Opening race of 2014 F1 season brings 'fascination'

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Nico Rosberg won the opening race of this year's Formula 1 season in Australia yesterday. TV commentators spoke of "fascination throughout the field" as big names retired and new names proved themselves.

Nico Rosberg, who won yesterday's race, pictured practicing last year.

Former champion Lewis Hamilton qualified on pole but problems were evident by the second lap when he received a team radio message telling him "we need to retire... save the engine, save the engine!" Another followed rapidly, however, telling him to "just stay out, stay out, just keep on rolling". Hamilton left the race on the fourth lap.

Reigning champion Sebastian Vettel did not fare much better, having only qualified twelfth, with engine woes of his own. He too quit the race in the early stages, staying behind to watch the race and, according to commentator and retired Scottish F1 racer David Coulthard, learn what he could from the sidelines.

Vettel and Hamilton were not the only stars retiring early. Veteran racer Felipe Massa was rammed from behind by Kobiashi's Caterham, sending both cars out and prompting deployment of yellow flags for several laps while the debris was recovered. The crash was triggered by Kobiashi clipping Kimi Raikkonen, damaging the front of Kobiashi's car. Raikkonen stayed in the race and managed to finish eighth. The first ten cars over the finish line score points towards both the driver's and constructor's championships.

Cquote1.svg I apologise to Felipe Cquote2.svg

—Kobiashi accepts responsibility for the first-lap accident

Coulthard and fellow commentators believe Kobiashi, who took responsibility for the accident, may receive points on his racer's licence in a new system to deal with transgressions introduced this year. Kobiashi called the crash "My mistake[... I] should have braked earlier, and I apologise to Felipe". Massa said Kobiashi "cannot do a start like that, every time" he does so will lead to an accident.

More drama followed shortly after when Valteri Bottas clipped a wall on lap 10, breaking the rim of his back-right wheel. The rim was left on the track, followed shortly thereafter by the tyre off the wheel. The safety car was deployed for several laps until the debris was recovered. Despite the setback Bottas climbed back up the standings and finished in sixth place.

Many drivers, including cars at the front of the pack, took advantage of the safety car period to do pit stops. Some are now considering using less fuel than the maximum allowance in a move the FIA never expected technologically possible when drafting the rules several years ago.

An overview of the road around Albert Park, used for the race

It was a day for débutantes at Albert Park, a street circuit where racing took place in close proximity to busy public roads. Newcomer Kevin Magnussen scored third place on his first F1 race, while fellow rookie Daniil Kvyat came in tenth and became the youngest-ever F1 points scorer. Kvyat takes the record from Vettel by several months while Magnussen becomes the first Dane on an F1 podium.

Cquote1.svg [it is] such a pleasure to have such a fast car Cquote2.svg

—Race winner Nico Rosberg

Not every débutante was so lucky; Caterham driver Marcus Eriksson dropped out of his first race after being radioed "Stop the car, stop the car, engine oil pressure". Established racers Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean, both Lotus drivers, also stopped with technical trouble. All three cars pulled up at the side of the track on different laps, each triggering yellow flags. Despite the retirements, fourteen cars finished which was more than some commentators were expecting.

Hamilton was upbeat about his retirement, saying "It's tough for everyone but that's the way it is" and adding "We're not the only ones [to have difficulties]". Vettel was more pessimistic, claiming this is "going to be a long season". Asked about the cause of his engine troubles, Hamilton said "One of the cylinders, I think, was not firing".

The race was unusual from start to finish, having been shortened by one lap after the first start was aborted by amber lights instead of just green. The end is more controversial; home driver Daniel Ricciardo scored his first-ever Australian Grand Prix podium finish in second place but was later disqualified for an alleged breach of fuel regulations. Ricciardo had been the first Australian driver to stand on the podium in his home country since Formula 1 brought the event into the championship format used today.

2011 portrait of Ricciardo, who came second only to be disqualified.

His disqualification is not final, however. His team, Red Bull, have vowed to appeal. If the appeal fails all the drivers below him move up one position, meaning first-time entrant Magnussen will have come in second place and Kvyat will be ninth. That would see Sergio Perez score a point for Force India by moving into tenth. Perez's race was hampered early by a puncture picked up in the opening lap.

Cquote1.svg I'm really proud of what I did today. There are more positives than negatives Cquote2.svg

—Daniel Ricciardo as he awaited a decision on disqualification

Ricciardo was reported to the stewards by technical delegate Jo Bauer who claimed his car "exceeded consistently the maximum allowed fuel flow of 100kg/h". 100kg is also the maximum fuel allowed on board cars, a new limit set for this season. The fuel flow rule is also new this year; F1 cars averaged about 170kg/h last year.

Ricciardo was disqualified after five hours of steward deliberations. Red Bull have hit back with a statement saying many teams have found the FIA's fuel flow meter to be faulty. They say they are "confident the fuel supplied to the engine is in full compliance with the regulations." Today Andrew Westacott, chief executive of the Australian Grand Prix, said the appeal outcome may not be known for weeks.

Prior to Ricciardo's disqualification, the remaining point-scorers were Jensen Button in fourth, Fernando Alonso in fifth, Nico Hulkenberg in seventh, and Jean-Eric Vergne in ninth.

Racers and fuel rules were not the only things fresh for this race. Williams are on the back of their worst-ever season and have changed their livery to brighter, whiter cars. Another new innovation is the introduction of red lights on the rear of cars that blink when the vehicle is not using electricity, warning the car behind of possible deceleration. F1 cars also now sport hybrid turbo engines.

Rosberg, speaking after what is his first Australian victory, said it is "Such a pleasure to have such a fast car." He came a full 24 seconds ahead of Ricciardo. It is also the hundredth victory by an F1 car powered by a Mercedes engine.

"Whatever the outcome I'm really proud of what I did today", Ricciardo said as he awaited the stewards' disqualification decision. "There are more positives than negatives".


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Some information contained in this article was obtained from television, radio, or live webcast sources. Reporter's notes and the broadcast source details are available at the collaboration page.
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