Sunday’s Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix saw highs and lows for the new American Haas F1 team. The US backed team made its highly anticipated debut with drivers Esteban Gutierrez and Romain Grosjean and ended the day with a pleasant surprise and a horrifying incident.
The two Haas drivers were holding their own when on lap 19 the Haas car of Gutierrez was involved in an accident with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso. Alonso was running behind Gutierrez as the pair approached Turn 3 at race speed. Alonso overtook the Gutierrez car at speed as they neared the braking zone. The car of Alonso was sent into the left hand wall as Gutierrez spun into the corner. The car of Gutierrez slid to a stop but the car of Alonso continued sideways into a gravel trap at the end of the straight. He began to barrel roll; the car was finally launched airborne and came to rest against the tire barrier at the end of the gravel trap.
Even though his car was in a mangled heap, Alonso was able to climb unassisted from the wreckage. Gutierrez was soon also climbing from his car as the safety car was deployed on the track. Gutierrez immediately ran to Alonso to check on his condition and both men hugged briefly. Alonso later said the crash was nothing more than a racing incident.
“We both tried to fight and obviously sometimes we forget we are at 300km/h and every little crash can become much bigger,” Alonso said. “I took the slipstream as late as I could, until the breaking point, and in the last moment it was a combination of factors that we ended up with a crash.
“I think it is a racing incident. It’s tough, and the same for him [Gutierrez] – but we are both happy and talking here, that’s the really important point.”
The incident however aided Gutierrez’s teammate Grosjean. F1 was forced to red flag the race due to the Gutierrez-Alonso incident. Grosjean’s crew elected to change tires to the hardest compound during the red flag and he was able to race to the finish having made only one pit stop while all other finishers made two or three. Grosjean finished sixth, scoring the team its first eight points. It marked the first time in 14 years that a start-up team has scored points in its debut. Toyota accomplished the feat at the same Albert Park circuit in 2002.
“It feels like standing on the top step of the podium,” Grosjean said. “From Day 1, I told these guys the car has huge potential. We have plenty of areas where we can improve but the result is a massive boost for everyone.”
Team boss Gene Haas, who along with Tony Stewart turned a small NASCAR team into highly successful one, was happy with the performance of Grosjean.
“It’s very satisfying, it is a win,” Haas said. “Romain came here to an un-established team, he didn’t know how the pieces could come together, there was no visible sign of what this team could be. It’s justification for him and it makes the team feel like a winner.”
Nico Rosberg won the Grand Prix by 10 seconds over his teammate Lewis Hamilton. Third place Sebastian Vettel claimed the final podium spot for Ferrari.