Australian Grand Prix: All Mercedes Podium, Just.

Emotions ran high over the weekend as Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was excluded from his second place finish in the Australian Grand Prix. Nico Rosberg took the chequered flag, while rookie driver for McLaren Kevin Magnussen set a record with a podium finish on his debut. Ricciardo’s exclusion from the race race subsequently moved Jensen Button up to round up the top three making it an all Mercedes powered podium.

For the first time in 2014, 21 cars lined up on the grid, and a lonely 1 from the pit lane, to welcome in a new era of Formula 1 racing. Max Chilton initially stalled on the grid during the formation lap, where teammate Jules Bianchi soon followed suit. Third time was the charm though as now with the pit lane lined with the Lotus of Romain Grosjean and two Marussia’s the race finally got underway. At lights out Nico Rosberg made a bold and calculated move from P3 straight through the middle of Hamilton and Ricciardo, where for the remainder of the race the field would be looking at the back of the F1 W05. Further back in the pack Kamui Kobayashi was causing havoc due to a brake failure. The Caterham made it as far as turn 1 before collecting the back of Felipe Massa’s Williams, immediately retiring the two.

Seemingly unphased by the unknown of the 2014 car in race conditions, Nico Rosberg led from lights out and as the raced progressed only grew his lead. In what appeared to be the most reliable car on the grid, the German driver eventually crossed the line a cool 24 seconds clear of Ricciardo. Lewis Hamilton suffering from a misfiring pulled off reluctantly into the pits on lap 3, where he became the third retirement of the afternoon.

Kevin Magnussen’s debut Formula 1 race couldn’t have gone better for the Danish rookie, with the McLaren driver not only picking up points in his first race, but finding himself comfortably on the podium. With experience beyond his years, Magnussen maintained P3 for the entirety of the race, saving enough power and grip in the final leg to stalk down Daniel Ricciardo. Unfortunately with Dane didn’t quite get there in time for the chequered flag, finishing an incredible P3. Despite being outshone by his teammate, Jensen Button’s first race of the season went much better than expected. The Brit while starting from a familiar P10 on the grid, made up positions in the opening laps. A good race pace coupled with a successful strategy from the pit was saw Button finish 3.3s behind his teammate. The return of Ron Dennis to the McLaren outfit appears to have worked wonders for the team, as (with the race exclusive of Ricciardo) saw both drivers finish in the top three.

Fernando Alonso made up for a poor start by stalking Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg. Though the Ferrari appeared to place it safe against Nico and instead of risking an overtake, waited for the VJM07 to pit for it’s third and final stint. The Spaniard, while nursing similar issues with his F14 T as his teammate, continued his race with the same calm and calculative manner in which he’d followed Hulkenberg. The strategy paid off for the Ferrari as he eventually finished safely inside the points in P5. Kimi Raikkonen appeared to struggle for pace during the race. Despite initially making up 6 position from the grid in the opening laps of the Grand Prix, the Finn’s F14 T began to deteriorate and he fell back to P8. Shortly after the race the Ferrari’s were promoted to P4 and P7 when Daniel Ricciardo was excluded from his second place finish by the FIA.

Valtteri Bottas drove an extremely successful season opener, starting with cleanly executed move around the outside of Kimi Raikkonen at turn 3 on lap 8 to take P6. However, shortly after, the Finn made contact with the barriers between turns 9 and 10, resulting the the Fw36 deciding to shed it’s right rear wheel. Bottas limped back to the pits, only to return making light work of taking Ericsson, the Lotuses, and Sutil to cruise in P10. However,  managing to make up a few additional positions in the field saw the Finn finish P6, which was bumped up to P5. The Australian Grand Prix was shortest perhaps Felipe Massa, who was an instant retirement at turn 1 lap 1 when rear ended by Kobayashi*.

Back in a familiar garage, Nico Hulkenberg appeared comfortably at him in the VJM07 on race day. Although the Force India driver was robbed of what could have been exciting battles for position. In the opening stages of the race, Hulkenberg closed the gap to a slow moving Hamilton by lap 2, though cruised up to P4 as the Mercedes pulled in to retire. For several laps Hulkenberg had the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso preying on the back of the Force India. Hulkenberg drove confidently, though still at a competitive pace despite suffering a lock up on lap 20. Playing it safe, the team chose to pit Hulkenberg on lap 33 to allow the Ferrari passed. Spending most of his third stint in P5, the Force India conceded a position to Bottas to eventually finish P7. Sergio Perez had a slow opening stint of the race, which was then met by an unlucky kiss with Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber, causing the Force India to limp back to the pits with a puncture. Perez benefited from the retirements throughout the race, though came home just outside of the points in P11. However, following the decision by the FIA to exclude Daniel Ricciardo from the race results, Hulkenberg moves up to P6 and Perez took the final point it P10.

