Australian GP - Sunday - Race Report
All By Myself
The only driver that could have challenged Nico Rosberg for the victory in the season opening Australian Grand Prix was his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton. But Hamilton, who had qualified on pole, lasted just two laps before retiring with a misfiring engine.
Rosberg qualified third and took the lead in the first corner. He was never headed or challenged as he lead every lap all by himself way out in front.
"It's been an amazing day," Rosberg said. "I'm just over the moon really. It's incredible, everybody has worked so hard over the winter and now to have such an amazing Silver Arrow to drive is just unreal. This thing was unbelievably quick today and the reliability was good also, so it was just the perfect start to the season. I'm really thankful to Mercedes, they have done an amazing job over the winter."
It was ironic, therefore, that Hamilton's Mercedes broke down.
"My start didn't feel great today and I had a lot less power than usual when pulling away," he said, "so it was obvious immediately that something was wrong. It looks like we only had five cylinders firing and, while I wanted to keep going, we had to play safe and save the engine. It's unfortunate but that's racing and we will recover from this. We have a great car and engine, and the pace was really strong today as Nico clearly showed."
If Hamilton was disappointed, then Daniel Ricciardo was devastated. The Australian had qualified second in his first race for Red Bull, and he finished in second place. The Red Bull had not completed a race distance in preseason testing, so Ricciardo and the team were thrilled with the result.
"Two or three weeks ago I would have bet pretty everything I have that we would not be standing up here," Ricciardo said on the podium. "Full credit to the team for an unbelievable turnaround. I don't understand how they did it but they did, so thank you guys. And, of course, the Aussie fans. Wow, completely overwhelming. No words. I'm trippin' balls right now."
Five hours after the race, however, the stewards disqualified Ricciardo because of a fuel sensor issue. The new rules limit the flow of fuel to 100 kilos per hour. Red Bull believed that the fuel flow sensor supplied by the FIA was inaccurate, and so the team increased the fuel flow rate to the engine. During the race the FIA's technical representative observed that the fuel flow was too high and told the team to reduce it. The team refused to comply because it believed its calculations were correct.
Red Bull has filed an appeal against its disqualification.
Rookie Kevin Magnussen had done a superb job in his debut grand prix to qualifying fourth and finish third in his McLaren. That later became second place after Ricciardo's exclusion. This was the best result for a rookie since Jacques Villeneuve took second place in the same race back in 1996.
"I can't believe it," Magnussen said. "It's not a win but it definitely feels like a bit of a win because, as you said, the team is coming off a difficult season and they really wanted to come back and they've worked so hard over the winter. And working with a rookie as well who hasn't got experience. It's been tough for them, for sure ‚Äö√Ñ√¨ but they've done such a good job, made me feel really at home and made me feel comfortable with everything. Yeah. I couldn't have asked for more."
Magnussen's veteran teammate Jenson Button started back in 10th place but steadily worked his way up to fourth and then inherited third. McLaren did not finish on the podium once last year and now in the first race of 2014 the team already has two podium finishers to its credit.
"It was a great drive by Kevin," Button said. "I had a lot of fun chasing him and Daniel down at the end of the race, but my tires were several laps older than theirs, so it was always going to be tricky. Still, I had a good race ‚Äö√Ñ√¨ the car's balance wasn't quite right when I was in traffic ‚Äö√Ñ√¨ I struggled with understeer when I was behind people. But the car worked very well in clear air.
"For some reason, it seems to be more difficult to overtake now than it used to be, so we had to do it during the pit stops. During my second stop, we damaged the nose - which made it a bit cooler in the cockpit!"
Fernando Alonso had mixed feelings about fourth place in his Ferrari because once again his team has not produced a car fast enough to challenge for the win.
"I'd have liked to start the season with a podium," he said, "but getting both cars to the flag is a good result, which can give us confidence, especially on the reliability front. I had some problems with the electric motor at the start and had to make a few changes from the steering wheel, but after the first ten laps everything went well.
"When I managed to pass (Nico) Hulkenberg after the pit stop my pace was definitely better, although it was impossible to overtake. 35 seconds down on the leader is too big a gap and to work out what we need to do to close that gap, we will need to analyze the race, work out what are the strong and weak points on the car."
The fact that Alonso in a Ferrari was battling Hulkenberg in a Force India Mercedes says a lot about the pace of both cars.
