The crowd’s hero Daniel Ricciardo took his new Red Bull past the chequer in a terrific second place and the cheers drowned out the engines – though that’s not so difficult to do now, with hybrid V6s that purr and whistle oh so meekly.
But this was all a full 24 seconds after Nico Rosberg had completed his race in the Mercedes. It could surely have been even more.
There was nothing to touch the silver arrows, which appeared to have an advantage of around one second per lap on the best of the rest. The first race of the brave new hybrid world surrendered itself to the number six Merc and a Rosberg led the world championship for the first time since 1982.
His victory was made immeasurably easier by the retirement of his team-mate, the pole-sitting Lewis Hamilton, whose engine had dropped a cylinder before the race even began.
Rosberg’s winning margin over Ricciardo had been built up in just 42 laps, since a safety car period wiped out his earlier gap. The new Red Bull driver withstood a bit of late pressure from F1 rookie Kevin Magnussen in the McLaren-Mercedes.
This outstanding debut together with the sparkling performances of F1 sophomore Valtteri Bottas (a hard-charging sixth in the Williams-Mercedes) and 19-year-old rookie Daniil Kyvat (a composed and speedy 10th for Toro Rosso) just underlined that this really was a new era. As unfortunately did the teething niggles of the new formula.
All weekend there were mutterings from the teams that the FIA-supplied fuel metering units that limit the fuel flow to a maximum of 100kg/hour were inconsistent. When Ricciardo’s car was then found to have ‘consistently exceeded’ that limit, he was disqualified – promoting Magnussen and team-mate Jenson Button to second and third respectively. Red Bull has appealed the exclusion.
Red Bull, like Mercedes, was effectively a one-car team on Sunday, electrical glitches accounting for the retirement of Sebastian Vettel after just four laps from a midfield grid position. The world champion thereby lost the opportunity of beating the nine-race consecutive victory record of Alberto Ascari, and was furious at his lot. His Renault motor had refused to run cleanly through qualifying too, when he’d languished 13th.
That grid had been formed in the rainy conditions of Saturday early evening when the wets-shod Hamilton had knocked the inters-shod Ricciardo off a provisional pole. Rosberg’s form had looked more certain and consistent than Hamilton’s in the build-up to that all-important session, but both Lewis and Daniel had been better placed on track in crossing the line to take advantage of a surface that was improving on their respective final laps.
“My head was so full of instructions.”
Magnussen’s confident attack in the demanding conditions netted him fourth on the grid ahead of Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari. “I didn’t even know where I’d qualified as I came in,” related Fernando. “I had forgotten to check. My head was so full of instructions.”
The new cars demand great dexterity from their drivers, especially in conditions where tyre temperatures are at all marginal. The brake-by-wire systems are still clunky and rudimentary on most cars, compromising the rate at which the braking energy can be recovered from the rear axle.
Tyre temperatures are crucial in maximising the energy recovery rate; if the fronts are too cool they lock as soon as the brake-by-wire automatically alters the brake balance to compensate for the varying torque reversal on the rear.
Drivers were being instructed corner-to-corner about which harvest rate settings to use, which deployment maps – all whilst driving tricky high-torque cars on the limit on a wet track.
It made for spectacular viewing, but was brain frying for the drivers. Kimi Räikkönen was not at all attuned to the Ferrari’s braking instability and was constantly locking fronts and running wide and he’d failed to graduate from Q2. A slow spin on his in-lap right at the end of that session compromised the closely following Button, leaving him out of the shoot-out too.
Behind Alonso the top 10 was completed by Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso, Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India, Kvyat and the Williams’ of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas, the latter taking a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change.
The race start
Tension was particularly high as the field of delicate new cars sat on the grid. Ricciardo had suffered a scare on his out lap upon finding his turbo wasn’t working. He came back in, the car’s systems were rebooted, everything came back on line and he was sent back out.
Now, just as the lights were about to change, yellow flags waved for the dead Marussia of Max Chilton – and the cars were waved off for another formation lap while the obstacle was removed.
Hamilton could feel something wasn’t quite right with his motor and as the greens went out for the start, it just did not accelerate cleanly. One row behind him, Rosberg’s took off perfectly and sliced instantly into the lead. Magnussen got wildly out of shape across Alonso’s bows but rescued the moment.
