Australian GP history: False starts to success

By on Tuesday, March 6, 2018

With the new F1 season mere weeks from commencing, every driver is preparing to take to the grid on equal terms. Although some drivers are more equal than others, nobody is immune to an opening-day clanger on the track.

In time-honoured fashion, Albert Park will host the opening race of the new season. Although it looks like a simplistic course from an aerial point of view, it has sometimes caught out even those who could drive it blindfolded.

Those of a more sensationalist disposition may feel compelled to declare a ‘wide open’ title race when a giant retires in Melbourne, but invariably, the combination of a classy chassis and a driving ace will win out in the end. Here are some examples of when drivers have underperformed in early races, only to go on and win the title!

Last year’s season opener did not disappoint!

Lewis Hamilton (2014)

Current world champion and F1 betting market outright leader Lewis Hamilton was no exception to first-day nerves back in 2014, when both he and Sebastian Vettel were forced to retire. Though Nico Rosberg won that particular battle, the war was all Hamilton’s, and he joined the list of champions-to-be that crashed out or faded away in an early race.

It was supposed to be a day of revelations, as the new 1.6 litre turbocharged V6 engines made their first appearance on an F1 circuit in twenty-six years. However, Lewis Hamilton lost a cylinder, and struggled to maintain his position on the circuit.

After Hamilton’s inevitable retirement, teammate Nico Rosberg won by a margin of nearly 25s. Though not mathematically a world champion until the season finale in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton always looked assured, winning his second world title with a whopping 384 points:

Sebastian Vettel (2010)

This was the second race of the season, with Bahrain having hosted the first. Having finished fourth in the previous race, a young Sebastian Vettel, in the mould of his boyhood hero Michael Schumacher, had finished fourth. Already lagging thirteen points behind Fernando Alonso, Vettel could ill-afford to make any mistakes.

Fate dealt him a severe blow when sparks began to fly from his left front wheel. This served to destabilise his car and lose torque drive. Having lost control of his vehicle, there was an air of inevitability about Vettel’s spin-off at Ascari corner after twenty-six laps.

Reigning champion Jenson Button ended up atop the podium, but Vettel was back on track with a controversial win in the very next race, at Sepang, Malaysia. Though Vettel would win only once more before that October’s Japanese Grand Prix, a late flurry of three wins in the last four races saw the German win out by four points.

In 2010, Sebastian Vettel beat off three title rivals on the final weekend to claim his first of four world championships in a row.

Mika Häkkinen (1999)

Along with David Coulthard, reigning champion Mika Häkkinen dominated in practice and the opening stage of the race itself. Having consistently finished more than 1s ahead of the competition, it seemed as though the win would go to one of the McLaren drivers. There were, however, signs of trouble before the race began.

Häkkinen ended up using his spare car after finding a technical fault with his original vehicle. The race began well for the Finn, holding on to his lead from pole with the assuredness of a champion. On lap 18, however, Häkkinen began to experience acceleration and throttle problems and was forced to pit – and then retire.

In the end, it was a close call, but Häkkinen managed to win the title by two points. He retired on several occasions that season, but found the winning touch when necessary.

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