Experience was the key factor when the ‘new’ F1 hit the Albert Park track, says Tim Collings.
Experience showed in Friday's opening session at the 2014 Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix when Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button topped the times as the teams made a cautious start to the 'new era' at Albert Park.
Alonso and Button have started more than 450 Grands Prix between them and are the most experienced drivers in the field, an invaluable asset when the rules have been so heavily revised.
The Spaniard, who was first out into action, clocked a best lap of one minute and 31.840 seconds to go quickest in his Ferrari, half a second ahead of Briton Button's McLaren with Finn Valtteri Bottas third ahead of his new Williams team-mate Brazilian Felipe Massa.
Australia's Daniel Ricciardo was fifth for his new Red Bull team and German Nico Rosberg of Mercedes sixth after seeing his team-mate Briton Lewis Hamilton stop on track in the opening three minutes.
Two-hundred-and-sixteen race veteran Alonso was followed into the unknown by a debutant in Kevin Magnussen of Denmark, for McLaren.
Both completed installation laps during which the traditional roaring whine of Formula One engines was unheard, a clear signal that the sport has entered a new high-tech era in which there is less impact on the eardrums.
Within two minutes, as only a cluster of drivers ventured out in their new machines, the 2008 World Champion Lewis Hamilton became the first man to suffer an on-track breakdown, his Mercedes slowing to a halt between Turns 8 and 9 after suffering what appeared to be an engine failure.
"The car's stopped," the 29-year-old Briton told his team by radio. "Some smoke out of the back." The team responded immediately. "Looks like we've got an engine kill."
After an impressive show in pre-season testing, Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate German Nico Rosberg were the pre-race favourites.
The team later said an oil pressure alarm led to a precautionary engine shut-down for a frustrated Hamilton, who kept his helmet on as he made his way back to the paddock.
It was a full 15 minutes before Daniel Ricciardo gave the crowd something to cheer by clocking the first flying lap in his Red Bull, the Australian recording a time of 1:37.290.
Magnussen and Valtteri Bottas of Williams were soon following the Perth racer's example with timed laps that raised the tempo after a desultory start to proceedings ahead of Sunday's race.
For the fans, it was like watching cautious swimmers dipping their limbs into cold water before taking the plunge.
Alonso demonstrated his and Ferrari's confidence by moving to the top of the times after 25 minutes ahead of Rosberg, the pair swapping positions with improved laps before Jenson Button, a three-time winner at Albert Park, emerged with competitive speed in his McLaren.
By the half-hour mark, he was third fastest but fewer than half of the cars had joined the fray.
Fifteen minutes later, however, Button found the pace to top the times ahead of Alonso and Ricciardo, the young Australian having delivered a sequence of laps badly needed by the Red Bull team as they sought to recover from a poor pre-season.
Defending four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel finally emerged for an installation lap after 45 of the 90 minutes after which Felipe Massa, the only Brazilian in the field, took over second place for Williams.
By this stage both Renault drivers, along with Hamilton and three other men, had not clocked flying laps and Romain Grosjean, the improved Frenchman who had impressed on his way to seventh in the championship last year, had not sat in his car which remained on jacks.