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F1 2015: Australian GP Review – Mercedes Canter to Oz Victory

If winter testing was anything to go by, then few would’ve expected the surprising war of attrition in the first round of the 2015 Formula 1 season.

Even before the Australian GP got underway three drivers failed to make it to the grid.

Williams’ Valtteri Bottas was deemed unfit to race by the FIA medical delegate after the Finn suffered a slight muscle tear in his lower back.

In the event that Bottas will not be able to participate at the Malaysian grand prix the team will have to employ a reserve driver for the task. Susie Valterri Bottas, Australian GP QualifyingWolff has been ruled out of the equation as she only fulfils the role of test and development driver. Red Bull’s Danill Kvyat ground to a halt on the way to his grid slot with a suspected gearbox issue.

The Saturday Australian GP qualifying session was far from decent for the McLaren team whose cars were the slowest qualifiers on the day. If it didn’t seem possible to get any worse Kevin Magnussen’s McLaren Honda made it all of a couple hundred meters out of the pitlane before expiring as huge plumes of smoke poured from the back before the race.

The first corner was no less dramatic as Pastor Maldonado ended up in the turn two barriers with significant damage. A handful of minutes later the sister Lotus of Romain Grosjean pulled in to the garage with a loss of power. Grosjean was still quite chipper despite the double retirement and it has a lot to do with the car that Lotus has built for 2015. The long faces and awkward shoulder shrugs of 2014 are long gone for a team who truly have made a significant step forward. The first round of the season is always a tricky one, as RoGro rightly pointed out. It’s unfortunate that the Lotus’ weren’t able to showcase their progress but there is no doubt that will be right in the thick of the mid-team battle.

The rookies weren’t too shabby either. Yes, only eleven cars made it to the chequered flag but managing an F1 car in today’s technological era is a rather complicated assignment. To do that while defending, or in some cases attacking, drivers far more experienced and still keeping it on the road is a job well done. Max Verstappen was set to become the youngest ever points scorer only to be felled by a mechanical issue. Team mate Carlos Sainz Jr gave Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen a bit of a punt at the first corner but apart from that lapse he was solid and brought the Toro Rosso home in ninth.

Australian Grand Prix, Carlos Sainz Jr vs Sergio PerezIn their decades long presence it’s safe to say that the Sauber team experienced one of the most challenging weeks in their existence. A menacing battle in the Victoria State court hung over the team for the majority of the Australian GP weekend as Giedo van der Garde staked his rightful claim on a race seat. Somehow, the team and van der Garde reached a sort of understanding and the focus was transferred back to the track. Rookie driver Felipe Nasr shone on his debut with a faultless drive into fifth place while team mate Marcus Ericsson pulled off a few tasty overtakes to finish in eighth. This result deserves a bit of recognition if you consider that Sauber was unable to score a single point in the entire 2014 season.

If you were watching a television broadcast of the Australian GP you wouldn’t have seen much of the Mercedes duo but don’t be disappointed because neither did the rest of the field. Hardly bothered Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg strolled towards the chequered flag for yet another dominant one-two victory. Hamilton’s race was dotted with a few trivial threats from Rosberg on occasion but the German never got close enough to really make the reigning champion bat an eye. It is early days yet in the Hamilton/Rosberg battle but it was a decidedly effortless drive from Hamilton who simply managed the 58 laps towards inevitable victory.

F1 Australian GP, Sebastian Vettel on the podium for FerrariHalf a minute behind, or eons as it’s known in F1 terms, Sebastian Vettel held off Williams’ Felipe Massa in his scarlet Ferrari to finish third in his first race for the prancing horse. Throughout the weekend Vettel’s absolute delight at being a Ferrari driver was almost palpable. The way he got down to business and the general joviality from the German is especially obvious.

Alas, a combination of issues ensured that Kimi Raikkonen’s Australian GP race did not go according to plan. The hit from Sainz into turn one sent the car into anti-stall dropping the Finn down the field and later on a slow first pitstop lost the former champion roughly fifteen seconds. Raikkonen was making his way back through the field, at quite a clip, only to be forced into retirement with a loose left-rear wheel following his second stop.

It was a disappointing turn for the team who has now confirmed their resurgence. Even though the Albert Park circuit is unique from the rest of the tracks on the calendar the Ferrari is a quick car. It isn’t Mercedes quick, nothing is, but the team will be buoyed by the pace that both drivers were able to turn. No one was sure whether the dramatic overhaul of the team was going to make a positive difference. It hasn’t just made a difference, this team seems completely transformed. There is real sense of optimism and dare I say even happiness from the Ferrari garage.

Australian Grand Prix, Jenson Button vs Sergio PerezThe days of championship glory seem inordinately far removed from the 2015 McLaren team. Where previously nothing less than victory would have sufficed, now they see getting to the end of the race as “a massive step forward”. Jenson Button finished eleventh but that is stone dead last and even if tyre performance is taken into account he was still four seconds off the pace in qualifying. If there is a shred of a positive to the weekend for McLaren it’s the fact that they have gained valuable information about the car’s performance.

Even more surprising than McLaren’s Honda woes is Red Bull’s downturn in form and Adrian Newey is placing the blame squarely on Renault’s shoulders. “We’ve got an engine which is quite a long way behind with no obvious light at the end of the tunnel with all sorts of failings,” said Newey. Daniel Ricciardo is already using the second of his four allotted power units and complained throughout the Australian GP weekend of bad driveability. “In terms of pace we’re not one second off, it’s more 2s, 2.5s off,” said Ricciardo.

christian-hornerThroughout the past twelve months team principal Christian Horner, Helmut Marko and Adrian Newey have vilified Renault. To question the manufacturer’s commitment and to call its power unit rubbish every chance you get doesn’t seem like the way to encourage a good working relationship.

Realistically speaking Red Bull were roughly two tenths a lap faster than Toro Rosso in Australia who share the same power unit. Whereas Mercedes were 1.4 seconds a lap quicker than Williams who also run a Mercedes engine. For that reason it couldn’t be all evil Renault’s fault but they are a convenient scapegoat.

About Natalie Le Clue

Natalie Le Clue is an F1 aficionado of the most dedicated vein. And, true to form for any F1-enamoured junkie, she readily admits to crying the first time she saw a F1 car, calling it an ‘overwhelming moment’. Natalie has won the 2010 gSport Woman In Media award, the 2015 Woman In Media Print award, and has been named as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in South African Sport by the Department of Sport and Recreation. Natalie is currently serving as SAfm's F1 correspondent. Follow Natalie on Twitter @nlc27

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  1. […] Sainz Jr got his Formula One career off to a fantastic start by scoring points on his debut at the Australian Grand Prix. He then followed that with yet more points in Malaysia. Red Bull presents this short clip looking […]


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