Considering the sweeping rule changes, most people were expecting Formula 1 to be plagued by reliability issues and mistakes last season, especially in the early part. However, what happened was that the first rounds saw unusually few problems, in fact more being noticed later during the year, and even those were fewer than what most were prepared for.
Based on that, the fact that the rule changes between last season and this one were few should have made most expect most teams to have few problems. That obviously didn’t include McLaren, considering their testing woes and the fact that Honda is only now returning as an engine supplier, nor Marussia, which the public didn’t even know will try to enter the competition until shortly before the first race, so doubt anyone was surprised to see that they weren’t even able to get a car on track under its own power over the course of the weekend, but all the other teams should have been quite safe. Even Force India, which only got this year’s car running for the final two and a half days of testing, demonstrated excellent reliability during that time, so there were few reasons for concern.
But things didn’t quite work out that way, did they? First it was Alonso being advised by doctors not to race this week, following his crash in testing, which resulted in him being replaced by a Magnussen who didn’t merely qualify 18th and last, but then didn’t start at all when his engine failed on the way to the grid. Then it was Sauber’s legal troubles which, while having nothing to do with reliability, did cause them not to take part in free practice one. Then, on top of other issues that restricted running for several cars, Massa and Ricciardo didn’t run at all in free practice two, the latter even requiring an engine change. Then Bottas somehow hurt his back during the second part of qualifying and, despite ending up sixth on the grid, was ruled unfit to race. Then Kvyat joined Magnussen in retiring with mechanical problems on the way to the grid, leading to only 15 cars actually starting despite the fact that 18 participated in qualifying and 20 were present at the track.
Worse, both Lotus drivers retired without even completing the first lap, Maldonado being the quite innocent victim of an early tussle between the two Ferraris and Nasr and Grosjean crawling to the pits with a technical problem which had actually begun manifesting itself during the formation lap. That left 13 drivers racing with 57 laps to go and, while only two more retired by the end, they did so under rather unusual circumstances as well, Verstappen’s engine failing on the first lap after his only scheduled pit stop and Raikkonen being unsafely released from the pits and ending up on track with a left rear wheel that wasn’t properly attached, which probably means he’ll also carry a penalty into the next race.
It now remains to be seen how things will continue in the following races and what shape each team will be in at the start of the European season, which tends to be the deadline by which early issues need to be solved, but at the moment it looks like many went backwards in certain ways, while issues that have nothing to do with the cars seem to “conspire” to add to the uncertainty. And I guess it also remains to be seen whether Marussia’s stated attempt to race this season is serious or a mere publicity stunt and, in the former case, whether it’ll be in any way successful, by which I simply mean whether they’ll manage to start the next few races.