Familiar names rise to top as F1’s new era gets under way
New order? What new order? Four of F1’s biggest names topped the times when the 2014 Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix got into its stride on Friday.
Pre-season favourites Mercedes confirmed their status as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg came out on top, with Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari just behind – and Red Bull Racing dismissed rumours of near-terminal trouble with their Renault engines with Sebastian Vettel in fourth place.
Add in Jenson Button’s McLaren – also Mercedes-powered – and Dan Ricciardo in the second Red Bull in fifth and sixth and it looks as if little has changed in the pecking order while almost everything has changed on the cars.
Performance or reliability? That’s one of the questions for engineers and drivers to solve ahead of the new season and the two sessions at Albert Park underlined that delicate balancing act.
When the reliability part was answered – not to everyone’s satisfaction – in the first free practice session, the second saw a number of drivers go in pursuit of outright lap times.
Hamilton illustrated the dilemma beautifully: in the first 90-minute session he completed just one lap before his Mercedes expired and had to be brought back to the pits.
In the second session Hamilton started late, racked up 17 laps and rocketed to the top of the times with a 1:29.625 just past the halfway stage – making it a Mercedes 1-2 as Nico Rosberg had previously led on 1:29.782.
The two men then completed a total of 36 and 31 laps respectively but those times were never bettered – by them or anyone else.
Vettel, plagued by poor reliability in the pre-season tests, mirrored Hamilton’s day: just 10 laps in the opening session but the World Champion racked up 41 laps in the second while his new Aussie teammate fired in 64 of his own.
Encouragingly for Ricciardo in his first race weekend as partner to Vettel, the West Australian was within two-tenths of the four-time title-winner and quicker than him in the opening hour and a half.
In the end the gap between the two Silver Arrows was a mere 0.157 seconds, while Alonso was half-a-second off Hamilton’s pace.
Some were slower to get off the mark than others. Neither Caterham driver could achieve a significant lap, both Kamui Kobayashi and Marcus Ericsson spending most of their time in civvies in the garage, while Pastor Maldonado’s first race weekend with Lotus began with a whimper as well, underlining the complexity of the new machinery.
Maldonado’s teammate Romain Grosjean got out for some serious running one-third of the way through FP2 but the inherently unstable nature of the E22 was in evidence as the Frenchman ran wide, locked up more than once and eventually ended up beached in the gravel at Turn 3 just as the session ended. Also out was Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg at Turn 9.