Sunday, 16 March 2014

Australian Grand Prix: A few cylinders short of a V6!

It was the story of the cylinder failures this weekend in Melbourne. Most of the retirements were down to engine problems, which was widely anticipated, with the introduction of the new 1.6 litre, V6 grumblers. The absence of noise took away a lot of the excitement, especially at the start. The lights went out, the cars started moving and the noise was a murmur. For some of us it was squeaky bum time as some of the drivers flew from one side of the track to another, narrowly missing each other as they crossed paths. Regardless of the wild lunges, everything was going swimmingly towards the first corner, until Kobayashi's Caterham decided to keep hurtling at 100mph in to the braking area. He slammed in to Filipe Massa, who was looking forward to his first race out of the shadow of Fernando Alonso, ending both of their weekends in one fell swoop.

After the start, which saw Sebastian Vettel tumbling down the order, the first couple of engines gave up the ghost. Those engines happened to belong to the reigning world champion, Vettel, and the bookies favourite for the title challenge, Lewis Hamilton. Vettel was having a torrid time anyway, receiving a dose of what his team mate last year had grown so accustomed to, crawling away from his grid box, like an old gramophone being wound up. Predictably, Seb was reported as being ever so professionally frustrated, as he berated the team down the (now crystal clear, in the relative silence) team radio. Hamilton was similarly frustrated, but both drivers graciously glossed over the fact that their team mates were doing very well and running comfortably in first and second. Whilst it was great being able to hear the team radios better with the quieter engines, I couldn't help thinking an opportunity was missed, when Alonso's race engineer didn't ask him "can you hear the drums now, Fernando?"

It's difficult to pick out any but McLaren as stand out teams with pace. They will be breathing a huge sigh of relief, since this time last year they were just embarking on one of their most unsuccessful seasons of all time. By the chequered flag McLaren were the only team who looked unwaveringly good. Other teams that faired well were Force India, a team championed by myself in previous blog posts. They were constantly featured during the Grand Prix and regularly overtaking or gaining on somebody rapidly. Williams also looked good and Bottas is my 'driver of the race', despite the over eagerness, that lead to him clipping a wall and damaging his right rear tyre. He would almost certainly have been guaranteed a podium finish if it hadn't been for that incident.

Everybody seemed genuinely elated to be on the podium, which is a refreshing sight. It makes a change from seeing a dejected Alonso on the third step or a fuming Webber climbing on to the second step after passing the victory to an undeserving Vettel. Australian fans were treated to finally seeing a fellow countryman on the podium. A quote from the past floated back in to my mind, as I watched Daniel Ricciardo holding up his second place trophy; "Not bad for a Number Two driver!" I half expected to glimpse, during Ricciardo's second pit stop, the eyes of Sebastian Vettel through the visor of the crew member at his right rear, a Dick Dastardly smirk playing across his lips as he pushed a drawing pin in to the tyre.

With the first Grand Prix of 2014 over, I would conclude that 1) I hate the new engine sounds, 2) the engine failures are frustrating, because it was something that had been almost completely eradicated from the sport, and 3) the nose cones look utterly ridiculous. The racing last season was exciting and Formula One didn't need to pander to the Environmentalists with troublesome hybrid engines. In my humble opinion, the FIA should have stuck to the mantra "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

Check out The F1 Spectator Australian GP podcast and listen to The F1 Spectator himself.

The Result:
16Nico RosbergMercedes571:32:58.710325
23Daniel RicciardoRed Bull Racing-Renault57+24.5 secs218
320Kevin MagnussenMcLaren-Mercedes57+26.7 secs415
422Jenson ButtonMcLaren-Mercedes57+30.0 secs1012
514Fernando AlonsoFerrari57+35.2 secs510
677Valtteri BottasWilliams-Mercedes57+47.6 secs158
727Nico HulkenbergForce India-Mercedes57+50.7 secs76
87Kimi RäikkönenFerrari57+57.6 secs114
925Jean-Eric VergneSTR-Renault57+60.4 secs62
1026Daniil KvyatSTR-Renault57+63.5 secs81
1111Sergio PerezForce India-Mercedes57+85.9 secs16
1299Adrian SutilSauber-Ferrari56+1 Lap13
1321Esteban GutierrezSauber-Ferrari56+1 Lap20
144Max ChiltonMarussia-Ferrari55+2 Laps17
Ret17Jules BianchiMarussia-Ferrari49+8 Laps18
Ret8Romain GrosjeanLotus-Renault43+14 Laps22
Ret13Pastor MaldonadoLotus-Renault29+28 Laps21
Ret9Marcus EricssonCaterham-Renault27+30 Laps19
Ret1Sebastian VettelRed Bull Racing-Renault3+54 Laps12
Ret44Lewis HamiltonMercedes2Engine1
Ret19Felipe MassaWilliams-Mercedes0Accident9
Ret10Kamui KobayashiCaterham-Renault0Accident14