Practice Sessions, FP1:
The first practice session of the season and a nervous start for all the teams, to be honest. One could say, teams with Mercedes powertrain were fairly in a comfortable position, but as we saw with Lewis’ sensor issue on his first lap, his whole session was disrupted. It was a mixed bag for Renault powertrain teams, as on one side both RBR & STR ran well while on the other side both Lotus & Caterham didn’t run much due to various problems. Alonso set the early pace to top the session while Button and Bottas followed up with setting the P2 & P3 time. Sahara Force India had a good session as both the cars ran more than 20 laps without any issues apart from the minor spin from Perez. Hulkenberg went on to end at P11 with Perez just behind him at P12.
The session was quite promising for SFI as they ran consistently. They were running on high fuel, focusing more on the set-up rather than setting up fast times.
The second session is the session which I call as the real session where teams focus more on the long runs keeping in mind the Sunday’s race. The teams also try out the other compound for the weekend which they normally don’t use during the first session; they are generally the softer of the two compounds. As expected, we did see more number of laps from all the teams barring the Caterham duo & Pastor who were still troubled with issues. Lewis was back up and running as he went on to top the timesheet and he was joined by his teammate Nico at P2 while Alonso maintained the pace to end at P3. It was yet another fruitful session for SFI, running 69 laps and completing long runs for the race. The fastest lap times set by our drivers; however didn’t reflect the true pace as the fuel load was hard to determine; Hulkenberg finished at P10 while Sergio finished at P13. Hulkenberg’s run was cut short by few minutes in the end as he ended up at gravel due to late braking into the turn.
This session was mainly focused for long runs and asses the pace over a long period of time along with assessing the tyre wear on the cars. It is to be noted both the SFI cars were inside the top 5 in the speed traps. They were able to complete most of the scheduled work, completing a good day of testing and a good start to the race weekend.
This session can be called as the qualifying preparation session with most of the teams focusing on the one lap performance of the cars than the long runs. Some teams do go for long runs if they didn’t manage to complete their program on Friday. Nico topped the session for Mercedes, though it was astonishing to see that the P2 placed Button was some 1.2 seconds off Nico’s time. Alonso on the other hand continued to perform well ending at P3. SFI had a much better session in terms of clocking the fastest time than the first two sessions as Hulkenberg ended at P6 in the end while Perez ended at P9.
With both cars comfortably in the top 10, the team showed some good signs for the coming qualifying session. Once again we saw both drivers inside the top 6 in the speed traps. After the three FP’s, the team would have hoped to get both cars into Q3 and it was certainly possible.
The first qualifying session of the season and it was a rainy start. After Jerez, this was the first time that the teams were to run the intermediate/wet tyres. It was the first time for many of the drivers driving the new car on a wet track. As expected, some teams were caught out by the rain thereby failing to progress to Q2. Both the Marussia’s and Lotuses along with Marcus & Esteban were out in Q1 as the returning Kobayashi made it to Q2. It was a hard time for both the SFI drivers in the mixed conditions but they made it safely to Q2 in the end.
The track was still wet specially at the start of the second session. This session saw the fallout of some major drivers as the biggest being the reigning champion Vettel managing only P13. He was facing software issues and the double yellow flag caused by his friend Kimi made matters worse. Along with him & Kimi, it was also the end of Button’s run. As for SFI duo, Hulkenberg made steady progress to make it to the final leg of qualifying but Perez failed to improve thereby qualifying only at P16. Later on he admitted that traffic along with him missing the braking point at T3 didn’t allow him to improve his time in the end.
The final leg saw more rain as teams started off on full wets. It was an interesting strategy by Hamilton to stay on wets till the end when others changed to intermediates and perhaps that allowed Hamilton to snatch pole from Ricciardo and Rosberg. The lap from Hamilton was quite amazing as were the laps from the debutants Kevin at P4 & Kvyat at P8. Hulkenberg qualified a well P7 on his return to SFI, he did mention later that he felt pretty good driving on the wet track and that the car came up to speed quickly.
The expectation from pre-season testing was simple that SFI will make it to Q3 with both cars, it didn’t happen in Australia but it was still a good result for the team. The aim for race remains the same, firstly get a double point finish and then focus on a podium.
We have been waiting for this day all winter, isn’t it? More so this time because of all the big changes to the cars and the curiosity generated through the pre-season testing surely made us excited for the race. Coming back to the race in hand, it was turnaround weather wise in Australia as sun was shining with scattered clouds in the sky. The drama begun even before the race started as both the Marussia stopped at the starting grid forcing teams to do two formation laps. It was only the start of things to come as Rosberg took the lead in the race from Ricciardo and his teammate Hamilton who eventually retired from the race. Massa’s positive run with Williams ended before he could turn right at T1 when the returning Kobayashi suffered a technical failure to ram into the back of Massa, thereby both suffering a DNF. Meanwhile, Hulkenberg made strides to move up to P4 overtaking both Alonso & Hamilton in quick succession. Perez on the other hand was hit by his fellow countrymen Esteban, forcing him to pit at the end of lap 1 pushing him down to P16.
Rosberg was having a Vettel-like time infront as he started building up a big gap between him & Ricciardo as the debutant Kevin enjoyed his run at P3. After Hamilton’s early departure, curtains fell on Vettel too as his weekend went from bad to worse. The Ferrari’s although were keeping up with a good pace but were plagued with an electric issue which didn’t allow them to push harder and fight for track positions. The sole remaining Williams of Bottas was running nicely and at one point looked to be a certain contender for podium but a little kiss to the wall and a puncture pushed him back down the field, although he came back well in the points towards the end of the race.
Hulkenberg was cruising at P4 nicely for most part of the race but he came under serious threat during his last pit stop. He lost out to Alonso & Button in his last pit stop; Alonso came right infront of him after his stop but Hulkenberg didn’t have the pace to beat the Ferrari driver. As for Perez, he was always in the recovery mode after his early pit stop and he was hanging in well around the top 10 all the time. He did lose a bit of time behind Sutil, otherwise he could have challenged Kvyat for the last point.
Mercedes started their 2014 campaign with a pole and a win as Rosberg cruised to victory, claiming the first victory in the new turbo era. Ricciardo did finish P2 but was disqualified later on due to fuel intake infringement which handed McLaren a double podium finish with an impressive debut by young Kevin finishing his first race with a podium at P2 and Button following up at P3. Hulkenberg completed his first ever Australian GP race at P7; he was overtaken by the charging Bottas who salvaged P6 for the Williams. Perez initially ended at P11 but got promoted to P10, thereby securing double point finish for the team in the opening race.
A lot of fans are upset with the noise of the cars; I checked a video on Youtube to hear the difference in the noise. It is down yes but I think doesn’t sound that bad, it has got a bit of sports car sort of noise, a bit more smooth if I can add. Coming to the standings, Mercedes are clearly the team to beat here. I think Red Bull, McLaren & Williams are pretty much having the same pace while SFI are right behind this pack but we may see them with the pack more often in most of the races in the season. I think SFI will be satisfied with the first race because: a) they completed the whole race with both the cars without any issues & b) they achieved a double point finish in doing so.
Next race: Malaysian GP in two weeks time. Thanks.