2015 Australian Grand Prix: Friday Analysis

Albert Park may be a serene tourist location for the majority of the year but today, the picturesque venue was alive with the sound of V6 Hybrids, as F1 cars took the track for the first time this season. Ultimately, FP1 was a slow-burner, (and I doubt that is simply the fatigue talking,) however, FP2 provided fans with additional insight into what the pecking order could look like. With Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton topping both timesheet’s by a sizeable margin, it does not take an Adrian Newey level of intellect to work out that Mercedes are the team to beat in 2015.

But we knew that already

Away And Clear

Evidently, the Silver Arrows have retained the advantage they had at the end of last season. While Williams did not show their full hand today, with a water leak also restricting the mileage of Felipe Massa and consigning him to the garage in FP2, it is highly doubtful that they will emerge as a true threat to Mercedes supremacy in qualifying tomorrow.

It is rather poignant that Ferrari, who appeared to be best of the rest today, have even downplayed their chances against the seemingly untouchable force at the front. As Sebastian Vettel highlighted; “It would be nice to stay in front of as many people as we can. I’m sure that Mercedes is out of reach, you have to be realistic, but the most important thing is we ran and didn’t have any problems.”

This admission comes despite a particularly impressive long run from Kimi Raikkonen in FP2, which saw him edge within five tenths of the Mercedes duo on a regular basis. This in itself, was another conclusion that I drew from today. Kimi is back on form, piloting a car which gives him the feedback which he longed for last season. While he historically performs well at Albert Park, it appears that Sebastian has another fight on his hands this season in his endeavours to be the lead driver in a team.

The teammate battle will be similarly tight at the team that the field continues to chase. Fractions split Hamilton from Rosberg today and with both drivers suggesting that the quality of their respective set-ups need work, qualifying could be defined by the homework that both men complete in the hours leading up to the session.

“Ants In My Pants”

Quote of the day has to go to the home-hero Daniel Ricciardo, who’s unrelenting smile proved just as resistant to adversity today as ever, with the Aussie failing to hit the track at all in FP2 following an engine fault. I’ll let that comment sink in. An engine fault, on day one of the new season, for a second generation powertrain, after just nine laps. Not great for an engine manufacturer who prioritised reliability over the winter as oppose to raw performance. Its unsurprising then, that after months of waiting to get back to competitive action, the Aussie has “ants in his pants”.

This came following an uncharacteristic mistake in FP1 from Ricciardo, as he pitched his RB11 into a spin at turn 15 following a meet and greet between the outside shoulder of his right rear Pirelli and the Melbourne grass. This was seemingly a smaller issue compared to the poor drivability of the Renault powertrain. Meanwhile, Daniil Kvyat was similarly uninspiring, as he explored the RB11 in both sessions. Neither driver posted electric times and while I imagine that Red Bull, like Williams, have more pace to deploy, there is plenty of work to do in the case of the former.

Power Problems

However, Renault’s issues look small-fry compared to the mountain of mechanical issues that Honda will need to overcome before they can power McLaren back to glory. The team faced testing times throughout the winter and these have rolled over into the spring, with the MP4-30 proving a challenge again today.

With just 13 laps on the board between Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen, the team called time on their FP1 session with 30 minutes remaining as they investigated a mechanical issue, alongside the guidance of Jo Bauer, the paddock policemen and expert of the rules and regulations regarding everything technical. While improvements were made prior to FP2, allowing Button to record a much more respectable total of 21 laps, it was his opposite number who was faltering. Rather than car failure, it was driver error, which meant Magnussen managed just 4 laps in the afternoon, when the Dane found the barrier on the exit of turn six. When McLaren do have two cars running they need to maximise the opportunity and Magnussen’s excursion today was perhaps more costly than most FP2 incidents.

Even when they were firing on all cylinders, (at least, so we assume,) they still found themselves at the lower reaches of the timesheet. If either car makes it out of Q1 tomorrow, it will be an impressive effort. Considering that the anticipation is that Manor will fill the final row of the grid, it looks likely that Force India and McLaren will be involved in a shoot-out for Q2 spots.

FP1 Timsheet

1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:29.557
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:29.586
3 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:30.748
4 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:31.014
5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:31.029
6 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:31.067
7 Felipe Massa Williams 1:31.188
8 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:31.310
9 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:31.451
10 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:31.570
11 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull 1:32.073
12 Sergio Perez Force India 1:32.247
13 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:32.261
14 Jenson Button McLaren 1:34.542
15 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:34.785
16 Romain Grosjean Lotus 2:17.782
17 Will Stevens Manor No time
18 Roberto Merhi Manor No time
19 Marcus Ericsson Sauber No time
20 Felipe Nasr Sauber No time

FP2 Timesheet

1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:27.697
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:27.797
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:28.412
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:28.842
5 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:29.265
6 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull 1:30.016
7 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:30.071
8 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:30.104
9 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:30.205
10 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:30.473
11 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:30.755
12 Sergio Perez Force India 1:30.980
13 Jenson Button McLaren 1:31.387
14 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:31.395
15 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:32.303
16 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:33.289
17 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull no time
18 Felipe Massa Williams no time
19 Will Stevens Manor no time
20 Roberto Merhi Manor no time

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