Nico Rosberg has claimed a rather dominant victory in an action-packed 2014 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix, the first race to be held under the new turbo hybrid regulations.
The German crossed the line 24 seconds clear of crowd favourite Daniel Ricciardo, who became the first Australian driver to finish on the podium at his home race. McLaren rookie Kevin Magnussen chased him over the line to complete the podium on his debut.
But the brilliant result for Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing and Renault – which was enjoying a great upswing in form after an admittedly troubled (and well-publicised) pre-season – was quashed just hours later. The Australian was stripped of his maiden podium for a fuel flow irregularity.
The decision – given it is highly unlikely to be overturned on appeal – was a bitter end to a terrific weekend of Formula One action. Despite the many positives that he, the team and Renault were taking away from the opening race, it’s an outcome that is being poorly received here in Australia.
Given the timing of the new regulations and the very future of the Australian Formula One Grand Prix remaining cloudy, it would be an understatement to describe the entire saga as ‘bad timing’.
Moving away from the potential politics and appeals court antics that will occur in the coming weeks, the Australian Formula One Grand Prix was a splendid event.
Despite concerns that reliability issues would constantly crop up over the weekend, most cars ran remarkably well during the three practice sessions and in qualifying before Sunday’s race.
“I expected to see most of them on the back of a tow truck,” Alan Jones, the 1980 Formula One World Champion, quipped in an interview with RichardsF1.com during the weekend.
While it looked like pole position would be a battle between the two works Mercedes drivers, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, Saturday’s battle for pole position was spiced up as the weather deteriorated over the course of the session.
With the Renault runners – by their own and the engine-maker’s admission – relatively down on power compared to those equipped with Mercedes or Ferrari units, the wet conditions negated much of that disadvantage.
And so we saw an inspired Ricciardo lead the charge in his RB10, posting the quickest provisional times in the first two knockout sessions before delivering another scintillating final lap to provisionally snatch top spot from Rosberg. It took a super lap from Hamilton – who crossed the line just seconds later – to deny the Australian from claiming a shock pole position on home soil.
But his performance – and that of the two Scuderia Toro Rosso Renaults of Jean- Éric Vergne (sixth) and Daniil Kvyat (eighth) – also served to underline the progress that Renault had made in improving the drivability and reliability of its power units in the two weeks since the final pre-season test in Bahrain. F1 returnee Kamui Kobayashi took his unfancied Caterham into the second phase of qualifying, delivering a performance that few would have expected heading into the weekend.
That being said, reigning champion Sebastian Vettel didn’t have the best of outings in the sister Red Bull RB10. The German struggled with set-up and engine software issues, qualifying outside the top-ten for the first time since the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix. The two Lotus Renaults were slowest of all in their barely-run cars, as both Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado were caught out by the worsening conditions and ventured out on track too late to post a representative lap time.
Sunday’s race started in brighter conditions – although there were predictions that the rain would return – and after a failed launch (thanks to both Marussias separately stalling on the dummy grid) the race did manage to get underway.
Rosberg made an outstanding start from the second row of the grid to lead into the first corner, while Ricciardo held his nerve and also moved ahead of pole-sitter Hamilton.
Behind, there was a bit of carnage to keep some fans and photographers happy. After his Saturday qualifying heroics, Kobayashi’s Grand Prix return lasted just a few hundred metres before a brake failure on approach to Turn 1 sent him cannoning into the back of Felipe Massa’s Williams.
Both were out on the spot, and while Massa was quick to – rather hysterically – blame Kobayashi and call upon him to be hit with sanctions by the stewards, a later investigation confirmed the component failure and no further action was necessary.
Out on the track, Rosberg set about trying to build something of a lead, while Ricciardo tried to give chase. Hamilton quickly joined the list of retirees as his Mercedes spluttered to a halt after just three laps, and he was followed by Vettel, whose qualifying misery continued into the race and he also retired, suffering from electrical problems.
Despite a few small sprinkles of rain, conditions never got close to being wet enough to prompt a switch to treaded tyres, and that rather ensured – bar mechanical dramas or driver error – a fourth Grand Prix victory for Rosberg, who exits the weekend as championship leader, 22 years on from his father Keke’s own World Championship triumph.