Hamilton tried to fend off Ricciardo down to turn one, but in vain, Daniel diving down the inside to take up chase of Rosberg. The brakes of Kamui Kobayashi’s Caterham suffered a ‘serious mechanical malfunction’ and he hit Massa hard, taking them both into the gravel trap and out of the race.
As Rosberg danced his Merc through the twists of the parkland perimeter track around the lake under the glow of a late-afternoon sun and Ricciardo hung on as best he could, Hamilton was falling back, easy prey for Magnussen as they accelerated up towards the fast left-right sequence of turns 11-12.
Now Hulkenberg – who’d tried going round the outside of Magnussen at turn three but had been hung out wide by the steely rookie – was swarming all over Hamilton whilst fending off Alonso who in turn had to get defensive between turns 13 and 14 to keep the attacking Vergne behind. Räikkönen, Kvyat, Bottas and Button followed, while Vettel slid ever further back, literally powerless to defend himself.
Rosberg was 1.5s clear at the end of the opening lap and no-one would challenge him for the rest of the day. Hamilton was being instructed to retire his car as the team could see on the telemetry that a cylinder was not firing properly.
It would briefly come in, then fall out again and Lewis initially resisted the instruction, hoping the motor might finally right itself, but he was in after three laps. He was followed in next time around by Vettel.
As the front four spaced themselves out, already in lift and coast mode to save that precious 100kg of fuel, the jockeying continued in the pack where much of the passing action was provided by Bottas.
Vergne had got locked up and wide into turn 13, allowing Räikkönen past for sixth as Bottas had picked off Kyvat for eighth. The Williams went around the outside of the other Toro Rosso two laps later and was soon harrying Kimi.
The race settled into a rhythm – Rosberg pulling out as much as a second per lap up front, Ricciardo maintaining the gap over Magnussen, Hulkenberg and Alonso in close company not far behind – as everyone focussed on the new challenge of F1.
Managing the new cars
Tyre temperature and energy recovery are closely interconnected in this new formula; as already recounted, if the tyres drop out of their operating window you cannot harvest the braking energy very effectively as you cannot brake as hard. Less energy going into the battery means you have less electrical power to deploy, meaning you use up more fuel – meaning in turn you need to turn down the boost to keep your fuel on schedule. It can rapidly spiral downwards.
Almost everyone had started the race on the faster soft tyre with the intention of stopping twice and minimising the time spent on the much slower medium at the end. Though the cars are vastly quieter than before, they are visually far more dramatic, drivers struggling to get all that torque fed to the road, power slides out of the slower turns, moving around even through the faster ones, twitching in the braking zones. They were also around 7mph up on the V8s through the speed trap, nudging 200mph.
The Albert Park track incurs the second-highest fuel demand of all tracks on the calendar (after Montreal and very similar to Bahrain). So to stay within the new 100kg limit requires judicious use of turbo boost and for the driver to lift off and coast for a second or so into the braking zones. Much of the Mercedes engine’s current advantage is derived from its greater fuel efficiency – it can run more power for a given fuel consumption.
“We are losing a second per lap down the straights.”
“According to our analysis,” said Red Bull’s Christian Horner, “we are losing a second per lap down the straights.” One second per lap appeared to be the advantage Rosberg enjoyed over the Renault-powered Red Bull here. Rosberg admitted that, having earlier in the weekend worried about the fuel consumption, in the race it was not a concern. “I could see from quite early in the race that it wasn’t going to be a worry.”
The safety car
It was even less of a worry after the safety car was deployed on lap 11 and stayed out for four laps. This was triggered by Bottas. Harrying Alonso hard, he got just a little too greedy with the throttle exiting the third gear turn nine and brushed the concrete wall with his right-rear.
The rim broke instantly, giving him a puncture. As he limped around to the pits for a replacement, the damaged tyre made a bid for freedom and was lying in the middle of the track on the exit of the fast turn 12.
Button’s senses were attuned to a safety car – having been informed the previous lap he was now in the window if he wanted to come in – and he saw the S/C board just as he was about to pass by the pit entry road. He was able to haul the steering hard right just in time.
