Formula One racing is less about driver’s skill and temperament since technicalities in engine design and engineering take precedence over everything else. At the end of the 2013, it was announced that the 2014 season will begin with entirely new engine configuration and manufacturers must make necessary changes before the start of year’s first Grand Prix at Melbourne. But never in the history of Formula-1 racing, has the technology taken such center-stage, as it did in the darkness of Melbourne’s Albert Park last night. The new engine configuration for the 2014 season made the race tricky for many Formula-one designers and manufacturers. The major sufferer was the Red-Bull team, who couldn’t overcome all their problems in time. In a related article on F1 racing, published on these pages on February 24, 2014, this author had narrated the technical glitches, which Red Bull engines faced at pre-season tests at Jerez in late January and Bahrain in February. The Red Bull designers were still struggling with compliance to the wholesale change of regulations and their drivers including Sebastian Vettel had found several issues with the new engines. Quadruple world champion Vettel, who had recorded 9 consecutive victories last season, faced reliability problems and retired after 5 laps in the Australian Grand Prix, which concluded yesterday.
The worst fate was reserved for Red Bull’s Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo, who had finished second behind Germany’s Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg with Denmark’s McLaren driver, Kevin Magnussen being third on the victory podium. Ricciardio was gleeful in spraying celebratory Champaign and 100,000 fans at Albert Park joined in the celebration. Elsewhere in the country, Australians were ecstatic and there was an atmosphere of festivities. But the revelers, toasting Ricciardo’s achievement in the pubs of Fitzroy Street in the Albert Park neighborhood, had no inkling that regulators of Formula-One were working on striking off Ricciardo from the second place for a technical breach of latest F1 regulations. Dethroning of Ricciardo was finally announced five and half hours later and the news brought a pall of gloom in Australia. The regulators said that Ricciardo had consistently exceeded the maximum allowable fuel-flow rate of 100Kg/hour, allowed by 2014 rules. Monday morning’s Australian newspapers reacted strongly to the decision of Formula-One regulators, with the Herald Sun branding it as a Grand Farce.
In part, the season-opener indeed had a farcical beginning, when Marussia driver Max Chilton had stalled on the grid before the pre-start installation lap. This forced the repeat of the formation lap. There was further complication, when Chilton’s team mate Jules Bianchi also repeated the same error and there had to be a second formation lap. Chilton and Bianchi were also dealt a drive-through penalty for leaving the garage before the 15-minute regulation signal. Also found committing the same fault, was Lotus driver Romain Grosjean. In another avoidable mishap, Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi rammed into the back of Williams, driven by Felipe Massa at the start. Both drivers were taken out of the race at the first corner and an FIA investigation ordered.
But all this cannot take the credit away from the Mercedes star Nico Rosberg, who got to a grand start, clinching the lead from team-mate and pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton and stayed at the top until finish. The first GP of the season was also the first race for Formula One’s new V6 turbo engine with its complicated energy recovery systems. Incidentally this was the second occasion, when Rosberg benefitted from the engine troubles faced by Hamilton and Vettel. Rosberg had similar advantage, when he cruised to his third victory in last year’s British Grand Prix, when technical mishaps plagued the car engines of Hamilton and Vettel. After the pre-season tests at Jerez and Bahrain, many people had expected Mercedes to come into their own. It showed in the performance of Nico Rosberg, who, while winning the race by a huge 25 second margin, surprised himself in the end. But it doesn’t mean Mercedes is invulnerable, as Hamilton’s car developed problems, when his engine lost a cylinder and he was forced to retire in the fifth lap.
The newly prescribed V6 turbocharged hybrid engines created glitches for several competitors and only 14 out of 22 cars could continue until the finish line. For Sebastian Vettel, the nine-race winning streak beginning in August last year with the Belgian GP got snapped on account of the engine trouble. For rookie driver Kevin Magnussen of Denmark, the Australian GP will be a race to remember, as he shared the victory podium, initially as having come third and when Ricciardo was disqualified, he earned the second place with the third position going to Magnussen’s team-mate Jenson Button.
Considering that 8 cars couldn’t reach the finish line, Force India-Mercedes Drivers, Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez enacted good creditable performances at the year’s first GP. While Hulkenberg scored 8 points from the race, finishing 6th ahead of Kimi Raikkonnen; Perez collected a solitary point by finishing 10th.
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