Well that was eventful. Nico Rosberg opened 2014 in some style, beating his rivals by some twenty seconds. Kevin Magnusson and Jenson Button eventually claimed the other two podiums positions for McLaren, following Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification.
In this article I’ll be drawing some conclusions from what we have seen today in Australia.
Mercedes are quick, but so are Williams
After pre-season, there was lots of debate about pecking order, what most agreed on was that Mercedes were out front. However, following them could have been any of Ferrari, McLaren, Williams or Force India, or potentially Red Bull (purely for the fact that Newey will have build a fast car, just need it to actually run).
And so it was, Mercedes pole and Mercedes win. Ricciardo managed to split the Mercedes in qualifying, but could prove no buffer against the fast starting Rosberg who, once Hamilton retired, looked comfortable, and pretty much stretched his lead when he wanted to. In fact, Nico set his fastest lap time on lap 19 when the cars were still heavy with fuel and with 7 lap old tyres. No other classified driver’s fastest lap came any earlier than lap 35. Bottas and Alonso (2nd and 3rd fastest lap) set their best time on the final lap, if he wanted, Rosberg could have been even more comfortable.
However, the Williams also looked very good. I don’t have the data as of yet, but will put it on here when I can get it, but I believe Bottas could have got 3rd/4th today without a puncture. We will never know what Massa’s pace will be like, but Bottas was comfortably faster than Raikkonen and had closed the gap to Alonso when he hit the wall. I believe he would have passed Alonso (the Ferrari looked slow in a straight line) and eventually overcome perma-traffic jam Nico Hulkenberg. Following that would have been a battle with the McLarens for the podium. Williams have a tendency to rise expectations in pre-season, but this year it looks like they have a car capable of podiums, which is great news.
Magnusson and Ricciardo look the real deal
Before the cruel hand of fate denied Australia their first home podium, Ricciardo and Magnusson had both just completed might impressive races and deserved their podium finish.
With Vettel suffering problems in both qualifying and the race, it’s difficult to glean just how good Ricciardo was today. However, what we can say is that given how little running he has had, Ricciardo produced a sterling weekend to put it on the podium. The only driver near Mercedes in qualifying he then proved that he does have race pace, and was let down in previous seasons due to him qualifying too well, compromising strategy. He finished a long way off Rosberg but fended off a late McLaren fight to take a deserved podium.
Regarding his penalty, I believe the right decision was made. His team let him down today, especially by refusing to change midway through the race, despite being offered the chance.
Magnusson, on the other hand, had no reputation to shake off, only to improve, and he did so in excellent style. A strong 4th in qualifying and he only looked like moving forward. His drive was similar to Ricciardo in many ways, except we had world champion Jenson Button to compare him to, and he passed with flying colours, finishing four seconds ahead of his more illustrious team mate.
My personal driver of the day was Ricciardo, thanks to how little running he did in the Red Bull prior to this weekend.
Finishing won’t equal points
Going into this season, a popular opinion around the web was that one of the smaller teams would score points purely if they could finish the race, such were the reliability concerns. Thankfully that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Marussia were the more popular choice for points scoring, thanks to a not-Renault Ferrari engine and a relatively safe and simple design. Come race day, Max Chilton fulfilled his role of finishing and ended up 13th following Ricciardo’s disqualification, three places behind the points. Reliability will only get better, and therefore it will take exceptional circumstances to see Marussia or Caterham score some points.
This is not to say I don’t want them to score points, I just want it to be more earned than they managed to finish.
From the outside, finishing 4th and 7th doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem. However, with drivers Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen behind the wheel, you know the likely reason they weren’t higher is down to the car. On outright pace, it looks like they are behind Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren and Williams. Alonso’s fourth is testimony to his talent and the misfortunes of his rivals.
After the race Ferrari said they had engine troubles and weren’t running at full power, and for Ferrari’s sake you have to hope they’re right, even with DRS Alonso looked no faster than a Force India in a straight line and had to pass him using pitlane strategy.
On a more positive note, Alonso seemed to be able to match the McLarens by the end, had the third fastest lap and with more power could go even better. Kimi, on the other hand, had a much worse time, spending most of the race against Toro Rosso’s. Having spun in qualifying, Raikkonen is hopefully adapting to the new cars, rather than reverting to 2008 Kimi, whose mind was elsewhere.
The Naysayers were wrong!
Perhaps the best news to come out of this race, was that 2014 F1 isn’t a failure. I know that shouldn’t be a great story, but with the constant stories about reliability concerns, fuel issues and engine noise, watching the cars complete the race at a fast speed and, to my ears, a great (if softer) sound. The only potential issue is Mercedes dominance, but Hamilton-Rosberg will be a lot closer than Vettel-Webber was, and traditionally McLaren and Red Bull are good at developing a car, and Ferrari aren’t bad either.
Roll on Malaysia!