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Rosberg heads Mercedes 1-2... but that's not the whole story

NEWS STORY
20/03/2016

In order to be totally fair, our esteemed editor, having endured qualifying once, put himself through the torture of watching a reply, just to ensure that he hadn't missed anything or overreacted. He hadn't, he didn't, it was just as bad second time around.

Consequently, today's race had better be damn good if it is to put the debacle of qualifying out of our minds.

Of course, the powers-that-be lulled us into a false sense of security, never allowing Mercedes to show its hand until it was effectively too late, and serving up a final practice session that suggested it really was going to be close.

When Vettel closed to within 0.228s of Hamilton in FP3, despite a mistake, it really did look as though we might have a fight on our hands, only for the Briton to pull away the tablecloth in Q3 and reveal the true chasm between the Silver Arrows and its rivals.

Whilst Vettel admits that "in comparison to the Mercedes drivers we are a bit further behind than we expected", teammate Raikkonen offers a crumb of comfort to fans suggesting that "it's not too bad"

With rain unlikely it's not as if we can expect the weathers gods to look kindly on us in return for the qualifying fiasco, consequently we will have to rely on guile and overzealousness from the drivers.

As expected, Mercedes is the class of the field, and Ferrari is next, albeit over half-a-second behind, and it's not as if we even have any doubts over the W07's reliability.

The big story is what follows, for currently we have a midfield pack that consists of Williams, Toro Rosso, Red Bull and Force India, with McLaren, Renault and Sauber snapping at their heels. In other words it's tight.

Whilst Haas and Manor appear to be taking up where Caterham and HRT left off, these are very early days for both teams, and with the technical support available to both it won't be too long before they are hounding the midfield.

No doubt with an eye on qualifying, unlike previous seasons, certainly in terms of today's race, Pirelli isn't making any predictions. "The rain and limited running on Friday, as well as a brand new set of tyre regulations, mean that race strategy is hard to predict," admits the tyre manufacturer.

Last year, Hamilton won courtesy of a one-stop strategy, however, a two-stopper is the most likely option today.

Indeed, tyres - of which the supersoft, soft and medium available today - played their part in the qualifying debacle, the teams opting to conserve their rubber for when it mattered most... the race.

A late gearbox change for Bottas means the Finn drops five places and will now start from 16th on the grid, just ahead of Nasr.

The pitlane opens and the drivers begin making their way to the grid, the Mercedes duo performing practice starts.

In a late move, on a day which has witnessed a surprising amount of backtracking from the powers-that-be, it has been confirmed that they have agreed to an easing of the new radio rules.

Teams can now discuss "the driver's own race pitstop strategy as well as those of his competitors" but "this is limited to the timing of pit stops and which tyres will be (or have been) used". Furthermore "for the avoidance of doubt, no car or power unit set up may be included in any such strategy discussion".

Another, very late, decision sees the ban on drivers discarding visor rip-offs on track delayed... another concept from the 'arranging deckchairs on Titanic' meme the sport forever adheres to.

The good news however, is that Arnie is back!

As the grid takes shape, conditions are the best they've been all weekend, the air temperature is 23 degrees C, whilst the track temperature is 36 degrees C. Though the sun is shining, the risk of rain is 10%.

The national anthem warbled, on go the sponsors caps and the drivers head back to their cars.

Over the years we've had our fair share of first lap clashes here, will today be the exception?

The leading eight all start on supersofts, behind them Alonso, Palmer, Magnussen, Ericsson, Nasr, Wehrlein and Haryanto also go for the softest rubber, whilst Perez, Hulkenberg, Button, Bottas, Kvyat, Grosjean and Gutierrez have opted for softs.

Interesting, but unsurprising tactical move by Force India.

They head off on the warm-up lap.

Oh dear, at the end of the warm-up lap, Kvyat stops before getting to his grid slot, in fear of overheating, the rest of the grid is sent on another lap. Meanwhile, the Russian climbs from his car, as his car is pushed in the opposite direction, it looks like his weekend is over.

As the grid forms again, Kvyat's car is still being manhandled.

They're away. Brilliant starts from the Ferrari duo who lead into the first corner, Vettel making an almost carbon copy of his Hungary 92015) start. A poor getaway from Hamilton who runs wide in T1, after a minor clout from Rosberg, the Briton consequently being passed by Verstappen, and Massa.

Further on there's a tyre smoke and sparks from one of the Renaults. "Puncture," complains Magnussen, who is told to pit. Not sure what happened but he ran wide in T2. Sparks were no doubt from the skid-block following the puncture.

At the end of lap 1, it's: Vettel, Raikkonen, Rosberg, Verstappen, Massa, Hamilton, Sainz, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo and Alonso. Great start from Wehrlein who is up to 14th.

"I've got problems with the engine," complains Gutierrez as Magnussen pits.

"That was awesome, keep your head down," Vettel is told. And so it was.

Check out our Sunday gallery, here.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by -ape-, 21/03/2016 12:15

"Haas and Grosjean did a very very good job. First race and then 5th in the teams standing is unbelievable good."

Rating: Positive (1)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

2. Posted by Yeyox02, 20/03/2016 23:56

"Well, it seems that this will be a tough year to Mercedes and the only thing that can help them is that Ferrari continue to make silly decisions."

Rating: Neutral (0)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

3. Posted by F One, 20/03/2016 15:28

"Good race but still gave us yet another tedious Merc 1 2."

Rating: Negative (-1)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

4. Posted by Kkiirmki, 20/03/2016 11:52

"Firstly, Alonso's crash was one of the scariest things I've ever seen in F1, That could have had a very different outcome, if not for the amazing safety employed in an F1 car. Ah Ferrari, a perfect example of how to 'snatch defeat from the jaws of victory'. However, after the shambles that was qualifying, that's a great way to start to the season."

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