Winners and Losers: Australia


It only took one grand prix for Sauber rookie Felipe Nasr to bag his first points and his first Star of the Race…

 Star of the Race
Felipe Nasr, Sauber, 5th

This is why we love F1. On a weekend when everything looked bleak for Sauber they turned things round spectacularly. As late as Saturday morning they were facing court proceedings, including jail for Contempt of Court for their team boss Monisha Kaltenborn. The Giedo van der Garde contract  row looked to be a dreadful mess, something  the team had hoped would be swept under the carpet in the rush to get to Melbourne. As we read, over the course of the weekend, Giedo van der Garde was as resistant to being steam-rollered as the Giedo Fawkes website. (That’s the one with almost a million signatures supporting Jeremy Clarkson).
Not running either C34 in FP1 lost the team 180 minutes of set-up time, but they continued to show their strong form from Barcelona qualifying. Felipe Nasr looked sharp, with a good get away and some opportunistic passes through Turns 1 and 2 on the opening lap. And no mistakes in the rest of the race, despite strong pressure from Daniel Ricciardo, a guy who’s not easily held back.
Sauber now leave the Australian Grand Prix with a 5th place and an 8th place, and sit third in the Constructors’ Championship with 14 points – ahead of Williams. Nobody needs telling that it’s 14 points more than they got last year and the only successful result for anything sporting a Chelsea badge in the last seven days.

 Overtaking Move of the Race
Lap 55: Marcus Ericsson, Sauber  on Carlos Sainz Jr., Toro Rosso

Ericsson produced one of the few non-DRS overtakes of the race to grab 8th place off Sainz before he ran out of laps and his tyres faded.  Throughout lap 55 it looked as though the Swede might be biding his time waiting for the start/finish straight and the better traction he might get from the final turn, to make his move under DRS. And then all of a sudden he was alongside the Toro Rosso into Turn 13 and through.

 Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1st

From the moment Nico Rosberg unleashed a series of trouble-free laps on Day One of the Jerez test, a Mercedes 1-2 looked on the cards. But it was Lewis Hamilton who delivered the top result for the Silver Arrows team after having a bit of a  ‘Williams Friday’. We can define a ‘Williams Friday’ as playing around with things, trying different set-ups but not going for ultimate pace.
Hamilton wasn’t happy on Friday and got his engineers working late into the night to produce a car that was even more dialled into the circuit than Rosberg’s and when Saturday came it showed. Unlike a lot of 2014, Hamilton’s Qualifying performance looked assured and unruffled, fastest in all three sessions and then 0.6 quicker at the end.
In the race Lewis looked as though he was gap-managing from Lap One. Rosberg couldn’t make anything of the three opportunities he had to pass: the start, the re-start and the pitstop. Indeed, the re-start on Lap 5 was an object lesson in how to do it. It was Vettel-esque.
Through the race it looked as though Lewis could turn up the wick the moment Rosberg came within a sniff of the DRS, the closest Nico got was 1.2 seconds on Lap 10, before Lewis edged it out to a (massive) 3.5 seconds on Lap 22. It never got to any more than that. With four engines per season, you can see this is the way it’s going to go for 2015.

 Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 2nd
Rosberg was lulled into a false sense of security by topping the timesheets on Friday. From FP3 he was behind the curve and the race was like a chess match where Nico was always a castle down right from the start. Psychologically it can’t be that good following your team-mate, and then having every move you make countered. Effortlessly. No surprise, then, that Rosberg would like to see the Ferraris closer to them. Any outside assistance would be good, and the races won’t always be straightforward one-stoppers.

 Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, 3rd
Whatever your shade of support in F1 it’s never good to have Ferrari in the doldrums for long and Sebastian Vettel has helped re-energise the effort from Maranello. Good news from technical boss James Allison, too, when he said that the team hadn’t run out of ideas (to make the SF15-T quicker), they’d just run out of time.
Vettel couldn’t quite nail P3 in Qualifying, but a better use of strategy in the race helped him get ahead of Felipe Massa and the talent that lay dormant most of last season at Red Bull kept him nicely out of range at the end.

 Felipe Massa, Williams, 4th
The No.1 Brazilian Felipe couldn’t break free of the pursuing Ferrari.  Rob Smedley said afterwards that Vettel  found eight tenths over two laps compared to when he was sat behind Massa and whichever way they’d gone on the pit-stops – first or second – he’d have been jumped.  Really? It didn’t help picking a moment that brought him out directly behind Daniel Ricciardo, or was it that Massa was just slow into the pits on his inlap. He didn’t seem to whack the brakes on when he entered the pitlane.

 Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, 6th
Daniel ended up the furthest forward of the Renault-engined runners, but was mindful that in the normal scheme of things he’d probably have finished the race behind an extra Ferrari and an extra Williams and maybe even one of the Lotus cars. So, the points were good, but the reality is that Renault are in a worse place than they were last year.
Christian Horner, in a typical knee-jerk reaction called for “engine equalisation”, which seems a bit early doors for a moan, given that Mercedes have used up 80% of their engine tokens already and Renault are said to have more in hand. The system is in place for Renault to improve, they just need to get on with it. The more appropriate question might be how come Toro Rosso are doing so well in comparison.
You don’t look such an inspirational team boss if the under-funded, under-designed sister team are outcompeting you using the same engine. Take away the brilliance of Ricciardo and it would look even more embarrassing.

