vanguard of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg dominated from start to finish, with Rosberg never really bothering Hamilton for the lead.
There were some encouraging team debuts too; Vettel finished in third for his first outing as a Ferrari driver, both Saubers (including rookie Felipe Nasr) finished in the points after their difficult weekend and rookie Carlos Sainz Jr also had a strong debut race, finishing 9th.
Max Verstappen wasn’t so fortunate, retiring on lap 32 due to mechanical problems. It was also a weekend for Lotus to forget too, with one car crashing out (Maldonado, surprise surprise) and Grojean retiring on the first lap. They aren’t destined to have a season as bad as last year’s though; their car seems to be a genuine points contender this season.
It is often tempting to jump to conclusions after the first season, but a few deductions can be made. Mercedes are set to dominate once again, McLaren will seriously struggle for at least the first half of the season and Ferrari have improved on there desperately poor season last year. Nevertheless, one question remains; what will the repercussions be of one team dominating for the second season in a row, with arguably a bigger margin than they had last year?
One hopes for rain in Malaysia.
Article by Michael Slevin Uttley from www.therinse.co.uk