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Team-by-Team Analysis: Australia – Part One

Team-by-Team Analysis: Australia – Part One

by March 18, 2014 0 comments

Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG Media

The first grand prix of the new era of Formula One kicked off on Sunday in Melbourne with the Rolex Australian Grand Prix. How did each team perform in Melbourne and who is looking strong as we turn our attention to the Malaysian Grand Prix? We analyze each team’s performance and make projections on how each team should perform in Sepang in two weeks.

 

MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS

After being the clear leaders in terms of pace throughout winter testing in Jerez and Bahrain, Mercedes have proven that their preseason speed was no fluke and have struck early, claiming victory in the Australian Grand Prix.

The weekend started off shaky for the team as Lewis Hamilton bailed out of the first free practice session on Friday halfway through his first lap; parking his car with an engine issue. The second Friday free practice session brought some relief to the team as both Hamilton and eventual race winner, Nico Rosberg, both took the top-two positions on the time sheet.

Both cars kept the pace up in qualifying with Hamilton taking the pole position, the 32nd of his career, and Rosberg qualifying in third.

While both cars clearly had the pace to win the race, Hamilton’s engine issues from FP1 returned as he turned into the pit lane to park the car after completing a mere two laps. Rosberg went on to dominate the race by leading flag-to-flag and winning by a 26.7 second margin.

Looking ahead to Malaysia, expect the same pace out of the Mercedes bunch. The team will be looking to remedy whatever issues were plaguing Hamilton’s engine throughout the weekend, and should they locate and fix the problem, Mercedes AMG Petronas could be in for a massive points haul in two weeks.

MCLAREN MERCEDES

If you take a look at this year’s Australian Grand Prix and compare McLaren Mercedes’ performance to their performances of last year, it’s easy to tell that they’re set for a big turnaround this season.

Partially buoyed by the strength of the Mercedes power plant within the new MP4-29 chassis, McLaren took two podiums in the first round of the Formula One season; making them the Constructors’ Championship leaders heading into Malaysia.

The team unloaded in Melbourne with fast cars; Jenson Button registered times within the top-five in all three practice sessions while rookie Kevin Magnussen floated around at the tail-end of the top-10 throughout all of his free practice sessions.

A brief hiccup in qualifying relegated Button to a 10th place starting position (gaining one position from a penalty issued to a car ahead) while the 21-year-old Magnussen started from the fourth position.

Upon the start of the race, Magnussen got off to a hairy start as the massive amounts of torque provided by the new 1.6 liter V6 engines threw his car sideways as he launched off the grid. The rookie made a quick recovery and then immediately began to chase down the leaders. Button quietly but effectively clawed his way up through the ranks as well. After a post-race ruling by the FIA on a Red Bull, Magnussen was scored second while Button brought his car home to a third-place.

Perhaps the greatest accomplishment for the Woking-based team is that they escaped the first weekend of the new season without suffering any sort of real reliability issues, clearing a major hurdle that effected so many teams this weekend.

With the car’s reliability proving itself thus far, McLaren should have another strong weekend in Malaysia. Should the car hold up, Button could go on to score his first victory in over a year or Magnussen could claim his maiden win.

SCUDERIA FERRARI

While Ferrari, like McLaren, had both of their drivers finish in the points in Melbourne, the team is not completely pleased with their performance.

Drivers Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen had quick cars throughout the weekend. Alonso posted practice times that evidenced that Ferrari had brought a car to Australia that could rival the power of the Mercedes team that paced pre-season testing, Räikkönen on the other hand did not share the same pace that his two-time World Champion teammate possessed.

Qualifying brought some troubles for Räikkönen, who took his F14T for a spin and nosing his car into the wall. The incident ended the 2007 World Champion’s day as he would end up starting the race from the 11th position; Alonso would start from fifth.

Through the help of attrition and cars that held together through the 57 lap event, Alonso brought his car home just shy of a podium in fourth while Räikkönen came home in seventh; both putting in relatively incident-free efforts.

During post-race interviews, both Ferrari drivers indicated that they were much more pleased that the cars survived the entire distance rather than where they placed. Alonso spoke to the press after the event saying that the team had to improve on their current pace in order to have a shot at beating the Mercedes-powered teams.

With the season still in its infancy, the teams are still taking baby steps towards reaching their full potential. Now that the Ferrari stable knows that their cars are capable of going the distance we could see the team push their cars a bit more in Malaysia, and in result, we could see one of the Ferraris reach the podium.

WILLIAMS MARTINI RACING

It was a bit of an up-and-down weekend for the newly branded Williams Martini Racing team.

Drivers Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa both showed their pace early in the weekend with the third and fourth fastest times in the first free practice session, respectively. For the second practice session the team slipped a little bit lower down the timesheet, with Bottas clocking in eighth quickest and Massa slipping to 12th.

Saturday’s 60-minute practice session required Bottas to make a gearbox change early, handing the Finn a five-place grid penalty for the race. Massa never was able to discover the car’s true pace in this practice session as he never had the opportunity to put in some laps on the softer dry tire compounds available for the weekend.

Later on that Saturday, Massa qualified the car in ninth position while Bottas qualified his car 10th. Bottas’ grid penalty set him back to 15th on race day.

Massa’s race ended early as he was taken out before entering the first corner on the first lap, a Caterham with a brake failure rammed the back of his FW36 chassis, destroying it.

Bottas, on the other hand, started to immediately pick off positions one-by-one, working his way into the top-10. Bottas clipped the Turn 10 wall during the middle of the race and suffered a tire puncture. The young Finn was not to be deterred as he was able to drive to the pits to get a new set of tires and power his way back through the field to ultimately finish fifth.

Melbourne was a missed opportunity for the Williams Martini team; the car is clearly quick enough to contend for podiums, as Bottas was able to prove with his resiliency to fight back after his puncture. While there’s not really such a thing as ‘do overs’ in Formula One, in Malaysia the team will have an opportunity to show off their true potential.

SAHARA FORCE INDIA

Force India flew relatively under the radar in their first race with returning Force India driver Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Pérez.

The team flirted with the top-10 during both of Friday’s free practice sessions, with Hülkenberg breaking through and placing 10th at the end of the second session. Saturday’s final practice session broke the team well into the top-10 as Hülkenberg placed sixth while Pérez put his car ninth fastest on the timesheet.

It became evident that the pace was there during qualifying. While Pérez stumbled and wound up 16th on the grid, Hülkenberg meanwhile maintained his FP3 pace and qualified his car in the seventh grid position.

Both Force Indias went on to have a solid race, with both drivers finishing in the points. Both Hülkenberg and Pérez kept their noses out of trouble while preserving their cars.

Force India may prove to be the sleeper team of 2014; while they were quick in testing, most of the attention went towards the larger Mercedes-backed teams such as McLaren and Williams. Now that the team has proven that they can contend for points, they should be able to do the same in Malaysia in two weeks should their cars hold up.

Hülkenberg’s past several races reaching back into 2013 have shown that he’s driving hungry; after missing out on drives with both Ferrari and Lotus, the 26-year-old German is out to prove that he is deserving of a top ride. Pérez should provide a strong challenge for him as well, the 24-year-old Mexican driver is looking to have a rebound year after having a slow season at McLaren.

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To be continued in Part Two.

Kyle Pokrefky
Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

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