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OBSERVATIONS: Australian Grand Prix

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Ah, Formula 1 is back for another year of racing. Isn’t it a great feeling? That depends whom you ask following the completion of the Australian Grand Prix. Personally, I can’t say it gave me a lot to sizzle about.

For one, a new broadcast partner for the United States coverage certainly brought forth some concerns, which were for good reason it appeared. I mean, who begins their first race of the year with issues during the pre-race show? Yep, that was the case with ESPN2 on Sunday morning.

Though let’s face it – broadcast concerns are something to be had across every bit of the platform. I mean, Sky Sports certainly takes an interesting approach to their pre-show. Both commentators just standing on the grid, trying to grab whomever they can and talk to them. It just seems a little chaotic for me, as you think setting up to talk to certain faces and people that are the story would be precedent in making the most of their time.

That said, the montage of drivers leading into the broadcast with “no where to hide,” and everybody being included with how they did it – very well done. It goes with the professional level that F1 is supposed to be, and connects to the new generation appearance that we’re chasing.

Now let’s get to the actual race, shall we?

For starters, it’s going to take some time to get used to the new halos. It almost gives the F1 cars a fighter jet appearance in some ways. But with knowing the safety reason, the aesthetic concerns can be left alone immediately.

Valtteri Bottas certainly didn’t start off the weekend how he wanted, crashing in qualifying en route to starting outside of the top-10. And really, I was honestly surprised at the lack of progress early. I thought he’d be at least a couple more spots ahead than running 13th after the first 20 circuits. Thankfully, by race’s end, he was able to salvage an eighth-place finish.

That said, it went with the event. There wasn’t much overtakes to be had and it really went boring and dry. It didn’t help when just before halfway the one commentator said, “We’ve had more overtakes so far in the race this year than we did last year.” Can I yawn? If there wasn’t other talking points and issues for people, there’d be nothing to say after this event.

Haas F1 team proved last year that they were just outside making a jump to being consistent front runners, and certainly showed their potential in placing both cars inside of the top-five through the first half – not bad for a third year team. Of course, that’s all forgotten now after both teams dropped out of the event following their lone pit stop. The cause? Cross-threaded nuts, according to the team.

“It was just a bad pit stop,” said team principal Guenther Steiner. “The wheelnut was on but it was cross-threaded. That doesn’t tighten the wheel up but for the mechanic, it feels like it is tightened and it wasn’t. Sometimes, these pit stops, they are so quick you have no time to check it and they didn’t check. It wasn’t correctly on. These things happen. What can you do?

“It’s unbelievable to have the same problem in two stops, one on the front wheel, one on the rear wheel. Even if it’s not believable, it’s real. It happened. It’s very disappointing end to the day for us. But the pace was good, the car was running. It is still a feel good story as we’re up with the big boys.”

And what could make this worse? The new TV package for the American audience, thanks to a choice decision by ESPN2. Sometimes you need to put sense ahead of dollars, but instead, they stayed in commercial, not allowing the American fans to hear the announcers’ discussion about the American team. If you want to see fans tune into your coverage, you need to feed them what they want.

Before their issues, though, you could tell that they were frustrating the heck out of Red Bull – namely Max Verstappen. His radio traffic in needing to get by Kevin Magnussen was right on the edge. Of course, spinning through a corner never helped anyone, and certainly didn’t help Verstappen in dropping him back three spots – but that could’ve been a lot worse. Imagine if the car would’ve dug in a bit more, or caught a wall, or someone else would’ve helped him. You have to wonder just how much of his frustration played into that happening. I guess you could say a sixth isn’t bad after that, either.

The biggest discussion point, though, is obviously Sebastian Vettel’s pass on Lewis Hamilton for the lead. For one, it caught a lot of people off-guard. So you can go faster down pit lane then you can under a virtual safety car? That just doesn’t seem right, and frankly it appeared at the time as though Lewis Hamilton got robbed on that deal if you ask me. However, according to Mercedes, it was a software glitch that is to be blamed instead.

“We were trying to build enough of a gap to [Kimi] Raikkonen to avoid the undercut and we were trying to have enough gap to the Haas to have the Safety Car gap,” explained Toto Wolff. “Everything was under control. We took a bit of a risk of putting Lewis on a soft [tyre] to go to the end, but it was the only choice to avoid Kimi jumping us. The pace was good. Then we calculated the VSC gap which was needed [if one was activated]. Our computer said 15 seconds was the necessary time in order to jump us.

“The drivers oscillate within one second in the delta. Then suddenly the cameras showed us the pit exit. Sebastian came out in front of us. The software or system we have been using for five years just gave us the wrong number. Lewis did nothing wrong. It was down to a software bug or an algorithm that was simply wrong.”

Oh, and the good story out of this? Fernando Alonso. It appears as though McLaren finally has their program headed in the right direction, and the veteran was able to make the most of it with a fifth-place finish. Not a bad start after all the failures last year….

“It was definitely a good race, especially from where we came,” he said. “The last three years were difficult and I think the winter was difficult too. We switched to the Renault power unit very late last year, so we had a very quick reaction from the team to redesign some of the parts at the rear end [of the car].

“Now we come here and both cars have scored points, [we’re in] the top five and we should be proud of that. I think there’s a lot more to come from McLaren, this is the first race of this combination – McLaren-Renault – some of the updates will come in the coming races, so hopefully we can look up a little more. Red Bull will be the next targets.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Ashley McCubbin is currently studying journalism at the University of Guelph-Humber while writing for multiple websites. She also serves on the managing staff for a select few. Born in North York, Ontario, McCubbin currently lives in Bradford, Ontario and spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area where she enjoys taking photos and working on websites.

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