He’d been bottled up behind the Toro Rossos but couldn’t pass – and this was his bid to undercut ahead of them. Because they were restricted to the safety car delta time for longer, he was able to come out ahead after they pitted (along with everyone except the one-stopping Saubers).
The stops of the leaders all went off without incident, though being stacked behind Alonso in the Ferrari pits cost Räikkönen time and lost him places to Button and Vergne.
Bottas had his wheel replaced and was now more or less back where he’d started the race from – behind Kyvat, with Räikkönen just beyond. The safety car he’d created had helped minimise his time loss to the others as he’d limped back. The steering wheel was now askew from the brush with the wall but the car was otherwise good and Valtteri was soon on the attack again as the safety car pulled in at the end of the 15th lap.
Up front Rosberg had been told there was now definitely no need to conserve fuel – and he let rip. On the 19th lap he went around in 1m 32.4s on his new tyres and that would stand as the race’s fastest lap. At the time, the best of the rest were in the low 1m 34s. With Ricciardo and Magnussen still fuel saving, his gap – which had been just under eight seconds before the safety car – quickly opened up once more.
“Aero efficiency is going to be the absolute key.”
So if Rosberg was no longer needing to save fuel, how come Magnussen and Hulkenberg in their Mercedes-engined cars still were? Perhaps the McLaren and Force India are simply not as aerodynamically efficient. “I think aero efficiency is now going to be the absolute key to having access to full power efficiency,” said McLaren’s Eric Boullier in a neat summary of the core of the new competitive challenge facing the teams.
Rosberg’s pummelling pace wasn’t maintained and it was just assumed that he was driving to the gap over Ricciardo. But actually it was a case of a graining front-left tyre – something also suffered by fourth-placed Hulkenberg at this time; it seemed they may simply have pushed a little too hard too early on their fresh rubber. Rosberg continued to ease out a gap regardless over the fuel-saving Ricciardo and Magnussen, while Hulkenberg – frequently locking up that left front – fell well adrift of the McLaren and was having to get defensive in keeping Alonso behind.
Button in turn was now queued behind the Ferrari, with Vergne not far behind either. This was good news for Bottas, keeping them from getting out of his reach while he worked out how to get by Kyvat – which he did on lap 25 into turn one, with the benefit of DRS – and Räikkönen.
Again finding himself unable to pass, Button and his team decided that undercutting was the way to go as soon as the second pit stop window opened. There was a general reluctance from the others to make that second stop too early, as there was a fear that the medium tyre was going to be so much slower. Button took advantage of this reluctance, coming in on lap 32, giving him a 27-lap stint to do on the mediums.
Force India and Toro Rosso responded with Hulkenberg and Vergne on the next lap, but Ferrari left Alonso and Räikkönen out there. Hulkenberg exited the pits just after Button went by while Vergne followed the Force India, trying to pull out the time needed to stay ahead of Raikkonen.
Alonso responded to the situation with a sequence of personal bests before stopping on lap 34. It was enough to squeak him out just ahead of Hulkenberg – but they’d both been jumped by Button who was now fourth.
Räikkönen meanwhile did enough between Vergne’s stop and his own to leapfrog ahead of the Toro Rosso, but was passed on his in lap by Bottas on his. Kimi had again locked up at turn nine, unhappy with that braking feel, gifting the place to the Williams driver.
Ricciardo pitted on lap 36, Magnussen (above) let rip with full power, came in on lap 37, McLaren did a fantastic 2.8-second pit stop and what had been a five-second deficit to the Red Bull was sliced down to one second. Ricciardo prevailed and the two continued a game of bluff and counter-bluff with their fuel usage for the rest of the distance.
Rosberg pitted from the lead at the end of lap 38 and exited now 16 seconds clear of Ricciardo. A piece of the carbon fibre brake surround had snapped off as the left-front was mounted, giving Red Bull brief hope, but it turned out not to be significant. Attention shifted to Bottas’ continuing recovery drive as he chased down Vergne’s seventh place.
On lap 46 he tried hanging on around the outside of three to make the inside of four but it didn’t quite come off. Later that lap Vergne got his left-rear on the dirt as he turned into the final corner. He made a miraculous save, but Bottas was through – and soon chasing down Hulkenberg.
