After one lap of today’s Australian Grand Prix, there were just 13 cars left in the race. The season opener in Melbourne often has few finishers due to technical teething problems and rusty drivers, but this year the issue was the lack of starters.
The F1 fans who tuned to see what the new season will bring saw only 15 cars on the grid. It was not quite Indianapolis 2005 when just six cars started, but it did expose problems that demand answers from F1’s power brokers.
Twenty cars arrived in Melbourne. The Manor team, having only come out of financial administration two weeks ago, faced an impossible task to prepare its cars and computer systems and was not able to be ready for Saturday qualifying. That made it 18.
Williams driver Valtteri Bottas was ruled out of the race about an hour before the start after pulling a muscle in his back during qualifying. Down to 17.
McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen was on his installation lap to reach the grid when the troublesome Honda engine gave way in a plume of flame and smoke. Seconds later, Red Bull driver Daniil Kvyat pulled off the track with transmission problems. Then there were 15.
The race began with several bare grid spots, and the common first-corner chaos at Albert Park struck again, with Pastor Maldonado—for once totally blameless as he was hit from behind—spinning into a tire wall.
His teammate Romain Grosjean, also caught up in the first-turn incident, had to retire at the end of the lap as a result. So, 13 cars for the remaining 57 laps.
The variety of reasons for the non-starters gave F1’s defenders the legitimate claim that it was just one of those days. Others will point to the financial collapse of the Caterham and Marussia—from which Manor re-emerged—teams since last season as evidence that not enough is being done to foster more entrants by capping the technological arms race that creates highly complex engines and aerodynamics.
Race winner Lewis Hamilton said “of course we should have more cars” while third-place Sebastian Vettel said the technical complexity of the sport was the cause of the reduced field. “It’s not great for the people,” Vettel said. “They want to see the cars and if the cars break before even starting the race, that’s not right.