2014 is finally underway and the first race of the new era was always going to be full of surprises and headlines and in this regard, we were far from disappointed. Nico Rosberg romped to his fourth career victory in ominous fashion, while teammate Lewis Hamilton proved that even Mercedes power does not provide invincibility, as his race ended after just three laps. Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo’s sublime drive to P2 ended in heartache, as he was disqualified five hours after the chequered flag, due to his RB10 exceeding the maximum fuel flow limit. Oh, did I forget to mention a young Kevin Magnussen, who crossed the line in P3 on his career début, before later being promoted to P2. This weekend, the talking stopped and the racing delivered.
Christian Horner’s outrageous claim that Mercedes could win today’s race by two laps may not have become a reality, but Nico Rosberg’s performance today threw the gauntlet down. Nico drove the perfect race – an absolutely faultless drive. He capitalised on Ricciardo and Hamilton’s poor start (although Lewis’ was related to his mechanical gremlin,) as the German dived through the ever decreasing gap between the front row pairing. From this point, he never looked back. His well judged Safety Car restart and pit-crew error where part of the shroud of the left front wheel hub was chipped away by the incoming tyre, were the two occasions where Rosberg featured on FOM’s coverage. His eventual margin of 26.1 seconds, (following Ricciardo’s disqualification) told the story.
Following the race, talking to Sky Sports F1, an elated Rosberg stated, “That was an incredible day for us. To start the season with a win is unbelievable and I have to say a big thank you to everybody who was involved in building our car over the winter. I always dreamed of having such a strong Silver Arrow and now it seems we are there. In the race, everything went perfectly for me.” Evidently, Mercedes’ pre-season form was no fluke. Rosberg never looked like relinquishing his lead and perhaps needed Lewis Hamilton to be circulating in order to keep him honest.
Hamilton’s retirement will have given Mercedes’ rivals hope. The Silver Arrows seem to be in a different league in terms of pace, but their reliability has been questionable throughout the winter and gremlins struck once again today. As early as the formation lap, Lewis recognised the problem. One of the six cylinders in his internal combustion engine had failed, leading to power deficiencies which saw him quickly falling down the field. With only five powerunits available for the season, Mercedes could not afford to keep a underpowered Hamilton on track and risk the potential for damage to the other components, which will be able to be reused, assuming they have not sustained damage. It was a disappointing blow for Lewis and his new positive mental attitude will come in handy across the next few weeks.
Ricciardo’s Roller-coaster of a Day
Daniel Ricciardo’s first race with Red Bull was certainly memorable. After his sublime P2 in yesterday’s qualifying, hopes were high among the Australian fans. While Red Bull were apprehensive in regards to Daniel’s chances of completing their first race distance of 2014, the RB10 delivered and Ricciardo held off late pressure from Kevin Magnussen to claim a well deserved P2. He became the first Australian to appear on the podium in his home nation in the history of the sport, (discounting Mark Webber’s honorary appearance in 2002.)
However, after the race, it emerged that Red Bull had been summoned to the stewards in regards to a fuel flow irregularity. It is quite a complex issue, hence the FIA made their decision around five hours after the chequered flag. In 2014, teams are restricted to using 100 kilograms of fuel during the race, which is 30% less than in 2013, with the deficit recovered by the electrical energy. This means that the maximum fuel flow limit is 100kg/h. “All cars will be fitted with an FIA homologated fuel flow sensor. That won’t limit the flow, it will just monitor the flow. 100 kilos per hour is the maximum and I’m sure at most times they’ll be quite close to that whenever they can be,” Race Director Charlie Whiting stated just last week. He expressed a “zero tolerance policy” in regards to the policing of fuel flow. According to Christian Horner, Whiting had warned Red Bull during the race that they were exceeding the fuel flow limit, but according to Red Bull’s own sensors, this FIA reading was incorrect. Hence, they decided to ignore the FIA directive. Ultimately, the FIA stood by their own readings and have consequently excluded Ricciardo from the results. However, Red Bull will be appealing the issue on the basis of their own readings and the fact that according to them, other teams have been infringing this new regulation throughout the weekend. The truth behind this claim is yet to be established.
As a result of Ricciardo’s exclusion, Kevin Magnussen’s incredible drive got even better, as he claimed P2, with Jenson Button making it two McLaren’s in the top three, after the team ended their 16 month podium drought. Perhaps its too early to exclaim the Ron Dennis effect, but McLaren have exceeded expectations this weekend. Magnussen’s maturity and Button’s controlled attitude behind the wheel makes the pairing a strong one, which will surly earn the team more success in the coming races.
Williams’ Mixed Fortunes
Williams’ impressive pre-season has led to high aspirations for this season. Evidently, after the baron spell the team have endured, solid points finishes will be welcomed by the team during the early stages and despite Valtteri Bottas’ excellent 10 point haul for P5 today, it is understandable that the team rightly expected more. Felipe Massa’s day unfortunately ended at turn one, when he was caught in the crossfire as Kamui Kobayashi’s Caterham arrived out of control, and subsequently slammed into the rear of the Williams. The incident prompted frustrations from Felipe Massa, who likened it to Romain Grosjean’s accident at Spa in 2012, for which the Frenchman received a race ban. While the first penalty points seemed to be on the cards for the Japanese driver, the stewards discovered that he had actually arrived at the first corner without rear brakes, after a MGU-K failure. Consequently, he escaped punishment.
Meanwhile, Valtteri Bottas was making fantastic progress through the field after narrowly avoiding the turn one accident and was crawling all over the back of Fernando Alonso’s car, when he suffered an oversteer moment on the exit of turn ten. A seemingly innocuous encounter with the barriers forced the tyre off of the wheel rim, yet remarkably, the wheel hub was undamaged. After dropping to the back of the field, Valtteri was helped into a more promising position, when the safety car was called out for his errand wheel. After pulling off a total of 20 overtakes during the race, he climbed to P5.
The FW36 seemed to have excellent fuel management and appeared to be the closest competitor to the pace of the W05. 2014 looks very promising for Williams and today’s performance bodes well. It was a shame that we were robbed of the opportunity to see where Felipe Massa could have finished.
Kvyat Breaks Records
Considering that most legendary drivers have their careers defined by their appearances in the record books, Daniil Kvyat has already made his mark on the sport, as the Russian became the youngest points scorer in Formula One. The Toro Rosso youngster beat Sebastian Vettel’s previous record, set in his cameo appearance in the BMW Sauber in the US Grand Prix in 2007. Kvyat’s P9 finish meant that he trumped Vettel by a measly 24 days. With Jean Eric Vergne finishing in P8, Toro Rosso’s Australian Grand Prix went far better than expected, considering their poor winter performance.
“It was a very intense afternoon and finishing my first race with a point is a great feeling,” Kvyat stated. “It was a fantastic first Grand Prix weekend with the team, everyone worked really hard and scoring points was a great way to end it. So well done to everyone.”
While Vettel loves his statistics, I doubt he will be too concerned by Kvyat snatching one of his records, after his race ended after just five laps. The four time champion was clearly frustrated when his RB10 suffered a fundamental issue in the powertrain, which meant that he was not harvesting any electrical energy. Consequently, he was swamped by the field and in a similar vein to Hamilton, the team took the decision to retire the car. Evidently, Red Bull have more issues to solve and are not free of issues just yet. Unfortunately for Sebastian, he has suffered the brunt of the issues this weekend. What seemed to be a weekend full of positives for RBR, despite Vettel’s retirement, has since turned to a devastating weekend as 18 points has quickly turned to zero.