 Jenson Button, McLaren-Honda, 11th
There must be a degree of relief in the McLaren team after the 2015 Australian Grand prix. They’ve now banked an 11th place. That might be crucial in staving off the challenge from Manor-Motorsport later in the season. Imagine what might have happened if someone at Manor hasn’t deleted all the software (Maurice Moss leaves post as Manor IT Chief) and the two re-engineered  Marussia cars had come home in P9 and P10. That would have been a points mountain for the Woking team to climb.
Thankfully Jenson surpassed the 12-lap total previously achieved by the new MP4-30 and was getting so cocky by the end that he was turning the engine up to set a personal best of 1:33.338 on the last lap. If the temperatures are a problem with an ambient of 18C, the next race in Malaysia is going to be a whole lot of fun.

 Force India, 7th and 10th
Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez may have been aided by other teams’ calamities but to get the late-arriving VMJ08 to a double points finish was a solid achievement for  the team.

Another Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, 9th
With the headline writers all ready to pursue the Max Verstappen story, it was Carlos Sainz Junior (referred to by Eddie Jordan in all seriousness as “another Carlos Sainz”) who stole the thunder. He wasn’t helped by a 36-second tyre stop, but at least his engine didn’t lunch itself.

 The Grid

Fifteen cars starting an F1 race looks a bit rubbish. One of the absentees, Valtteri Bottas, was excluded for medical/safety reasons and that couldn’t be helped; two were down to unforeseen technical issues,  which, again, were down to the nature of complex engines not the sport’s paymaster. But four of the absences were down to the fact that Bernie Ecclestone and CVC  Capital Partners, the commercial rights holder, can’t be arsed to pay teams further down the grid enough money to compete.
This isn’t about ambitious teams spending more money than they have, this is about basic mismanagement of the sport. Bernie likes to hear more noise from the cars. The roar of 22 cars away from the line is more than 18. Less than 15 and we’re getting into Formula E territory.

 Fernando Alonso, McLaren-Honda, DNS
It was said that in his latter days Fernando Alonso created an ‘atmosphere’ in the Ferrari garage and that in the new Vettel/Arrivabene Scuderia there is already a lot more joy. That may be so, but not having Fernando around the paddock for the GP weekend detracted from the experience. We need that serious, brooding figure – amplified by his dark brooding beard – to add some gravitas to proceedings. Even if he is going to be driving a car with a Honda grenade in the back.

 Lotus, Double DNF
Maldonado’s early exit was unfortunate, and though he’s often been the architect of his own downfall, this time it was just ‘wrong place, wrong time, wrong nudge’. Grosjean’s power unit failure added to the gloom, but it’s only a question of time until they re-assert themselves. Two Q3 appearances vouched for that.

 Valtteri Bottas, Williams, DNS
 It remains to be seen how serious Valtteri’s injury is, but disk-associated injuries normally take weeks, not days, to heal. Susie…

 Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, DNF
The good news is that we’ve got our old Kimi Raikkonen back, the one that can put in sequences of fastest laps, as he did in the latter stages of the race. The bad news is that a two-stop strategy never looked like working. Ignore the fact that a wheel problem ended his race early, it looked like a poor strategy choice.

 Kevin Magnussen, McLaren-Honda, DNS
Considering that Honda had already detuned the engine, Kevin Magnussen’s failure to get round  the parade lap, or even as far as Turn 4, was not good. Albert Park isn’t the Camino de las Yungas in Bolivia. It’s not a hazardous  bit of tarmac between the pitlane exit and Turn 4. Some time around the Bahrain GP weekend the team will have finished their Jerez-testing programme.

 Media Watch
Let’s get his straight from the start, we are big fans of Three Times Le Mans Winner Allan McNish, but we were also very distressed that his caption has been changed for 2015. In the past it was simply ‘Allan McNish Three Times Le Mans Winner’. You knew where you were with that. He’d won Le Mans three times. It was a Ronseal-kind of caption. Now, the BBC producers (and yes, after the Top Gear ‘fracas’  it does sound a bit like a pejorative term) have decided to fill in the detail. Now the caption reads Allan McNish, Winner of Le Mans in 1998, 2008 and 2013. No mention of his time at Toyota in 2002, or equally of his five wins at the Sebring 12 Hours race, or the one I’d really like to see: Allan McNish – ‘I  left the road at 360R and survived’. Anyway, in the race, the thinking woman’s Richard Hammond gave us some great moments:

Allan McNish: “Local boy Daniel Ricciardo – well, when I say ‘local’, Perth is a five-hour flight away…”
 James Allen: “I think New Zealand is closer.”

Allan McNish: “Right now, Lewis Hamilton is sitting in the sweet seat.”

Talking about the Perez versus Button spat:
Allan McNish:  “When these guys catch up, there’ll be little handbags at dawn.”

Commenting on Marcus Ericsson hunting down the much-slower Toro Rosso of Another Carlos Sainz:
Allan McNish: “He’s looking for a way past, but he’s on the wrong part of this Albert Track Park…”

 STBO: Stating The Bleeding Obvious Award
Tom Clarkson was reporting from the pitlane during Free Practice 3 and was asked by James Allen what was happening with Manor-Marussia.
”James, the mechanics are watching the session on television, and that doesn’t bode too well for getting out…”

 Andrew Davies