Button was briefly gaining on his team-mate and Magnussen was alerted that he should look after his rear tyres as he might soon need to be race Jenson. Button’s older tyres then surrendered before Magnussen’s, leaving Kevin to apply a bit of late pressure on Ricciardo. But Daniel was just as cool as he’d been all weekend despite the immense pressure and never looked like losing that second place. Not on track, at least.
Bottas, having harvested heavily for a couple of laps after passing Vergne, resumed his attack and went by Hulkenberg in the first DRS zone five laps from the end. Sixth was as far as the Williams was going to progress as Alonso was too far out of reach. But Bottas’ speed and apparent fuel efficiency suggested that but for his incident he could well have been standing on the podium, maybe even ahead of Ricciardo.
Two laps from the end Vergne got too deep into turn 13, allowing Räikkönen to pounce for eighth. Kvyat was almost able to take advantage too – and his speed in the closing stages was relentless and netted him fourth in the fastest lap list. Just as with Magnussen, it was as if he’d been a Grand Prix driver for years.
Rosberg enjoyed his dominant performance but for the sake of the race it was a pity he’d not had the sister car of Hamilton to fight with. Nothing else was about to.
Australian Grand Prix results
1 Nico Rosberg, Mercedes 1hr 32min 58.710sec
2 Kevin Magnussen, McLaren-Mercedes +26.7 sec
3 Jenson Button, McLaren-Mercedes +30.0 sec
4 Fernando Alonso, Ferrari +35.2 sec
5 Valtteri Bottas, Williams-Mercedes +47.6 sec
6 Nico Hülkenberg, Force India-Mercedes +50.7 sec
7 Kimi Räikkönen, Ferrari +57.6 sec
8 Jean-Éric Vergne, Toro Rosso-Renault +60.4 sec
9 Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso-Renault +63.5 sec
10 Sergio Pérez, Force India-Mercedes +85.9 sec
11 Adrian Sutil, Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
12 Esteban Gutiérrez, Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
13 Max Chilton, Marussia-Ferrari +2 laps
NC Jules Bianchi, Marussia-Ferrari +8 laps
Ret Romain Grosjean, Lotus-Renault
Ret Pastor Maldonado, Lotus-Renault
Ret Marcus Ericsson, Caterham-Renault
Ret Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull-Renault
Ret Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
Ret Felipe Massa, Williams-Mercedes
Ret Kamui Kobayashi, Caterham-Renault
DSQ Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull-Renault
2014 Drivers’ Championship
1 Nico Rosberg, Mercedes 25pts
2 Kevin Magnussen, McLaren-Mercedes 18pts
3 Jenson Button, McLaren-Mercedes 15pts
4 Fernando Alonso, Ferrari 12pts
5 Valtteri Bottas, Williams-Mercedes 10pts
6 Nico Hülkenberg, Force India-Mercedes 8pts
7 Kimi Räikkönen, Ferrari 6pts
8 Jean-Éric Vergne, Toro Rosso-Renault 4pts
9 Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso-Renault 2pts
10 Sergio Pérez, Force India-Mercedes 1pt
11 Adrian Sutil, Sauber-Ferrari 0pts
12 Esteban Gutiérrez, Sauber-Ferrari 0pts
13 Max Chilton, Marussia-Ferrari 0pts
14 Jules Bianchi, Marussia-Ferrari 0pts
15 Romain Grosjean, Lotus-Renault 0pts
16 Pastor Maldonado, Lotus-Renault 0pts
17 Marcus Ericsson, Caterham-Renault 0pts
18 Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull-Renault 0pts
19 Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes 0pts
20 Felipe Massa, Williams-Mercedes 0pts
21 Kamui Kobayashi, Caterham-Renault 0pts
22 Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull-Renault 0pts
2014 Constructors’ Championship
Force India-Mercedes 9pts
6 Toro Rosso-Renault 6pts
7 Sauber-Ferrari 0pts
8 Marussia-Ferrari 0pts
9 Lotus-Renault 0pts
10 Caterham-Renault 0pts
11 Red Bull-Renault 0pts
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