Conclusions from the 2014 Australian GP
Mercedes fail to heed their winter warning, Daniel Ricciardo and the youngsters come of age, and a familiar tale for Ferrari...
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 17/03/14 2:23pm
Mercedes are fast and fastest, but brittle
So much for the warning that testing is an unreliable indicator of future events. Precisely what was writ large throughout winter testing - right from the first day at Jerez when Lewis Hamilton was straight out of the blocks, ran strongly, only to crash out just before lunch when a suspension piece on his W05 failed - was told and repeated in microcosm at Melbourne: the W05 is the fastest car in the field but anything but bulletproof.
In another sport, the W05 would be considered a 'flair player': brilliant, unplayable on its day, but also liable to silly, points-costing mistakes. The W05 is fast, flawed, fickle, and, at best, the fifth most reliable car in the field.
Hamilton, who also suffered the unequal share of the W05's unreliability over the winter, was the victim this weekend, but it could have just as easily been Nico Rosberg. The current probability is that, courtesy of the Mercedes' clear race-winning potential, either Rosberg or Hamilton will win the title. But unless Mercedes can stop the W05's incessant bleeding, the Constructors' Championship may well slip through their grasp. Even at this earliest of early stages, second place in the team standings doesn't feel an anomaly; after all, it's exactly the outcome that winter testing loudly predicted.
Hats off to Renault
Not that testing told us the full story, of course. Melbourne's unexpected twist in the tale wasn't merely the turnaround in fortunes at Red Bull, now already the second-fastest team on the grid despite barely turning a wheel in anger during testing and still being approximately a month behind schedule, but those of the Renault runners in general. Toro Rosso were simply nowhere in testing; in Melbourne they registered a top-ten finish on both Saturday and Sunday. Even the two Lotus E22s, which hadn't previously completed more than ten laps in succession, both reached half distance before normality resumed.
But in making such significant inroads since the Bahrain test, Renault have proved their mettle. Hats off.
Experience is overrated
A trip to the podium on his debut for the precocious Kevin Magnussen and a top-ten finish for the scarily-grounded Daniil Kvyat as the Toro Rosso rookie became the youngest points-scorer in the history of the sport. F1 is becoming a young man's game.
Red Bull add fuel to the fire
Daniel Ricciardo's disqualification begs all manner of questions, the first of which must be why it took so long for the stewards to deliver their verdict, whether there ought to be a time limit imposed, and what other sport would dare to only reveal the final result five hours after paying spectators had departed for home - and in this case gone to bed - with such scant explanation and even less of an apology. Too frequently, F1 is an alien business which alienates itself from its lifeblood.
Rules are rules, that is for sure, but the prevailing curiosity in the World Champions' rather unseemly dispute with the stewards is why Race Control reputedly felt the compunction to warn the team at all during the race. If rules are rules, a warning shouldn't come into play; they either transgressed the rules or they didn't, end of. The critical word in the charge made against Red Bull is that they 'consistently' exceed the regulations; in other words, not that they broke the rules, but they crossed the line too many times. Which begs an urgent question: just how many times can the line be crossed before an infringement is deemed worthy of punishment?
Whatever the answer, it needs an overdue swift delivery.
Daniel Ricciardo deserves a seat at the top table of F1
Never mind that Ricciardo ultimately left Albert Park with as many points as World Champion Sebastian Vettel, the youngster had already made a far more important point in vindicating his promotion to a full race seat with the World Champions.
Faster than Vettel in Practice One, faster than Vettel in Practice Three, faster than Vettel in every segment of Qualifying, Ricciardo looks the part - and at long last, Vettel has credible internal competition. Because of its past history, Malaysia was always going to be a test of the World Champion's mettle. Now he has a clear and present danger in the same garage to defy as well. Game on.
Déjà vu for Ferrari and Fernando
New rules, new season, same old story for Fernando and Ferrari: their car is reliable but slow. One-and-a-half seconds off the pace in qualifying, the F14 T was reckoned to be half a second per lap off Mercedes' pace in race trim. In a sport measured in tenths of seconds, it's a lifetime equivalent.
And that's just for Alonso. For Raikkonen, the lack of pace is even more acute. The Finn was beaten by the Spaniard in every session at Albert Park and his struggle with the erratic power delivery on the F14 T, manifesting itself in a leery slide into the barriers during Q2 that Ferrari euphemistically put down to 'oversteer', is another carry-on from testing.
Could there be a clue to Raikkonen's problems in the remark of James Allison, the Ferrari Technical Director, during testing that the Finn has "soft hands"? What sounded at the time like a compliment now reads as a possible explanation for why he is struggling with such an aggressive car. The bottom line, though, is that Alonso is still being Alonso - out-performing his team-mate and very probably out-driving his car - and Ferrari are still way adrift from the frontrunners. Again.
Williams are the real deal - at least for now
If there is a 'what if' tale to be told by Valtteri Bottas after the youngster cost himself a likely podium finish by hitting the wall as he chased down Alonso, then spare a chapter or two for Felipe Massa's 'what might have been' Melbourne narrative. The Brazilian started ninth, the Finn started 15th, and given that Bottas was able to recover even after his crash to finish sixth, it stands to reason that Massa's first-corner calamity cost him a very likely visit to the rostrum. No wonder he was fuming with Kamui Kobayashi, even if it was subsequently revealed that the Japanese driver had been blameless.
As a collective, Williams had no cause to grumble as they departed Melbourne with a larger haul of points than they managed in the whole of 2013. Yet might the team come to rue their failure to exploit their podium potential this weekend? Red Bull are recovering fast, McLaren have designed a building-block, and Ferrari will throw the kitchen sink at the F14 T. Williams would be well advised to make hay while the sun is shining.
Chilton maxes out for Marussia
Max Chilton could lap the field on the way to his first grand prix victory and he'd still be disparaged as a pay driver. But take note: he not only out-qualified Jules Bianchi this weekend, although the Frenchman was hampered by an electrical fault on his car, but then followed his mini-victory up with a mini-win for Marussia on race day. Thirteenth once Daniel Ricciardo's disqualification was factored in, Chilton's result matched that of Bianchi in Malaysia last year which ultimately gave Marussia tenth over Caterham in the Constructors' Championship. In another ten months or so, Chilton's tidy performance could prove equally critical to the monetary fortunes of both teams.