The 2016 Australian Grand Prix will be remembered for two reasons. It was the first Formula One race to use the ridiculous new “musical chairs” qualifying format that saw all 22 cars sitting in the pits during the last 3 minus of the qualifying session. Not exactly the way the leaders of the sport drew it up. The teams had a quick meeting before the start of the race in Melbourne and voted unanimously to revert to the qualifying procedure used the past two years. The change will be effective immediately.
The other big news at this year’s race was the appearance of Haas F1 on the grid. Haas F1 is the first American Formula One team since the ill starred USF1 folded its tent before the season even started back in 2010. Team owner Gene Haas is co-owner of the Stewart Haas NASCAR team. He has been planning to try his hand in Formula One for the past 6 years.
Haas’ best idea yet was forging a close alliance with the Ferrari Formula One team. Ferrari is supplying Haas with its hybrid powertrains along with such other critical bits as transmissions, steering racks, etc. Ferrari is also supplying the new team with a boatload of advice and expertise that most new teams need to acquire on their own. Many Formula One observers believe the new Haas team is simply the B Team for Ferrari, the way Toro Rosso is for Red Bull.
Be that as it may, Haas F1 made it to Australia. It participated in all the practice sessions. It completed the topsy turvy qualifying session and managed to start 19th and 20th on the grid, beating out the Manor team that has been in the sport in one form or another for the past 6 years now.
Its drivers, Romain Grsojean and Esteban Gutierrez, moved steadily up the field until Fernando Alonso, driving for McLaren, misjudged a passing maneuver, slammed into the back of Gutierrez’s car, and barrel rolled twice before slamming upside down into a barrier. The racing world held its collective breath until Alonso climbed out of his crippled race car and walked away from the wreck under his own power. Gutierrez’s car was also destroyed and forced to retire.
After the race was restarted, Grosjean continued to work his way forward in the field. When the race ended, he brought the car home in 6th place — the first time a new team scored points in its maiden race since Toyota did it in 2002. The fact that the tiny Haas F1 team managed to equal what mighty Toyota accomplished is a testament to what grit and determination can do. After one race, Haas F1 leads such Formula One stalwarts as Toro Rosso, Force India, Renault, and McLaren in the Constructor’s Championship. It was an impressive debut for the team from North Carolina.
The center of gravity for Formula One teams has always been the UK. All the major powers in the sport have their factories there, except for Ferrari. The conventional wisdom is that England is where you have to be to find the talent needed to build a Formula One car. Haas F1 has proven that the world of NASCAR has some pretty accomplished engineers and fabricators as well. Well done, Gene Haas and all the people at Haas F1.
For the full race story and final results, please see our full race recap.
There is one side note to this story. Back in 2010, Formula One offered new teams a one time payment of $10,000,000 to join the sport. Haas is the first new team to enter since then. But Bernie Ecclestone has announced that Haas will not get the $10,000,000 bonus money because it asked to join the circus instead of the other way around, according to GrandPrix.com. Bernie will keep that money in his pocket, proving once again that he may be one of the most despicable human beings on the face of the earth.
Photo credits: Haas F1