Rookie drivers stole some of the spotlight in qualifying for today’s 2014 Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix
The scene: the Albert Park F1 paddock, mid-evening on Saturday. Rubens Barrichello, veteran of 323 Grand Prix starts, winner of 11 of them for Ferrari and now expert TV commentator, is talking to a fresh-faced youngster in the McLaren hospitality area.
Did Kevin Magnussen call him ‘Uncle Rubens’? He might have – Barrichello was Jan Magnussen’s teammate when they were both in the early days of their own F1 careers at Stewart back in 1997.
“It’s great to see Jan in the car,” beamed the Brazilian, “but I told him they should give me a car – I’m still faster than the whole family!”
While Dan Ricciardo hogged the limelight with a brilliant front-row effort in qualifying, Magnussen staked an early claim for the Rookie of the Year title by planting the McLaren – one of the most lacklustre cars of 2013 – on the second row for the first race of 2014.
“It was much trickier than anything I’ve ever done!” said the 21-year-old who comes into F1 as the reigning Formula Renault 3.5 champion.
“I’m proud of myself, but also proud of the whole team for doing such a massively good job of preparing me over the winter.”
Magnussen’s achievement was thrown into sharper focus when teammate and triple Melbourne winner Jenson Button was caught out by the yellow flags triggered by Kimi Raikkonen’s ‘moment’ in his Ferrari late in Q2 and failed to make it into Q3 (JB will start 10th after Valtteri Bottas was demoted for a gearbox change).
“Kevin’s well placed to drive a memorable first Grand Prix,” said new McLaren Racing Director Eric Boullier—and the boy himself is aiming high.
“Getting onto the podium won’t be easy,” said Magnussen, “especially if it’s dry. But if it’s wet, anything can happen…”
Two years behind the Dane in the age stakes is Russian teen Daniil Kvyat, who grabbed his own share of the headlines by qualifying just two places behind Toro Rosso teammate Jean-Eric Vergne – with both cars firmly in the top 10 in sixth and eighth.
“This is definitely a big step forward,” said the GP3 champion with a fair dose of understatement. “I’m very happy for the team, who did a fantastic job also from the strategy side.”
Technical Director James Key admitted Toro Rosso didn’t get as much as they might have from Pirelli’s option tyres but was delighted with his drivers’ efforts.
“We’ve had a long road to come to this point after winter testing,” said Key, “and to start the first race with both cars in Q3 is a very positive way to start the new season.”
Kvyat could also be forgiven a quiet smile of satisfaction when he looked at the starting grid. On Friday he incurred the wrath of World Champion Sebastian Vettel on track; on Saturday he out-qualified the Red Bull man by five positions.
Marcus Ericcson, the third 2014 rookie driver, may not have made it to the heights the other two reached, but just getting into the race can be seen as a minor victory of sorts – his Caterham team couldn’t get him out for any meaningful practice at all on Friday.
The 23-year-old Swede will start from 20th spot – only the Lotuses were in even worse shape – and as always his teammate was the immediate measure of his progress.
“Finishing within eight-tenths of Kamui is exactly what I’d aimed for today,” said Ericsson, “and to do that with so little running in FP1 and FP2 means a lot to me and the team who’ve worked so hard to get us here.
“Sunday will be a lot better than maybe it had looked on Friday night!”