Oh mother! You think of her every living moment of your life and you know she is keeping tabs on you too, wherever you go. When Fernando Alonso met with an unmitigated disaster on Sunday, he climbed out of the wreckage without wasting a moment. Why? Because he knew his mother was watching Melbourne’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix from their home in Northern Spanish town of Oviedo. The first thing Alonso wanted her mother to know that he was alive. Later, he waited for Haas driver Esteban Gutierrez, with whose car; Alonso’s McLaren had got entangled in a horrible accident in Lap 17. As Gutierrez also emerged from the wreckage, Alonso hugged him profusely and neither driver apportioned blame on one another. There were more hugging and shaking of hands during the day, on which Mercedes began the 2016 season with a now familiar 1-2 finish. It was Nico Rosberg this time, who stole the limelight with Lewis Hamilton taking the second place. Alonso’s miraculous crash wiped out all the lead that Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel had built until then and the four-time F1 world champion had to rest content with the third place on the podium. It was a dramatic Sunday at Melbourne’s Albert Park on March 20. 2016. The occasion was the season-opener F1 with new cars, new drivers and brand new resolutions. The race began with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel going in front with a sharp overtake. Vettel kept himself ahead of Rosberg and Hamilton until the 17th lap, when McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Haas’ Esteban Gutierrez collided with each other. The race was halted for over 20 minutes and all the cars had been called under the red flag. This effectively erased all the advantage Vettel had been able to build up in these opening laps. Mercedes drivers took advantage of the break and switch to hard tyres. As Vettel went to the pits, he decided to continue with super-soft compound and that made the big difference between Mercedes and Ferrari.
In the new qualifying format earlier, Lewis Hamilton had taken the pole ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg. Sebastian Vettel was third with teammate Kimi Raikkonen at fourth place. The drivers looked confused with new qualifying criteria and the whole exercise looked in utter shambles. Regardless, Max Verstappen of Toro Rosso took the fifth place ahead of Williams’ Felipe Massa. The seventh to tenth places went in that order to Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso), Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull), Sergio Perez (Force India) and Nico Hulkenberg also of Force India.
On race day, however, pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton suffered from an awful beginning and dropped to sixth spot early in the race as Ferrari team of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen passed the Mercedes drivers in a brilliant start. Vettel kept building his lead while Raikkonen was able to check Rosberg for a while. However, at his first pit-stop, Rosberg regained the second place behind Vettel, who looked untouchable until hell broke loose in the 17th lap.
The fateful crash between Fernando Alonso and Esteban Gutierrez occurred when Alonso’s McLaren rammed into Gutierrez’s Haas even as Gutierrez applied brakes on the Turn-3 corner. McLaren’s right front wheel caught the rear left of Gutierrez and Alonso’s car hit the Rolex hoarding on the left side of the track. Then it spun viciously and did two full rotations across a gravel trap before turning turtle and slamming up against the tyre wall in a crumpled mess. Gutierrez’s car was less damaged but still in no shape to continue further in the race. Alonso managed to climb out quickly for the express benefit of his mother watching her son on TV in Spain. Then the two drivers hugged each other but the race was stopped for 22 minutes.
At the restart, everything changed. While Ferrari continued with their two-stop strategy on super-soft tyres, team Mercedes decided on a tactical change in favor of mediums. That implied that Ferrari would pit again and lose time. The Mercedes tactic turned the race on its head, as Vettel dropped back and lost the 24-second advantage, he had created before the accident. On 35th lap, when Vettel pitted again for the soft tyres, he had surrendered the advantage to Rosberg, Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo with all three going ahead of his Ferrari. Hamilton improved to second position by overtaking Ricciardo in 42nd lap, but failed to challenge Rosberg’s 10-second lead. Meanwhile, Vettel also pushed hard and improved to third place behind Rosberg and Hamilton. Williams’ Felipe Massa was fifth and with Romain Grosjean taking the sixth spot, the new American team Haas made an impressive points finish. Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg was seventh, Williams’ Valtteri Bottas eighth while Toro Rosso pair of Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen ended at ninth and tenth. Four laps earlier, Verstappen had collided with his teammate in a misjudged attempt to overtake him but the two drivers still managed the points finish.
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