For six hours today, F1 made just about the perfect start to its new hybrid ‘green’ era. A good race — not a great one, but good one certainly — with plenty of drama, lots of new faces and a dominant winner that wasn’t driving a Red Bull. To see Mercedes’Nico Rosberg surrounded by Daniel Ricciardo and Kevin Magnussen (making their debuts for RBR and McLaren, the latter in his first ever F1 race) on the podium, and knowing Valtteri Bottas might have been there too, was to have a sense of a new era, not about technology — MGU-Ts and MGU-Hs and all that — but about drivers. As it should be.
Six hours later second place driver, local hero Ricciardo, was disqualified from the results. Talk about a buzz kill. On the face of it Red Bull’s crime is pretty heinous. The new rules this year not only stipulate each car can use no more than 100kg fuel in a race but re-enforce the rule with a fuel flow limit of 100kg per hour. Ricciardo’s RB10 “consistently” exceeded the fuel flow rate throughout the race according the FIA. However it’s emerged the team, the FIA and its FIA flow-meter had history throughout the Australian GP meeting. Red Bull has said it will appeal. Here we go again.
The disqualification promoted Jenson Button to third and Magnussen to second, matching the record for a rookie in his first ever F1 race. Is this the new F1 hero? Two drivers on the podium is, of course, two more than McLaren managed in the whole of last season. With Force India’s Sergio Perez promoted from 11th the new ‘official’ top ten today was: ROS, MAG, BUT, ALO, BOT, HUL, RAI, VER, KVY, PER.
KVY? That will be Daniil Kyvat who became today, at 19 years, 10 months and 11 days the youngest-ever point scorer in an F1 race. It was a day for F1 to get its new face on.
The Armageddon scenario, where either a) no cars finished or b) those that did were just cruising, simply didn’t happen. That may have been partly down to the safety car, caused by the races’ other hero, Bottas, who hit the wall while spectacularly making his way back up from his penalised 15th on the grid. He lost a tyre, then a rim and then, temporarily the momentum. But then he just got back on it and did it all over again, just as spectacularly, to finish fifth. Bottas is only in his second season don’t forget, and his first in a decent car.
Ricciardo, Magnussen, Bottas in the top five (at the flag at least) and it’s not exactly as if Nico Rosberg feels part of the older generation, but he possibly will do the end of this year. The W05 is the class of the field and Rosberg’s ran like a dream today, faster off the line than the two cars ahead of him and on the front row, and then apparently easy on both its fuel and on its tyres and comfortably ahead at the end. Get used to seeing Mercs win. In qualifying Rosberg was perspiring like there was no tomorrow but after the race today? It appeared neither car nor driver felt the need to break sweat at all.
There was plenty of panic at the start, however. Romain Grosjean’s Lotus and Max Chilton’s Marussia were already lining up all the way back in the pit lane when the red lights started their first cycle, only to abort when Jules Bianchi in the other Marussia cut out. Cue parade lap two, and a chance to hear a panic-stricken Sebastian Vettel letting the team know his Red Bull RB10 was already playing up; “Is it right I have no power? Do something!”
The second start was good, only it was apparent Lewis Hamilton was in trouble, and he started to fall back almost immediately. Meanwhile Magnussen came close to having the startline shunt to end them all, when his MP4-29’s torque caught him out and he slid luridly right across the pack. Some save. He’d go on to lead Hamilton into the first corner. Having started his first ever F1 race for McLaren in fourth place, just as Lewis Hamilton did seven years ago.
Hamilton’s problems were terminal and despite some “Come in! NO! Wait! Stay out!” comedy it was apparent his race was run. These new powertrains still need a good old internal combustion engine at their heart, and still need all six of their cylinders firing. With a race-rusty Kobayashi taking out Felipe Massa on the brakes into turn one we were soon six cars down, albeit most of them for proper old-school reasons (accident or misfire).
14 cars went on to finish the race after, predictably, the Lotuses both retired. But there was plenty of racing, and, with a little bit of help from the safety car, racing without to much need to cruise. Indeed, we got a taste of how fuel tactics will play out this year when McLaren tried to get their new boy past Ricciardo, first telling him to use the overtaking button, then suggesting a couple of laps with the mix turned down followed by another brace on maximum attack. It was gripping stuff.
There’s no reason to think Ricciardo’s over-rich RB10 mix was what kept him ahead of Magnussen’s MP4-29, and of course neither were even close to Rosberg’s W05. So have we switched one dominant team — Red Bull — for another, Mercedes? Well, currently yes. But let’s not put a further downer on proceedings. Lewis will be back, and the team have made it clear their two drivers can race each other. They will, because they will have to if they don’t want to get swallowed by the pack behind. Rosberg was 24 secs down the road today, but it’s hard to think he or Hamilton will have a similar advantage in Malaysia in a fortnight.
Regulation cock-ups aside, Red Bull are clearly on the way back. Just 15 days ago the team lost an entire day’s testing because it could not get the RB10 started. You might think progress like that would keep Vettel happy. But maybe today’s grumpiness is what the team needs. McLaren meanwhile, with Button joining Magnussen on the ‘podium’, are currently leading the constructor’s championship, a minor miracle after last year.
Ferrari says it is very aware of why neither of its two champs were really in the race today, with Alonso eventually promoted to fourth and Raikkonen to eighth, either side of Bottas and Hulkenberg’s racey Force India. Both Toro Rossos were also in the top ten, but maybe none of the above were the best of the rest…
We lost count, but Valtteri Bottas’ beautiful Martini Williams maybe passed 20 cars today. He could have/should have been on the podium. He will be, soon.