Toro Rosso were among to few to bring both cars home, with Jean-Eric Vergne finishing P9, and Daniil Kvyat inside the points at P10. Having both STR9s finish would be cause to celebrate on its own, though Kvyat’s controlled pace throughout was the real excitement. Vergne and Kvyat both move up to P8 and P9 with Ricciardo’s exclusion.

Adrian Sutil had a reasonably quiet race in the middle of the field, avoiding conflict while swapping positions with Ericsson, Kvyat, and Bottas throughout various stages of the race eventually finishing ahead of his teammate in P12. With the exception of the altercation with Perez’s Force India, Esteban Gutierrez managed to keep out of trouble to finish P13. Sutil and Gutierrez move up to P11 and P12 with Ricciardo’s exclusion.

Both Marussia’s started from the pit lane after stalling on the installation lap. While both MR03s took their place as backmarkers in the field, the Australian Grand Prix should still be considered a success for the team. Being one of only 6 teams to achieve a two car finish, Chilton continued his hot streak to finish ahead of his teammate in P14. Jules Bianchi rounded off the back of the field in P15.  Chilton has his “highest ever finish” in P13 as a result of retirements and Ricciardo’s exlcusion, while Bianchi finished P14.

For a car that wasn’t expected to finish a lap, Romain Grosjean’s E22 impressed the team making it to lap 43 before the Lotus’ energy recovery unit finally called it a day. The Frenchman put in a strong drive, and starting from the pitlane and then adhering to a drive through penalty, gained 6 positions before DRS had even been enabled. Though the E22 appeared to taper off as the race progressed, with Grosjean conceding a place to Sergio Perez, and then to his teammate, Pastor Maldonado. In his first race for Lotus, Pastor Maldonado did manage to stay relatively out of harms way. In the opening laps, like Grosjean, Maldonado made up several positions in the field to P13 by the end of lap 2. However, like his teammate, the E22 finally called it a day on lap 29. The Venezuelan driver even managed a much more subtle exit from the race than that of Monaco 2012.

The Caterham rookie, Marcus Ericsson was on what could have been a largely successful debut race, until on lap 29 his CT05 suffered from air and oil pressure failure resulting in the fifth retirement of the race. Kamui Kobayashi had a brief outing during the race, making it almost as far through the gravel pit into turn 1 as he had on the track. The Caterham’s CT05 had suffered from brake failure, and along with a wheel lock up, sent Kobayashi straight into the back of Felipe Massa.

Daniel Ricciardo’s debut race for Red Bull was flawless, holding his position of P2 in the opening laps of the race before maintaining pace and grip out the tyres. Only in the final stages of the race did the McLaren of Kevin Magnussen close the gap to the final remaining Red Bull. Despite the increased pressure from the McLaren, Ricciardo crossed the line P2 to an ear splitting roar of a approval from Albert Park. Sebastian Vettel however had a character building race, suffering from a loss of power in the early stages of the race. The reining world champion’s RB10 hardly resembled that of his teammate, and on lap 3 a very sick Red Bull entered the pit lane, not to emerge again. The German’s short race was met with a slow start and conceding 4 position.

Taking away from the season opener in Melbourne, it would definitely appear that Mercedes have developed the quickest package, though possibly not the most reliable in the case of Lewis Hamilton. Massa’s early retirement was disappointing as we failed to see just how strong the Mercedes power unit is, though Bottas’ pace and control of the Williams showed promise for the season to come. The decision of the FIA regarding Daniel Ricciardo’s exclusion is said to be announced within two weeks. Along with the vast majority of fans, I’ve my fingers crossed for his second place to be reinstated. Not only because Daniel deserved his step on the podium, but because as the points currently stand, Marussia are ahead of Red Bull Racing, and thats just not right.

– Alex

* We’ll leave the Caterham nose rear ending jokes to the imagination shall we.

Qualifying Pole Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Podium Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Kevin Magnussen (McLaren-Mercedes)
Jensen Button (McLaren-Mercedes)
Fastest Lap 1:32.478 Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)

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