After all the preseason hype over new rules, regulations and driver changes, the F1 entourage finally found themselves down under at Melbourne’s Albert Park for the first race of 2014.
The air was filled with many emotions, from the excitement and expectation of a real grid shakeup, to nerves and trepidation in how the new technology was going to perform. Thanks to the new turbocharged V6 engines, the air also sounded very different – the shrill scream of the old V8s has been replaced with a deeper growl. Some hate it, whilst others (including me) quite like the change – the onboard footage also sounds pretty good, the slight presence of a whistle giving you the impression there’s more than just engine going on within the high-tech drivetrain.
Williams and Mercedes bought a fast and solid package to Oz, whilst Red Bull, not having completed a single race distance run preseason, had their collective fingers crossed. Despite being a little off Mercedes’ pace, Ferrari also looked to have a solid package, with Alonso topping first practice and putting the new F14T in the top 3 in practice two and three.
Come qualifying, the weather came into play, testing the new cars on rain tyres.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo managed to give the home fans something to smile about by finishing 1st in Q1, whilst both of the Lotus cars failed to make the cut for Q2.
Q2 saw both of the Mercedes put in some quick laps with Rosberg going fastest and then Hamilton just clipping him. Williams driver, Valtteri Bottas also shared the top spot before he spun at Turn 1 but luckily avoided the wall.
Current world champion, Sebastian Vettel was experiencing some rare pressure as his Red Bull lingered in 12th and in the drop zone. Another former world champ also faced problems as Kimi Raikkonen stuck his Ferrari into the wall.
Nico finished fastest, with Ricciardo and Alonso close behind.
Q3 would go ahead without some big names – Vettel, who eventually managed 13th,Raikkonenin 12th, and Button in 11th.
Both Mercedes drivers shared the top spot until Rosberg lost the back of his car and skidded across the grass at Turn 9. Homeboy, Ricciardo looked on for an incredible pole until the dying seconds, where Hamilton grabbed a last-ditch pole position by over three tenths of a second. McLaren rookie, Kevin Magnussen managed an impressive forth quickest, whilst the other rookie, Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat loses control, hits the barrier but manages to continue.
Qualifying Top 10
1. Lewis Hamilton Britain Mercedes-Mercedes 1m 44.231s
2. Daniel Ricciardo Australia Red Bull-Renault 1m 44.548s
3. Nico Rosberg Germany Mercedes-Mercedes 1m 44.595s
4. Kevin Magnussen Denmark McLaren-Mercedes 1m 45.745s
5. Fernando Alonso Spain Ferrari-Ferrari 1m 45.819s
6. Jean-Eric Vergne France Toro Rosso-Renault 1m 45.864s
7. Nico Hulkenberg Germany Force India-Mercedes 1m 46.030s
8. Daniil Kvyat Russia Toro Rosso-Renault 1m 47.368s
9. Felipe Massa Brazil Williams-Mercedes 1m 48.079s
10. Valtteri Bottas Finland Williams-Mercedes 1m 48.147s
Come race day and the presenters’ and commentators’ predictions about car reliability all came true, as the early laps saw four cars retire within four laps. Another three drivers even had to start from the pit lane, again confirming this season’s race was one of reliability. Marussias didn’t even make the start, Max Chilton breaking down on the formation lap and Jules Bianchi causing the first start to be aborted.
When the lights went out for a second time, Hamilton bogged down which allowed Rosberg to take him for the lead. Ricciardo also jumped on Hamilton’s misfortune and made it into second. Further back, Kamui Kobayashi outbraked himself in to Turn 1 and smashed into the rear of Raikkonen’s Ferrari before taking out Felipe Massa’s Williams.
A few laps on and it was clear Hamilton and Vettel were experiencing power problems as they fell back and eventually out of the race.
