Seeing all 20 cars from the 2017 Formula 1 field make it through Turn 1 safely during the Australian Grand Prix was certainly a surprising sight. In previous years, we’ve become accustomed to massive shunts as drivers are still slightly lazy after a long winter break.
However, the only such incident on Sunday was a mistake from Kevin Magnussen, when he spun Marcus Ericsson around at Turn 3. Apart from this incident, which both drivers recovered from, no other drivers retired from the race directly due to an accident.
In 2014, though, Kamui Kobayashi took Felipe Massa out on the opening lap in Australia. In 2015, Pastor Maldonado (surprisingly, through no fault of his own) was put in the wall whilst just a year later, Albert Park witnessed one of the most violent crashes in recent history when Fernando Alonso went into the back of Esteban Gutierrez’s Haas.
But, no such clumsy overtakes or cold brakes could be found this year – so, why were all of 2017’s drivers ridiculously clean on Sunday?
It may have something to do with a unique statistic. Out of all the drivers signed for a full 2017 season, only one of them is a rookie. This is vastly different from the previous three years, which saw three (14′), five (15′), and three (16′) rookies respectively.
This year is also significant because it’s the most experienced grid Formula 1 has had in the Hybrid era. If you average the combined Grand Prix experience of the drivers by the number of drivers in each season, you’ll find the average experience per driver increased in every year.
2014 started with an average of 81 Grand Prix’s experience (per driver), 2015 upped to 90, 2016 hit 96, and finally in 2017, it has now peaked at 97 Grand Prix’s per driver.
2017’s solitary rookie is Williams’ Lance Stroll, Canada’s first Formula 1 driver since 1997’s World Champion, Jacques Villeneuve.
Stroll’s introduction to the sport has been controversial given his limited experience. At just 18 years old, his predominant single seater experience came from a European Formula 3 title won last year.
However, the main reason Stroll could secure a drive on 2017’s grid is because of his father, Lawrence Stroll, who’s net worth is estimated to be around 2.6 billion USD (Source: Forbes). Money like this easily causes watery eyes for a privateer team like Williams, making the signing decision easy.
Stroll immediately used the Australian Grand Prix to prove his inexperience, crashing in FP3 and then only managing a poor P19 in qualifying. Sunday saw his race marred by brake issues, but he never made a proper impression on scoring points either way.
His testing earlier in March didn’t go much better either, as he crashed the new Williams FW40 two times in two days. The latter crash was undoubtedly the worst, as it forced the team to miss the final day of the first test due to the major damage.
Now Stroll might have struggled personally, but we have to remember he hasn’t caused a crash with another driver as of yet.
And, apart from aforementioned entanglement between Kevin Magnussen and Marcus Ericsson, no two cars made major contact during the Australian Grand Prix to cause an immediate retirement.
For me personally, I strongly believe this is linked to the lack of rookies and the increase in driver experience. I guess China Turn 1, a corner notorious for destroying front wings (and races), will tell us in two weeks time how experienced 2017’s grid really is.