Ricciardo just didn’t have the pace to be able to live with Rosberg, and to the delight of everyone, his car ran faultlessly. The closing stages saw him engaged in a nice scrap with the young Magnussen, who showed he is a star of the future with a podium finish on debut. His McLaren teammate Jenson Button was fourth, 3.3 seconds behind, with the result giving the Woking team the lead in the Constructors’ Championship standings.
Fernando Alonso had a fairly quiet run to fifth (which became fourth after Ricciardo’s exclusion), although he probably would have finished lower were it not for Valtteri Bottas – who followed him across the line – having to make an unscheduled visit to pit lane when he popped a tyre and broke a wheel rim after tagging the wall in his Williams. Nico Hülkenberg and Kimi Räikkönen followed the Finn over the line.
The Scuderia Toro Rosso pairing of Jean- Éric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat ensured three Renault-powered runners finished inside the top-ten, underlining the progress the carmaker and team has made since the pre-season. Both ran well in their splendidly turned out cars, picking up a nice haul of points to kickstart their season.
In all, there were seven DNFs in the Grand Prix, and with five of them coming from the Renault camp (four being mechanically-related) it shows that there is still some progress to be made. Kobayashi’s teammate Marcus Ericsson ran well, despite his own limited mileage, and had his Caterham running ahead of Max Chilton’s Marussia until he had to stop with failing oil pressure.
Both Lotus’ showed improved race pace and managed to run longer than they’d managed in pre-season testing, although a first finish wasn’t to be for either Pastor Maldonado or Romain Grosjean: both retired after half-distance with failures in the energy store parts of their power units.
While certain schools of fans and pundits weren’t delighted with the new sounds of the 2014-spec cars, it really was a secondary concern given the quality of the racing was outstanding. We had plenty of wheel-to-wheel action and competitive showings across all three manufacturers, which bodes well for future Grands Prix this year. The tactical element – particularly the uncertainty about reliability – made for edge of the seat viewing, and we’re certainly looking forward to more unpredictability.
One marked difference we noticed in Sunday’s race was how much overtaking actually took place without the use of DRS, particularly in the traction zones of the Albert Park circuit. What that clearly showcased were how the drivers were able to apply brief bursts of extra power in order to vault by a slower car ahead, and that in itself underlined the predictability that DRS-assisted overtaking has provided fans since it was introduced in 2011.
And so the field packs up and makes the journey north to the tropic of Malaysia, which hosts the second round of the Formula One season in two weekends’ time. With its reputation for fearsome heat and tropical downpours, it will prove an even sterner test for driver, team and machine when the field regroups. Let’s hope that the racing remains excellent, and that politics can remain on the sidelines.
2014 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (57 laps):
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W05||57||1:32:58.710|
|DSQ.||Daniel Ricciardo||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB10||57||+ 24.525|
|2.||Kevin Magnussen||McLaren Mercedes MP4-29||57||+ 26.777|
|3.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-29||57||+ 30.027|
|4.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F14T||57||+ 35.284|
|5.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW36||57||+ 47.639|
|6.||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India Mercedes Mercedes VJM07||57||+ 50.718|
|7.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari F14T||57||+ 57.675|
|8.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR9||57||+ 1:00.441|
|9.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR9||57||+ 1:03.585|
|10.||Sergio Pérez||Force India Mercedes Mercedes VJM07||57||+ 1:25.916|
|11.||Adrian Sutil||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C33||56||1 lap behind|
|12.||Esteban Gutiérrez||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C33||56||1 lap behind|
|13.||Max Chilton||Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03||55||2 laps behind|
|NC.||Jules Bianchi||Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03||49||8 laps behind|
|DNF.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Team Renault E22||44||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus F1 Team Renault E22||30||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Marcus Ericsson||Caterham F1 Team Renault CT05||27||Oil Pressure|
|DNF.||Sebastian Vettel||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB10||5||Engine|
|DNF.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W05||1||Misfire|
|DNF.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW36||0||Collision|
|DNF.||Kamui Kobayashi||Caterham F1 Team Renault CT05||0||Collision|
Images Sutton Images