F1 2015: Australian Grand Prix Race Recap

Lewis Hamilton won the 2015 Australian Grand Prix, a race of attrition both before and after lights out. Though plenty of daring moves occurred in the early laps, especially as rookies took the fight to more experienced drivers, the final laps were marked mainly by marking time between the Mercedes teammates and impossible dreaming from fans for points for Jenson Button.

Nico Rosberg held steady in second through the entire race, with the Mercedes drivers finishing thirty seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel in third, a podium for his first race with Ferrari. An incident on the first lap between Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Nasr, and Pastor Maldonado pushed the Venezuelan into the wall and brought out the Safety Car. The former two drivers continued on with minimal damage, but it ended Maldonado’s race. His teammate Romain Grosjean pitted, only to retire after a slow start. Max Verstappen and Raikkonen also retired. The rookie’s Toro Rosso stopped while he sat in the points while the Finn suffered a series of pit stop missteps that resulted in an improperly attached left rear.

Only fifteen cars started at Albert Park, with neither Manor having turned a wheel all weekend, and Valtteri Bottas deemed unfit to race with an annular tear in his lower back. He failed escape tests on the morning of the race. Kevin Magnussen’s McLaren failed with a puff of smoke on his sighting lap. He hopped out and left the car on the side of the track. Daniil Kvyat ran wide through a gravel trap on his own sighting lap, then also pulled to the side and left his Red Bull for the marshals to retrieve. Christian Horner later indicated that fifth gear failed, and the Russian lost all power.

Results of the 2015 Australian Grand Prix

DRIVER TEAM GAP
1.  Lewis Hamilton  Mercedes
2.  Nico Rosberg  Mercedes  1.3
3.  Sebastian Vettel  Ferrari  34.5
4.  Felipe Massa  Williams  38.1
5.  Felipe Nasr  Sauber  95.1
6.  Daniel Ricciardo  Red Bull  1 Lap
7.  Nico Hulkenberg  Force India  1 Lap
8.  Marcus Ericsson  Sauber  1 Lap
9.  Carlos Sainz  Toro Rosso  1 Lap
10.  Sergio Perez  Force India  1 Lap
11.  Jenson Button  McLaren  2 Laps
 Kimi Raikkonen  Ferrari
 Max Verstappen  Toro Rosso
 Romain Grosjean  Lotus
 Pastor Maldonado  Lotus
 Daniil Kvyat  Toro Rosso  no start
 Kevin Magnussen  McLaren  no start
 Valtteri Bottas  Williams  no start
 Will Stevens  Manor Marussia  no start
 Roberto Merhi  Manor Marussia  no start

Hamilton {1:26.327} won pole handily after Mercedes trounced the rest of the field through all three practices and all three qualifying sessions. Rosberg led the way Friday, but no one could stop Hamilton getting his championship defending season off to the right start with pole on Saturday. The German settled for a front row start next to his teammate. Ferrari and Williams fought over who would come third, with Massa, Vettel, Raikkonen, and Bottas rounding out the top six qualifiers. Bottas complained of pain in the small of his back during and after quali. He spent the night in the hospital with soft tissue damage, and did not start the race. The FIA deemed him unfit to race approximately an hour before lights out and moved the grid together accordingly.

Ricciardo and Sainz led the Red Bull/Toro Rosso battle, outpacing teammates to move on to Q3. Ricciardo seemed pleased enough, even as Christian Horner admitted that beating Toro Rosso was the most Red Bull could hope for with continued engine issues. Grosjean and Maldonado completed the top ten qualifiers. Rookies Nasr, Verstappen, and Kvyat performed admirably during Q1 and Q2, while the McLaren duo of Button and Magnussen settled uncomfortably into a fight over the final row of the grid during Q1.

Though Manor hauled the entire operation to Albert Park, neither Will Stevens nor Roberto Merhi turned a wheel. Software issues kept the struggling team from turning over the engine. Sauber suffered as well, with the paddock on tenterhooks over court decisions that might have seen team principal Monish Kaltenborn fined or committed to jail over the Giedo van der Garde contractual dispute. He eventually relinquished his legal standing to race in Australia. Negotiations over the rest of the season continue.

Race Start:
All drivers but Verstappen, Perez, and Ericsson started on the soft tires. The lights went out under a clear blue sky, with Hamilton managing a fast getaway. Behind, the field shuffled, with Raikkonen attempting a move on his new teammate. Mid-pack, Maldonado spun after a nudge from Nasr, hitting the tire wall. Nasr had made minor contact with Raikkonen, who had slide backward after failing to pass Vettel. Maldonado quickly hopped out and ran to the marshals. His teammate had a slow getaway.

Safety Car {L1 of 58}:
Hamilton led Rosberg, Massa, Vettel, Sainz, Nasr, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Verstappen, Hulkenberg, Perez, and Button. Ericsson and Grosjean pitted. Ericsson rejoined the race, but the Lotus crew put Grosjean on a dolly and pulled him into the garage.

Restart {L3 of 58}:
Hamilton led Rosberg, Massa, Vettel, Sainz, Nasr, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Verstappen, Hulkenberg, Perez, Button, and Ericsson for the restart. Hamilton flew into the distance on the restart while Rosberg and Massa held steady. Nasr had a go on Sainz, taking fifth on the straight. That left the Spaniard in the clutches of Raikkonen. Meanwhile, Perez learned that he passed Ericsson under the SC. He had to give the position back, and lose position to Button as well.

Hamilton quickly gained a gap on Rosberg, who had his own cushion on Massa. The Mercedes drivers settled in for the early stages of the race, but Massa soon came under pressure from Vettel. Behind, Nasr, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, and Sainz continued to scuffle over fifth though eighth. Vettel had a moment in catching Massa, but caught his on wiggle and continued on without losing time.

