Australian’s first podium finish taken away after car declared illegal
Nico Rosberg won, two world champions retired early and Melbourne celebrated the arrival of a home-grown hero on Sunday when Daniel Ricciardo finished second in a memorable 2014 Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park. And then it all went wrong…
Hours after the finish race stewards determined that the Australian’s Red Bull Renault had contravened the stringent new fuel regulations that apply to Formula 1’s brave new world in 2014.
Technical experts concluded that Ricciardo’s car had exceeded the fuel flow limits and that he should be excluded from the final results.
“Whatever the outcome I’m pleased with what I did today,” said Ricciardo as he left the circuit before the final result was declared. “It’s out of my control: I did the race and did my best.”
Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen was promoted to second on his F1 debut for McLaren Mercedes while teammate Jenson Button joined him in the top three.
If it takes something special to steal the headlines from the opening weekend of the AFL season, this was it: a race of drama, suspense and thrills with an uplifting conclusion for both the 100,500 spectators and a worldwide television audience measured in hundreds of millions. Despite the disappointing outcome, this was a resounding confirmation of Perth racer Ricciardo at the forefront of Australian sport.
Rosberg, the son of a flying Finn who races with a German licence, may have been triumphant, romping clear to claim his fourth career victory for pre-race favourites Mercedes, but both Ricciardo, in his first outing with champions Red Bull, and Magnussen of McLaren were also winners until the stewards decided otherwise.
Their performances loudly signalled the arrival of a new generation of drivers along with a new 'high tech' formula for the sport.
Behind the fresh-faced trio of wide-smiling speedsters seasoned champions Button and Fernando Alonso moved up to finish third and fourth for McLaren and Ferrari respectively ahead of another relative newcomer Valtteri Bottas, finishing a remarkable sixth (corrected to fifth) for Williams having lost a rear wheel from his car earlier in the race.
Williams therefore have already scored more points in 2014 than they did throughout 2013 while rookie Magnussen's magnificent performance made him the first Dane on a Formula One podium.
It meant also that a revitalised McLaren, back under the pit-wall watch of company chairman Ron Dennis, could put behind them a 2013 season in which they had failed to finish in the top three for the first time since 1980.
“We’re pleased,” said Dennis who was watching from the McLaren garage, “but we’re not ecstatic. “We save ecstatic for wins.”
Rosberg, who had started third behind his pole-sitting team-mate Briton Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, and Ricciardo, was delighted with his team and his victory. He snatched the lead from the start and produced a flawless exhibition of controlled driving at the front in a largely processional race.
"It has been an amazing time (for me) in Melbourne," he said. "The support has been fantastic, Daniel got more support than me, but that's normal!
"It has been an amazing day. Everyone has worked so hard over the winter and to have such an amazing Silver Arrow is unbelievable. It is so fast, it is a real pleasure to drive. The reliability was good and it's the perfect start to the season for me."
In the outpourings of delight, it was easy to forget that Hamilton had been forced to retire, due to engine failure, after labouring through only two laps and was followed into the unclassified list just one lap later by defending four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel, his Red Bull suffering a similar power failure.
None of that worried the new boys who took over at the top.
"Just two or three weeks ago, I would not have bet we would be standing up here," said Ricciardo. "But full credit to the team for an unbelievable turnaround and thanks to the Aussie fans. The support has been completely overwhelming."
Magnussen, mature beyond his 21 years, said: "it's hard to believe and it seems so surreal. The car was so much better than it has been and I had just exactly what we needed for the whole race. The preparation we have done has been fantastic. I have never had a Formula One race and you only get limited time testing so congratulations to the team for doing such a good job.... I only wish my father was here today."
Magnussen's father Jan drove one Grand Prix for McLaren in 1995 and in a career of 25 races twice competed at Albert Park – but on his son’s great day he was racing in his own right in the United States.
The celebrations did not end with Bottas' battling drive into the top six (he lost his right rear wheel when he brushed a wall after only 10 laps and returned to the pits on three wheels).
German Nico Hulkenberg finished a fine sixth for Force India ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, the Finn failing to impress on his return with Ferrari, while Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne drove his Toro Rosso to an impressive eighth.
Just behind him was his team-mate Russian Daniil Kvyat who produced another rousing result by a rookie to finish ninth on debut. At just 19 years, 10 months and 18 days, this native of Ufa in Bashkortostan became the youngest points-scorer in Formula One history, taking the record from Vettel.
With the final point going to Force India’s Sergio Perez, only 14 of the 22 starters finished. Both Lotus cars retired, as expected, and Kamui Kobayashi wrecked not only his own return race with Caterham, but the prospects of a fine drive from Felipe Massa, when his Caterham suffered suspected brake failure.
Massa was set to enjoy his first outing with Williams when the Japanese driver crashed into him on the very first corner.
In a race that included only one Safety Car intervention, Jules Bianchi, after 49 of the 57 laps, and Marcus Ericsson, after 27, also dropped out of the running for Marussia and Caterham respectively.
Five of the top seven finishers were powered by Mercedes, yet it was a Mercedes engine that let Hamilton down. His team's technical director Paddy Lowe said they were aware of a problem even before the race began. "The engine wasn't running on all cylinders," he said. "We knew that on the formation lap. Lewis didn't know, but we thought we'd see how the pace was."
A show that left Australian fans relishing an outburst of national pride best summed up by Ricciardo's reaction on the podium.
"G'day," he beamed. "Thanks," he told his team. "It's a blur, but it's really cool," he told the fans. Around six hours later his day took a completely different turn.