Rosberg then ran away with lead, leaving Ricciardo struggling to hang on. Rookie Magnussen looked good in third for McLaren, whilst Bottas, forcing himself past Raikkonen, clipped the wall exiting Turn 10, giving himself a puncture and leaving enough debris for the safety car to be deployed.
Always on top of his game when it comes to making the best out of a bad situation, Jenson Button dived into the pits and jumped up to sixth from tenth place. Everyone else followed suit as the safety car lead the pack for a further four laps.
On the restart, Rosberg again quickly scampered away, whilst Magnussen kept Ricciardo honest. Meanwhile, Hulkenberg followed in forth with Alonso, Button, Vergne and Raikkonen all trailing.
Although they were secretive over providing a full explanation, Ferrari suffered an electrical problem (probably ERS related) and were both down on power. However, they were circulating at a fair pace, encouraging news for future races. Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson retired around half distance, whilst Pastor Maldonado was soon to follow for Lotus on his first lap out of the pits. Fighting for fourth place, Button pitted and again gained an advantage by jumping Alonso and Hulkenberg.
As the laps ticked down an exciting battle started to develop for second place. The Australian crowds were all watching with their hearts in their mouths as Magnussen filled Ricciardo’s mirrors. Button decided he wanted in on the action and started closing in on the pair. However, Ricciardo had enough up his sleeve to keep Magnussen behind, that and the fact the McLaren spent a few laps saving fuel – the fuel weight limit was another aspect of the new rules that sparked fears of dumbing down the all-out racing.
Rosberg stormed to an easy victory by a massive 24.5 seconds. Ricciardo’s podium was the first for an Australian in Melbourne (Meanwhile he’s been disqualified because he exceeded the max fuel flow), whilst Magnussen was the first Dane to make the podium – he also matched Hamilton’s third place on debut drive. Another record went to Daniil Kvyat – at 19 years 10 months and 18 days, the Toro Rosso driver beat Vettel in becoming the youngest driver to ever score points in Formula 1.
As I write this it appears Ricciardo has broken a fuel limit regulation and if Red Bull can’t argue their case successfully, the Australian will be disqualified for exceeding the fuel-flow limit in his car.
1. Nico Rosberg Germany Mercedes-Mercedes 1hr 32m 58.7s
2. Daniel Ricciardo Australia Red Bull-Renault +00m 24.5s (Disqualified)
3. Kevin Magnussen Denmark McLaren-Mercedes +00m 26.7s
4. Jenson Button Britain McLaren-Mercedes +00m 30.0s
5. Fernando Alonso Spain Ferrari-Ferrari +00m 35.2s
6. Valtteri Bottas Finland Williams-Mercedes
7. Nico Hulkenberg Germany Force India-Mercedes
8. Kimi Raikkonen Finland Ferrari-Ferrari
9. Jean-Eric Vergne France Toro Rosso-Renault
10. Daniil Kvyat Russia Toro Rosso-Renault
11. Sergio Perez Mexico Force India-Mercedes
12. Adrian Sutil Germany Sauber-Ferrari
13. Esteban Gutierrez Mexico Sauber-Ferrari
14. Max Chilton Briton Marussia-Ferrari
15. Jules Bianchi France Marussia-Ferrari
DNF Romain Grosjean France Lotus-Renault
DNF Pastor Maldonado Venezuela Lotus-Renault
DNF Marcus Ericsson Sweden Caterham-Renault
DNF Sebastian Vettel Germany Red Bull-Renault
DNF Lewis Hamilton Britain Mercedes-Mercedes
DNF Felipe Massa Brazil Williams-Mercedes
DNF Kamui Kobayashi Japan Caterham-Renault
So, did you think the first race of 2014 lived up to all the hype and expectation? I think it did, especially now the teams have got to dial in the cars and make them more reliable. I also think the ERS (energy recovery system) didn’t allow for simple overtaking, a factor some thought might ruin the art of pure driving. With Red Bull, Lotus and Ferrari all needing to overcome a few gremlins, the season should be an exciting one.
Next up, Malaysia!