Winners and Losers at the Australian Grand Prix
17 March 2014 – Teams and drivers departed the first round of the 2014 Formula 1 season with varying emotions. Some enjoyed a successful weekend which could kick start a promising campaign while others have been left with a long road ahead. GPUpdate.net presents the winners and losers from the Australian Grand Prix.
Nico Rosberg missed out on pole position but he swept into the lead at the start and was never headed across the 57 lap encounter. The victor could barely contain his enthusiasm at his fourth Formula 1 win as he referred to his car as 'unbelievable' and 'dominant'. His winning margin was in excess of 20 seconds, showing the advantage which Rosberg utilised. There will be low moments, after all, team-mate Lewis Hamilton suffered a mechanical failure, but Rosberg is in the prime of his career. Years of toil with Williams and Mercedes have made him a better driver while he has worked hard to iron out his deficiencies and shun the reputation that he is not a top driver. He knows that 2014 presents him with a golden opportunity of becoming a champion and he’s started in commanding fashion.
There was a divide at McLaren towards the end of last season as the team conversed on whether to retain Sergio Pérez or promote youngster Kevin Magnussen. Ron Dennis supported the latter and his choice was rewarded in Australia as Magnussen achieved the best result for a rookie in 18 years. The Danish driver carried himself with confidence mixed with a sense of managing expectations. Qualifying in fourth place was an extraordinary result considering his inexperience with both the conditions and the circuit, while he did extremely well to keep the car out of the wall after it snapped away from him at the start. Even so, few would have predicted that Magnussen would finish on the podium – beating Jenson Button in the process – and even the man himself looked astonished at what he had just accomplished. It was a measured performance that marked the arrival of a star.
There was a collective surprise towards the end of last year when Toro Rosso announced that Daniil Kvyat, not António Félix da Costa, would be promoted to a Formula 1 seat for 2014. Critics suggested that Kvyat was too young and was being rushed into the seat courtesy of the potential commercial opportunities that came with having a Russian driver. The reigning GP3 champion evidently has natural talent – anyone who paid attention to junior series last year would testify this – but after Toro Rosso’s woes pre-season few anticipated Kvyat to finish in the points. He qualified inside the top 10 and in the race Kvyat hung on to the coat tails of Kimi Räikkönen and team-mate Jean-Éric Vergne, eventually finishing three seconds behind his more experienced stable mate. In doing so, he took ninth and claimed the record of youngest points scorer, which was previously held by Sebastian Vettel – and he didn't turn out too badly!
Expectations of Red Bull were low and consequently it was a surprise when the pace – and reliability – was evident throughout practice, leading to hopes that the team would score handsomely. But matters deteriorated for Sebastian Vettel as a power unit problem crippled his RB10 in qualifying and continued into the race, leaving him significantly off the pace even before his early retirement. The permanently grinning Daniel Ricciardo enjoyed a fruitful weekend as he converted his maiden front row start into a first podium. He lapped up the support of the ecstatic Australian crowd which was "a moment I'll never forget". But the stewards excluded his car for contravening the fuel flow rate regulations. The stewards said that the FIA gave Red Bull plenty of chances to reduce the fuel flow rate while the team hit back by claiming they used their own sensors after the unreliability of the FIA's methods. Red Bull remains adamant that Ricciardo's car was legal and they will appeal, but it was a messy start to their title defence after an initial upturn in fortunes.
Lotus endured a chastising time in Australia as the lack of preparation with the E22 was publicly exposed. Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado missed sessions due to problems with the power unit and when the car appeared on track it was off the pace and lacking in braking ability. Both drivers suffered off-track excursions and were ill at ease with their new car. But that's not to say that the E22 can't be competitive later in the season. Despite the car being in its infancy and clearly miles away from its potential, Grosjean's fastest lap of the race was only 2.3s slower than the quickest lap, set by Rosberg. The car also ran for 45 successive laps, around 25 more than it had managed in one stint beforehand. Lotus is clearly behind and in reality still in the testing phase but the E22 evidently improved across the course of the weekend and there’s little doubt that the team will be competitive later in the year. Nonetheless, this was a humbling experience for the squad which won in Australia 12 months ago.
Sauber hadn't captured the attention pre-season and you'd have been forgiven for thinking that they didn't even take part in Australia. They did, but their mid-grid start and running around outside of the points hardly instilled confidence that this will be anything other than a below-par season. There were mitigating circumstances. Esteban Gutiérrez suffered a gearbox problem and started from the back before spinning on the first lap, requiring a trip to the pits. Adrian Sutil was hit by a power unit problem and his strategy was scuppered by the appearance of the safety car. However, finishing 11th and 12th – ahead only of the Marussia drivers – was not awe-inspiring. They at least got both cars to the finish but their race pace was consistently slower than their midfield rivals, who all picked up a decent haul of points. Sutil and Gutiérrez could find themselves only infrequently collecting top 10 finishes barring a dramatic turnaround. Still, they managed such a feat in 2013 and the work will be ongoing at Hinwil to repeat the feat.