End L10 of 58:
By the end of L10, Rosberg regained some of the time to his teammate ahead. The gap dropped to just over one second. Though the order had not yet changed, cars remained close together. Raikkonen looked as though the Nasr/Ricciardo duo just ahead cost him time, though he also did not yet appear to be pressuring either too hard. Nasr began to eek out a tiny bit more of a gap as the laps progressed, leaving Ricciardo and his driveability issues to the attentions of Raikkonen.

Meanwhile, Perez hoped for any maneuver to work in passing Button’s slow McLaren. The Briton already sat more than thirteen seconds behind Ericsson. Still, the former wold champion continued to hold his former teammate. They made contact as Perez came from a long way back at T3 on L13. Button went for the racing line, and to close the door, but Perez already sat alongside. The Mexican driver spun, leaving bits of bodywork on the track. He continued. McLaren reminded Button of the possibility of points, if he could finish the race.

Pit Stops Begin {L17 of 58}:
Further ahead, Raikkonen began worrying Ricciardo over sixth, only to dive into pit lane on L17. The strategy did not work, as Ferrari experienced issues on the left rear. At the front, Hamilton and Rosberg traded fast laps, with the latter asking Mercedes to check the status of his car. He brushed the wall at T11. Massa settled solidly into third, with Vettel a second and a half behind. The Brazilian made his first pit stop on L22. Williams gave its sole driver of the race a three second stop, allowing Massa to rejoin in sixth after a switch to medium compound tires. Hulkenberg also pitted that lap, dropping one position from tenth to eleventh.

Williams encouraged Massa to get by Ricciardo quickly. Massa had a small look at T13, with the Aussie giving Massa plenty of room, but he was too far back. Ricciardo relinquished the position for his own first stop. Red Bull had him out of the box after 3.4s. Pit stops kept going, with Vettel pitting on L24. Ferrari had a clean stop, 3.6s, getting Vettel back out in front of Massa.

Sainz also pitted, suffering a dismal stop. Toro Rosso had the Spaniard in the box for absolute ages with left rear problems. He dropped to last. Hamilton pitted, giving Rosberg the lead on L26. Nasr pitted between them, then Rosberg pitted on L27. Mercedes had him done in 2.9s, compared to Hamilton’s 3.3s. Back on track, Raikkonen passed Verstappen decisively.

Halfway {L27 of 58}:
Hamilton led Rosberg by 4.6s at halfway. Vettel leapfrogged Massa in the stops, ten seconds behind Rosberg. Raikkonen, Verstappen, Nasr, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Perez, Ericsson, Sainz, and Button completed the running order. Only Verstappen and Perez had yet to pit, after Button did so on L28. Those laps were already more than McLaren managed to complete in a row during testing. Meanwhile, Ericsson passed Hulkenberg for tenth. Sauber asked him to take care of his tires. He would not be stopping again and then sat in the final points position.

Further ahead, Raikkonen set a race fast lap on L30. He then had ten seconds gap to make up to Massa in fourth and twenty-eight laps to go. He also had soft tires on his Ferrari, requiring another stop for the Finn. Verstappen made his first foray into pit lane on L33. It would all go horribly wrong for the Toro Rosso driver, as he reported smoke in the car. He pulled to the side of the track at pit in and stopped. He took his time in getting out, with no smoke showing.

In the closest fight on the track, Sainz sat directly behind Perez, searching for points in his F1 debut. He pushed the more experienced driver through T13 and 14 on L38, edging closer and closer. Still, Sainz could not then make the move into the points. As they played chess, Mercedes asked Rosberg to save fuel for the end of the race. The German had decreased the gap to his teammate, but lost some of those precious tenths as he followed instructions.

Perez finally relinquished tenth to Sainz with his first pit stop. On the radio, Red Bull told Ricciardo that he was “faster than Nasr. Let’s have him.”

Second Pit Stops Begin {L41 of 58}:
Raikkonen made his second pit stop on L41. It seemed to be a decent one, though the left rear tire changer waved his hand with an issue as the Finn pulled away. Raikkonen soon slowed and stopped at the side of the circuit. The left rear tire sat at an angle as he parked. Ericsson made his own second stop on L45, after a mistake saw him slide through a gravel trap. Hulkenberg pitted on L46. Button had his own moment, sliding through the dust, though he continued on in eleventh, then final position.

Final 10 Laps of 58:
At the end of L47, Rosberg set a race fast lap to put himself just 1.8s behind his teammate. The Mercedes drivers had nearly twenty-eight seconds on third place Vettel, and were the closest drivers on the track. Massa, Nasr, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Sainz, Ericsson, Perez, and Button completed the eleven cars still lapping. Word came from Race Control that Raikkonen’s pit stop would be investigated for unsafe release after the race.

Though few of the drivers appeared to be close enough to change positions in the final laps, plenty of teams sounded dead encouraging on the radio as drivers gained and lost large margins per lap. Tire wear finally came into play as drivers struggled to keep from stopping again. Button indicated downshifting issues to McLaren, learning that he just had to keep struggling on.

With five laps remaining, Rosberg sat just a second and a half behind his teammate. Both worried about their fuel levels. Ericsson had also gained on the man ahead, looking for a way to get around Sainz for eighth. Both rookies struggled with grip. Ericsson made a sold move on the inside at T13 and moved up one more position without much argument with Sainz.

At the front, the Mercedes drivers were thirty seconds ahead of Vettel, with Massa and Nasr rounding out the top five and the drivers on the lead lap. Though it did appear that Rosberg would be unable to catch his teammate, their gap remained just under two seconds on the final lap. In the end, Hamilton started 2015 in far better condition than he did 2014, with a win in the inaugural grand prix.

{VMR}

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