Nico Rosberg today won the Australian Grand Prix for Mercedes, finishing a whopping 25 seconds ahead of the next challenger. That challenger just happened to be Daniel Ricciardo, netting a superb podium on his debut for his new team Red Bull. However, the Australian’s characteristic mile-of-smile soon turned upside-down, as an FIA investigation found his car’s fuel flow rate to be higher than the regulations’ 100kg/ hour limit.
Kevin Magnussen in his very first race initially came third, but was hoisted to a sublime 2nd after the demise of the Australian. That also brought Jenson Button up to third. Rosberg and the disqualified Ricciardo’s team mates – World Champions Vettel and Hamilton no less – failed to complete 5 laps, both retiring with power unit problems.
Hamilton set the pace on Saturday with a wet pole lap just ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, and McLaren new boy Kevin Magnussen. Ricciardo’s team mate and 4-time world champion Sebastian Vettel couldn’t get out of Q2 and languished in 13th on the grid.
After months of waiting, it was finally time to race. At 5pm local time in Melbourne, the cars lined up and took off for the first formation lap of a new era. Romain Grosjean did not, as he started from the pit lane, but he was soon joined by not one, but two Marussia cars. First, Chilton stalled before the formation lap, and then Bianchi did the same, forcing another. After much deliberation, the field was ready for the off. Bianchi and Chilton both got going; Chilton was able to join the back of the pack, but Bianchi was 7 laps down before he even started.
At the start, Hamilton bogged down and had a slow getaway, immediately succumbing to Ricciardo, and Rosberg who swept into the lead. Further back, Magnussen nearly made contact with Alonso, but where ‘K-Mag’ failed, Kobayashi did not. The Japanese driver hadn’t driven in F1 since Brazil 2012, and on his return he clouted the back of Raikkonen, and then Massa. Kimi continued, but Massa and Kobayashi were out on the spot, beached in the gravel with broken suspension. Later investigation would find a KERS problem caused Kobayashi to lose braking power, hence propelling him into Massa. After the race, Kobayashi was not given any penalty or fine for his actions, due to the mechanical failure.
Kobayashi was quick to admit to his fault, stating:
“It was all my fault, there was no heat in the tyres, not enough warming up. The tyres were so cold, due to the extra formation lap”
Massa concurred, and felt that Kobayashi deserved swift punishment:
“It’s difficult to find a word to describe what he did, trying to brake at 50m [from the corner] is impossible. What he did in this race is not different to Grosjean in Spa 2012, he needs a race ban. That’s what the stewards need to do.”
As the first lap developed, it was clear that Hamilton and Vettel were not in a good way whatsoever. Hamilton was passed easily by Magnussen and Hulkenberg, and duly told to retire by his team. He was then informed to continue, but a misfiring engine (thought to be running on just 5 cylinders) ended his race, and he parked up with just 4 laps completed.
One World Champion was out, and merely a lap later, so was another. Vettel had absolutely no power coming from his new ERS unit. New Formula One cars are really hybrids, a mixture of electrical energy and an internal combustion engine, and so without any electrical power, his RB10 was little more than a mobile chicane; he too had to park up in the garage.
A highly-spirited Valtteri Bottas was scything through the field. He felt he could have done better in qualifying and duly made progress at the expense of new boy Daniil Kvyat on Lap 3. Not content with passing one Toro Rosso, he made a move on the other, relegating Vergne to 8th. Bottas then went on to snatch 6th from Raikkonen, before a gentle skim with the wall at Turn 10 popped his rear-right tyre off the rim. The carcass of the tyre came to a rest safely off the racing line, but the wheel rim broke in a dangerous place. He was lucky to damage his tyre, and not his suspension.
This triggered the only Safety Car of the race, so that the shards of Williams could be safely retrieved. The Safety Car period gave a chance for pit stops; Rosberg, Ricciardo, Magnussen, and Hulkenberg to name just a few of the opportunists.
When the flags went green again Bottas wasted no time making up ground, immediately pouncing on Gutierrez and Maldonado. The situation worsened for Maldonado as his team mate Grosjean capitalised on his slow pace, however it was little consolation for the team. This time last year they were leading the race with Kimi Raikkonen, and now they were propping up the rest of the field as back-markers.
The final two nails in the coffin hammered home soon after – Maldonado’s retirement came about on Lap 31, after his heat energy recovery system (or MGU-H to give it its technical name) failed. Grosjean would suffer a similar fate on Lap 45, losing the use of his MGU-K, which is the braking energy recovery system. Marcus Ericsson joined both Lotus drivers on the sidelines to make it a double-retirement for Caterham, too. A miserable weekend for both teams.
After early retirements and chaos, the race settled down a bit, until Jean-Eric Vergne was overpowered by the flying Finns of Bottas and Raikkonen. Raikkonen’s overtake was rather mundane, but Bottas’ was more dramatic, only coming about due to the Toro Rosso nearly spinning into the wall on the final corner.
The two Finns had a fight of their own; for several laps Bottas stared at Raikkonen’s rear wing, but when the Ferrari man made a mistake going into turn 9, Valtteri swept through. The sheer speed of the Williams was clear – could Bottas have scored a podium without the wall kiss?
The last few laps were filled with two chases – the battle for 2nd, with Magnussen chasing Ricciardo, and the fight for 6th, with Bottas pursuing Nico Hulkenberg. The McLaren rookie couldn’t quite get the better of the local hero, but Bottas – who surely had the most exciting race of the day – managed to sneak past at turn 1 and seize 6th place.
Rosberg came home to take his fourth career win, and rallied by his adoring home crowd, Ricciardo chased him for his first ever podium, an achievement equaled by Kevin Magnussen. In fact, Magnussen has done exactly what Lewis Hamilton did in his first McLaren race in 2007 – qualified 4th and finished 3rd.
After the race, an FIA investigation found that Car number 3, Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull-Renault, was not compliant with Technical Regulation 5.1.4 , which says fuel flow can only be 100kg per hour, and no more. Charlie Whiting stated that anyone breaching this would be seriously dealt with, and though the team are appealing the decision, it is unlikely to be successful.
Daniil Kvyat scored a point on his debut as well, finishing 10th, and with it claiming the record of youngest driver to ever score a point. At 19 years, 324 days, he beats Sebastian Vettel’s record from the US Grand Prix 2007, where he scored a point aged 19 years and 349 days. He’s also the first driver to go directly from GP3 to F1, bypassing GP2. Ricciardo’s DSQ means that Kvyat now scores two points for the race.
1. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG
2. Kevin Magnussen, McLaren
3. Jenson Button, McLaren
4. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari
5. Valtteri Bottas, Williams
6. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India
7. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari
8. Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso
9. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso
10. Sergio Perez, Force India
11. Adrian Sutil, Sauber
12. Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber
13. Max Chilton, Marussia
Out/Unclassified (Problem in brackets)
Jules Bianchi, Marussia (+8 Laps)
Romain Grosjean, Lotus (MGU-K)
Pastor Maldonado, Lotus (MGU-H)
Marcus Ericsson, Caterham (Oil Pressure)Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull (MGU-K)
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes (Misfiring Engine)
Felipe Massa, Williams (Collision)
Kamui Kobayashi, Caterham (Collision)
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull (DISQUALIFIED)
The next race in is Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on March 30.
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