"I made a strong start and enjoyed good track position for the first two stints when I was running up in fourth," said Hulkenberg who wound up sixth. "The only real issue I had was some front left graining on the soft tires, which never really cleared up and that compromised my first two stints. It was a shame to lose two positions at my second stop (to Button and Alonso) but it looks like some of the cars around us have a bit more pace at the moment."
Valtteri Bottas had a wild race in his Williams. Starting 15th after a gearbox penalty, he fought his way up to sixth place and was challenging Alonso when he hit the wall with his right rear tire. That required a pitstop and also brought out the safety car so that the corner workers could clear debris off the track.
Now back in 16th place, Bottas charged again and went up to fifth place by the checkered flag. Last year the Williams team scored just five points. After just one race this year the team already has 10 points.
"The car performed very well today which is looking encouraging for the season ahead," Bottas said, "and on the whole as a team we can be pleased that we have made a good step forward from last season. I'm a little disappointed with myself because I was pushing a bit too hard and hit the wall which caused a puncture and put me back a long way.
"I spent the rest of the race trying to make up for that mistake and managed to make some good overtakes, but I need to learn from this and make sure it doesn't happen again. It felt great to be able to race hard with people around me."
Bottas' teammate Felipe Massa qualified ninth and believed that he had the pace to finish on the podium, but he never made it past the first corner after getting rammed off the track by Kamui Kobayashi who had a rear brake failure on his Caterham.
"I tried to have a calm start and not take any risks," Massa said, "but was hit from behind, and there was nothing I could do to avoid being taken out of the race. It's a shame but there are a lot of positive things that the team can take from this weekend in terms of pace and reliability, so I'm just thinking about the next race and having a strong result there."
Last year's Australian Grand Prix winner Kimi Raikkonen could only manage seventh place in his Ferrari this year.
"We had a small issue with the brakes at the beginning of the race," he said, "and then we grained the front tires and when you do that you lose front end grip, so you start locking wheels. That was the main issue, so it's not the brakes ‚Äö√Ñ√¨ it's a combination of issues. Sometimes it gets a bit tricky and, unfortunately right now things are not easy and will find solutions for it at some point."
Toro Rosso teammates Daniil Kvyat and Jean-Eric Vergne rounded out the top nine. Kvyat thus earned points in his F1 debut.
"It was a very intense afternoon and finishing my first race with a point is a great feeling," the Russian rookie said. "It was a fantastic first grand prix weekend with the team, everyone worked really hard and scoring points was a great way to end it. So well done to everyone!
"The start was a bit messy, but after that I managed to get into a rhythm and the car seemed competitive compared to those around us. It was close at the end with Jev, but I had to save fuel towards the end, so I was not going to attack him. I never expected to score a point in my first race, so it feels amazing."
Lotus won last year's Australian Grand Prix but neither of its cars were able to finish the race this year. Yet 43 laps for Romain Grosjean and 29 for Pastor Maldonado marked the longest single runs either driver had done so far in the troublesome E22.
"In a way, it was a pretty positive day," said Grosjean who, like Maldonado retired with a fault MGU-K. "I expected to do around 15 to 20 laps in the race after all the issues we've had this weekend, and we managed 43! We've learnt a lot today and all the changes made to the car have been positive.
"We still have a long way to go, but at least I know more about tire usage, all my engineers know where we need to improve with the chassis, and we've learnt a lot about aero balance and fuel consumption. Of course there's more to do with the energy management and recovery and some work yet with the braking. We've still got lots of work to do, but we're definitely heading in the right direction."
Mercedes certainly is going in the right direction as its engines were in five of the top six cars. And the best of those cars was the works machine of Rosberg. But the fact that his teammate retired with an engine problem ans left Rosberg all by himself makes Rosberg cautious as the team heads for the next race in Malaysia.
"I'm not sure what happened to the other car," Rosberg said, "but for sure it's a fact that we're not 100 percent sorted yet. We know that and the team did a great job to get my car working so well in the race today but there's still work to be done.
"We have two weeks now. We need to identify all the things that we can still do better because even leading up to this weekend, there were still a lot of changes on the car and you don't really want to be doing that just going to the first race. And also in testing there were still a couple of problems at the end there, so great job, but still things to get sorted."