What the F1 teams and drivers are saying ahead of Sunday’s 2014 Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix
Dramatic change? That’s Ferrari’s Technical Director Pat Fry talking ahead of the first race of a new era in Formula 1.
New ‘powertrains’, restrictions on fuel consumption, complex systems – all will challenge teams and drivers, as Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso also acknowledges.
“I think the concept of what constitutes a Grand Prix will actually change this year, with Saturday and Sunday being very different from one another,” says the Spaniard who won here for Renault in 2006.
“In qualifying, one will be able to get everything out of the car, pushing the new power unit to the limit, trying to get the absolutely best result. But in the race you won’t get anywhere near that level.”
That’s because there is more to worry about now than merely the state of your Pirelli tyres.
“In the closing stages this year, you will have to bear in mind how much fuel you have left, the state of the batteries and that of the tyres,” Alonso adds. “You will need to be very clever to manage these parameters and the new race strategies could see drivers being unable to go flat out to the end.”
Lotus driver Romain Grosjean sums it all up rather more simply. “These cars are even more complicated than people first thought,” says the Frenchman, whose teammate Kimi Raikkonen won here last year – but has now returned to Ferrari.
As Grosjean suggests, sheer reliability is going to be the dominant issue in the first four fly-away races, where the teams face severe constraints on what they can do to change and improve the cars before the development race begins in earnest back in Europe.
That’s one reason why three-time Melbourne winner Jenson Button is looking forward to bringing his McLaren MP4-29 out to play this week.
“Even with stable regulations, Melbourne is usually unpredictable,” says the 2009 World Champion.
“This year, I don’t think anybody knows quite what to expect – will we see more than half the field at the end of the race? Will we see good, close racing? Will the pecking order pan out as we expect? Those are all questions that we’ve yet to see answered, and part of what makes for such a fun weekend.”
For three drivers the changes matter less because they have nothing to compare them with – because they will all be experiencing a Formula 1 race for the first time here in Melbourne this week.
One is Button’s own teammate Kevin Magnussen.
“It’s crazy to even think about racing in Melbourne,”’ says the 21-year-old Dane, the latest son of a Grand Prix racing driver to come through in his own right.
“I’ve never been to Australia before, and the Grand Prix has always been something that I’ve watched very early in the morning on TV back in Europe. To not only be arriving in a new country, but also taking part in the Grand Prix is incredibly exciting.”
Magnussen has impressed in pre-season testing as the Mercedes-powered cars all did, but the Renaults have struggled.
In fact back-markers Caterham have been the most reliable of the French-powered runners, and one of them is our second new boy. That’s Sweden’s Marcus Ericsson, now 23 and teammate to returning Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi.
“I’m so excited about my debut season in F1 starting, and in Australia, a country with a lot of F1 history and seriously passionate fans, that’s just going to be cool,” says Ericsson, a graduate from feeder category GP2.
“We’ve done everything we can to prepare, but, honestly, I don’t think you can ever prepare for what it’ll feel like in the car, sitting on the grid as the lights go out in my debut race – however, that feeling will go very quickly and I know I’m ready to race.
“By the end of the tests our reliability was best of the Renault teams and we ran through a race simulation, including the formation lap procedure, starts and pit-stops, so with the mileage we completed in both Bahrain tests, we’re as ready as we can be.”
Another young man paying his first visit to Australia is Daniil Kvyat, the GP3 champion from Russia who has taken over the seat vacated by Dan Ricciardo at Toro Rosso. He is as excited by the place as by the occasion.
“I hope to find time to visit the city,” says Kvyat. “I’ll have to get a fridge magnet to add to my collection!
“As to how the race might go, it’s much too early to say. This year, no one has any idea what to expect.”
They said it…