Hamilton Wins Race of Attrition
Lewis Hamilton has succeeded in carrying his momentum forward from 2014, taking victory in Melbourne from teammate Nico Rosberg. While last year’s Australian Grand Prix winner was a threat to Lewis for the duration, the Brit managed the gap at around two seconds, as such, keeping his counterpart at arms length. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel claimed a podium in his first outing with the scarlet red chassis. However, the race itself was certainly not vintage and criticisms are already being made of the current level of competition in the sport. To all those lamenting the current state of affairs, I remind you that this is race 1 of 19 – the season is still young.
Anyone Fancy A Go…
The main reason for the lack of action during today’s race was a lack of participants. If there are too few cars on track, then there are fewer opportunities for swashbuckling battles. Let’s take stock of where the runners and riders dropped out;
Firstly, Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi were rather surplus to requirements at all this weekend, as Manor Marussia failed to leave the garage as they prepare their 2014 car for 2015 competition. After not solving the software issues prior to the chequered flag in Q1, the cars were resigned to spending today in the same place that they had resided for the entire weekend – the garage. Subsequently, that meant that the field was down to 18.
When Valtteri Bottas failed one of the FIA’s two mandatory driver safety tests due to his injured back, he was declared as unfit to race and therefore watched the action unfold from the garage. I was bitterly disappointed not to see Valtteri in action today, after a qualifying performance which, considering the circumstances, demonstrated that he had real potential for a good result. In addition, in what has emerged as a Group B race between the Ferrari’s and Williams’, his car would have increased the intrigue of this particular battle by 25%. It now remains to be seen whether the Finn will return for Malaysia.
With his P6 instead occupied by Daniel Ricciardo, the field was now down to a mere 17. This was until both Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kvyat ground to a halt on their lap to the grid. The case of the former was sadly unsurprising considering McLaren Honda’s recent trials and tribulations, but Kvyat’s issues were a shock. After all, Renault prioritised reliability this winter over speed and over the course of this weekend, it has emerged that they have neither. Even Mario Illien must find the proposition of turning the manufacturers fortunes around as daunting.
15 therefore left the grid as the famous five red lights went out, but Romain Grosjean pulled away at a canter, as power related issues forced him to retire at the end of the first lap. With Pastor Maldonado suffering at the hands of a concertina reaction at turn one, both Lotus’ were out of action by the end of the first circuit. 13 cars battled on.
With a promising day for Max Verstappen coming to an end prematurely due to another Renault related issue, and Kimi Raikkonen forced into retirement when his left rear was not attached before he departed his pit box, two more drivers were back in their garages to watch the conclusion of the race.
Ironically, it was McLaren who performed the biggest feat of the day, as Jenson Button managed to complete the distance, (well, 56 laps after two blue flag interruptions.) It is important not to underestimate the scale of the achievement – a team who prior to today, had only managed 12 laps consecutively managed to greet the chequered flag. Pace may have been a problem, but ultimately, today was nothing more than a glorified test for the team and as such, they have gained a great deal of valuable data which should supplement their development programme well. Following Button’s drive today, I would suggest that there is at least hope that the MP4-30 can fulfill at least some of its promises.
Williams Behind Ferrari
While I stand by my prediction made yesterday that Williams are ahead of Ferrari on short-run pace, today has highlighted that Ferrari are likely to have an edge on Sunday’s. Being a temporary venue, the Albert Park circuit can notoriously be deceptive in regards to a team’s relative strength and as such, the two closely matched teams will be better defined by their performance in Malaysia. Bottas’ absence also has to be taken into account, as we had no yardstick by which to assess Felipe Massa’s performance.
Ultimately, Ferrari won the tactical battle today, allowing Vettel to jump Massa in the pitstop. The Scuderia had one chance to dispatch the Williams and they grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Had Kimi Raikkonen not been so unfortunate, it looked as though his two stop strategy would have allowed him to challenge Massa’s P4 in the closing stages, if the Finn was able to convert his soft tyre pace to the medium compound.
Ferrari’s strength was a sign of the excellent work done over the winter. It seems as though the powertrain is now a par with the all-conquering Mercedes unit, both in reliability and output. In clean air, Vettel’s pace was comparable at times with the W06 duo, which should give Ferrari hope that they can close the gap to the front runners.
Ultimately, with the form currently being displayed by Hamilton, I would suggest that this is Rosberg’s best chance of winning this year’s title. In a straight fight with the Brit, I now have the feeling that he will be second best once again.
Driver of the Day
After a weekend of tension at the Swiss team, Sauber enjoyed a fruitful day today, banking 14 points. Felipe Nasr’s P5 contributed 10 of these and the Brazilian looked like a seasoned pro throughout the race. He managed to halt the advances of an ominous train behind including Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen, before eventually growing into the race and stretching a comfortable margin to Ricciardo’s Red Bull. The rookies in general were hugely impressive on their maiden voyage.
Overtake of the Day
RAIKKONEN vs Sainz
Admittedly, there is a limited stockpile of overtakes to choose from. However, Raikkonen’s move on Sainz was a stand-out moment of the race. The Finn carried excellent momentum through turn six and took the outside line into the bumpy braking zone of turn nine. A clinical dispatch from Raikkonen who looks back on song in 2015.
Team of the Weekend
In what was a race of attrition, Force India once again demonstrated bullet-proof reliability. While Sergio Perez made a meal of his battle with Jenson Button, Nico Hulkenberg’s performance was subtle but effective, yet both managed to finish and bring home points. In what was a race of attrition, the inexperienced VJM08 put some of its rivals to shame.
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
4 Felipe Massa Williams
5 Felipe Nasr Sauber
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
7 Nico Hulkenberg Force India
8 Marcus Ericsson Sauber
9 Carlos Sainz Jr Toro Rosso
10 Sergio Perez Force India
11 Jenson Button McLaren
R Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
R Max Verstappen Toro Rosso
R Romain Grosjean Lotus
R Pastor Maldonado Lotus
DNS Kevin Magnussen McLaren
DNS Daniil Kvyat Red Bull