March 15th, 2014 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - Nico Rosberg took a commanding and comforrtable victory in the 2014 Australian Grand Prix, leading from start to finish. But the crowd favourite was Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, who became the first Australian to stand on the podium in a World Championship race in Australia. Kevin Magnussen finished an impressive third on debut for McLaren.
The drama started before the race had even begun, when Max Chilton stalled his Marussia on the grid as the formation lap got underway. Chilton was pulled into the pit lane as the rest of the field went round for the warm-up lap, but when the grid formed up for the start, Jules Bianchi in the other Marussia stalled his engine.
The start was aborted, Bianchi was pulled into the pit lane and the field set off for a second formation lap. When the grid formed for the second attempt at a start, everything went smoothly and the first race of the 2014 Formula One season was underway.
Pole sitter Lewis Hamilton was slow off the line, while his team-mate, Nico Rosberg, surged from third to first well before the first corner. Hamilton's problems at the start would prove to be the fault of the car, not the driver, and would cause his retirement just a few laps into the race. \
Sebastian Vettel, 12th on the grid after struggling in qualifying, also had a slow start, problems with his electric power compromising the pace of his Red Bull right from the beginning of the race. He would also retire once it became clear that the car could not be competitive running on just petrol power.
After the drama before the start, there was further action in the first corner, when Kamui Kobayashi braked too late in his Caterham, locked up his tyres and clipped the back of Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari before cannoning into the Williams of Felipe Massa. It was the end of the race for Massa and Kobayashi, a pity for both as the Williams had looked quick throughout the weekend and Kobayashi had qualified well in the Caterham.
There was further action on the first lap, with cars spinning in turn 3. At the end of the lap, Jules Bianchi came into the pits seemingly to retire, but a few laps later he was back on track, albeit 6 laps down on the leaders.
Valtteri Bottas demonstrated the pace of this year's Williams by charging through the field in the first 10 laps. But then on lap 11 he clipped the wall with his right-rear tyre coming out of turn 10.
Although the impact did not look particularly significant, the wheel rim was damaged and the tyre came off the car, coming to rest in the middle of the track on the exit of the quick turn 12.
The safety car came out so that the tyre could be cleared from the track, and Bottas made it back to the pits, benefitting from the safety car period to not lose too much time recovering to the track.
After the safety car period, Bottas again charged through the field, making some impressive and decisive passes to end up in sixth place by the end of the race, his best ever race finish in Formula One. It was a well deserved points finish for the Williams team who worked so hard to turn their fortunes around after a miserable 2013.
It was a strong day for McLaren, with both cars finishing in the points and Kevin Magnussen on the podium. Magnussen's performance was reminiscent of Lewis Hamilton on debut back in 2007. Like Hamilton, Magnussen qualified fourth for his debut race and, again like Hamilton, Magnussen finished third. I
t was very nearly second, as Magnussen was tucked up behind Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull for much of the race, and particularly in the closing stages, but the Danish driver couldn't find a way past the Red Bull.
The hero of the day, at least as far as the Australian crowd was concerned, was Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo. He made a strong start, drove consistently and quickly throughout the race, barely put a wheel wrong and brought his Red Bull home in second place, becoming the first Australian in history to be on the podium in a World Championship grand prix in Australia.
Although Ricciardo clearly performed well in his own right, much credit must be given to Red Bull and Renault, who endured an appalling pre-season, never looking like they had reliability under control and barely managing to even get very long runs in during testing.
They have clearly worked hard to make the car reliable, and their work has paid off in the first race of the season.
Ferrari recorded a double points finish, which will please the team, but they would have liked to be higher up in the results. Fernando Alonso finished fifth from fifth on the grid, but the retirement of Lewis Hamilton handed him a place which he ultimately lost to Jenson Button's McLaren.
Kimi Raikkonen was eighth after some entertaining battles with Valtteri Bottas and the Toro Rosso pair of Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat. Raikkonen seemed to lack the pace to match Alonso during the race, which could have been the result of his first corner contact with Kobayashi.
Raikkonen was certainly struggling under braking, locking up his front tyres frequently, which could suggest a brake problem at the rear of the car, possibly caused by ERS harvesting.
Force India had a relatively strong day, with Nico Hulkenberg running as high as fourth in the opening laps of the race before finishing seventh. Sergio Perez in the other Force India finished 11th, just out of the points, albeit over 20 seconds behind 10th placed man Kvyat.
It was a strong day for Toro Rosso. After a pre-season of reliability issues, the team brought both cars home in the points. Vergne finished ninth, just 3 seconds ahead of debutant Kvyat, who became the youngest driver in F1 history to score a point, 25 days younger than Sebastian Vettel was when he scored his first points back in 2007.
In the end, a surprising number of cars finished the race, given the extensive regulation changes for this season. Of the 22 starters, 14 were classified finishers, while Jules Bianchi took the chequered flag for Marussia but was too far behind the leader to be classified after spending 6 laps in the pits having his car repaired early in the race.
At least one car finished from every team except Caterham and Lotus. And only Lotus had two reliability problems, with both cars retiring due to problems in their Energy Recovery Systems.
When all was said and done, the day belonged to Mercedes. Rosberg was untouchable at the front of the field, his car easily superior to the rest of the field. If not for Hamilton's engine problems, it would almost certainly have been an easy 1-2 for Mercedes.
All F1 seasons are effectively development races, but this season will be even more so due to how new the technology in the cars is. So Mercedes has the advantage for now, but it could be taken away from them in quite short order.
Nonetheless, they will be delighted with their start to the season, and will be looking to take that momentum forward to the next race in Malaysia in two weeks' time.
Full results from the 2014 Australian Grand Prix:
|2||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing||58||+24.5 secs||2||18|
|3||20||Kevin Magnussen||McLaren||58||+26.7 secs||4||15|
|4||22||Jenson Button||McLaren||58||+30.0 secs||10||12|
|5||14||Fernando Alonso||Ferrari||58||+35.2 secs||5||10|
|6||77||Valtteri Bottas||Williams||58||+47.6 secs||15||8|
|7||27||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||58||+50.7 secs||7||6|
|8||7||Kimi Räikkönen||Ferrari||58||+57.6 secs||11||4|
|9||25||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||58||+60.4 secs||6||2|
|10||26||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||58||+63.5 secs||8||1|
|11||11||Sergio Perez||Force India||58||+85.9 secs||16|
|12||99||Adrian Sutil||Sauber||57||+1 Lap||13|
|13||21||Esteban Gutierrez||Sauber||57||+1 Lap||20|
|14||4||Max Chilton||Marussia||56||+2 Laps||17|
|Ret||17||Jules Bianchi||Marussia||50||+8 Laps||18|
|Ret||8||Romain Grosjean||Lotus||44||+14 Laps||22|
|Ret||13||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus||30||+28 Laps||21|
|Ret||9||Marcus Ericsson||Caterham||28||+30 Laps||19|
|Ret||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing||4||+54 Laps||12|