Expect a slow-starting race and a sprint to the flag

2014 Australian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

Kevin Magnussen, McLaren, Albert Park, 2014If unpredictability is the key to great motor racing then tomorrow’s Australian Grand Prix should be one for the ages.

Exactly what will unfold around 58 laps of Albert Park is the subject of intense speculation. A variety of outcomes – some positive, others negative – are possible.

How competitive will the racing be? Are Mercedes about to reveal the full strength of their hand and inflict an embarrassing rout on their rivals?

Or will Daniel Ricciardo’s superb front row qualifying performance for Red Bull serve as the prelude to an opening-race win for the team, which few would have expected when they were eating dust in Bahrain just two weeks ago?

Just as important, how good will the racing be? This could be a long-awaited return to drivers fighting tooth-and-nail in cars with insufficient grip for their prodigious power. Or we might be about to tune in to and hour and a half of ‘lift-and-coast’ radio messages with only the occasional retirement to liven things up?

And with two rookie drivers starting in the top eight and three world champions outside the top ten, tomorrow’s grand prix offers many intriguing possibilities.

Weather

Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, Albert Park, 2014This weekend didn’t need another variable thrown into the mix, but it’s got one. And if the wet weather returns tomorrow many of the questions above will remain unanswered for at least another two weeks.

The rain arrived as expected today, but while Sunday was previously forecast to be dry the chance of race day showers has risen.

While most forecasts agree it will rain on Sunday, they differ on when it will arrive. Some indicate the bulk of the rain will fall before the race starts. Others suggest it will begin closer to 7pm, by which time the race should have only a few laps left to run.

They also agree that tomorrow will see a continuation of the cooler temperatures which arrived in time for qualifying. This will be a relief to some teams, particularly Mercedes, who were punishing their tyres during the hotter conditions in the second and third practice sessions.

The start

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Albert Park, 2014How well the sound of 22 V6 turbos at 15,000 rpm will compare to the 18,000 rpm V8s which roared off the grid last year is just another of tomorrow’s talking points. And then we come to the question of how well each team has got its starting procedures sorted out.

One driver who carries a particular weight of expectation in this respect is Daniel Ricciardo. It’s not just that he’s an the only home driver in the field and he’s just delivered on his big shot at the first time of asking by planting his RB10 on the front row of the grid – considerably higher up the order than it got in testing.

But he has also taken the place of another Australian, Mark Webber, who had an unfortunate reputation for poor starts. These were not always his fault: at this race last year a KERS fault cost him five places.

Worryingly for the home crowd, the only driver who made a worse start in this race last year was Ricciardo. Over the full season Webber made a net loss of 23 places on the first lap – Ricciardo’s was better, though still not great, losing a total of 10. Ricciardo admitted his starts were “a bit up and down last year”.

“I think they were on the up so let’s see how we go tomorrow,” he added. “I think it’s going to be interesting for everyone now, with the V6 turbos. I think it’s also a bit of a different animal off the line. Hopefully we get off well.”

Strategy

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Albert Park, 2014One of the biggest unknowns about the coming race is how the need to save fuel will shape the races. The drivers are going to have to manage their fuel loads to begin with, but how long in the race will it go on for?

This is where the difference between engines is likely to have the greatest effect. And engine that can run leaner while producing the same performance is going to have a significant advantage. It is also going to throw light on which driver can continue to lap quickly while hitting their fuel targets.

Why save fuel at the beginning of the race and not the end? Doing so early in the race offers cover in the event of the Safety Car being deployed. Using up fuel to pull away by two seconds per lap at the start is a waste of time if the Safety Car comes out on lap ten.

Pirelli’s more conservative approach to tyres this year – because the teams have enough to cope with as it is – means the need to preserve tyres is likely to be reduced.

According to the sport’s official tyre supplier a likely tyre strategy for the race is two soft stints of similar length followed by a short medium stint of around seven laps. With the soft tyre offering performance and not degrading too quickly, they believe the medium won’t get much use.

By this stage in the race drivers should be pushing their cars as hard as they can, so a late pit stop for fresh tyres should mean some rapid laps in the closing stages. Assuming everyone gets their sums right.

For now only one thing is certain: the time for speculation is almost over.

Qualifying times in full

Driver Car Q1 Q2 (vs Q1) Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’31.699 1’42.890 (+11.191) 1’44.231 (+1.341)
2 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1’30.775 1’42.295 (+11.520) 1’44.548 (+2.253)
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’32.564 1’42.264 (+9.700) 1’44.595 (+2.331)
4 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1’30.949 1’43.247 (+12.298) 1’45.745 (+2.498)
5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’31.388 1’42.805 (+11.417) 1’45.819 (+3.014)
6 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1’33.488 1’43.849 (+10.361) 1’45.864 (+2.015)
7 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1’33.893 1’43.658 (+9.765) 1’46.030 (+2.372)
8 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1’33.777 1’44.331 (+10.554) 1’47.368 (+3.037)
9 Felipe Massa Williams 1’31.228 1’44.242 (+13.014) 1’48.079 (+3.837)
10 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1’31.601 1’43.852 (+12.251) 1’48.147 (+4.295)
11 Jenson Button McLaren 1’31.396 1’44.437 (+13.041)
12 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1’32.439 1’44.494 (+12.055)
13 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1’31.931 1’44.668 (+12.737)
14 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1’33.673 1’45.655 (+11.982)
15 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1’34.274 1’45.867 (+11.593)
16 Sergio Perez Force India 1’34.141 1’47.293 (+13.152)
17 Max Chilton Marussia 1’34.293
18 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1’34.794
19 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1’35.117
20 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1’35.157
21 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1’36.993
22 Pastor Maldonado Lotus

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton 29.863 (1) 24.155 (2) 37.375 (9)
Daniel Ricciardo 30.045 (3) 24.386 (6) 36.344 (1)
Nico Rosberg 30.188 (7) 24.795 (11) 37.058 (7)
Kevin Magnussen 30.069 (4) 24.068 (1) 36.812 (3)
Fernando Alonso 30.220 (8) 24.547 (7) 36.514 (2)
Jean-Eric Vergne 30.692 (13) 25.134 (16) 37.639 (11)
Nico Hulkenberg 30.465 (11) 24.775 (10) 38.185 (16)
Daniil Kvyat 30.859 (15) 25.260 (19) 37.658 (12)
Felipe Massa 29.940 (2) 24.358 (5) 36.849 (4)
Valtteri Bottas 30.133 (6) 24.287 (4) 37.084 (8)
Jenson Button 30.091 (5) 24.285 (3) 37.020 (6)
Kimi Raikkonen 30.309 (9) 24.654 (8) 37.476 (10)
Sebastian Vettel 30.345 (10) 24.668 (9) 36.852 (5)
Adrian Sutil 30.831 (14) 25.015 (14) 37.731 (13)
Kamui Kobayashi 30.860 (16) 24.985 (13) 38.252 (19)
Sergio Perez 30.537 (12) 24.948 (12) 38.210 (18)
Max Chilton 31.140 (20) 25.142 (17) 37.938 (15)
Jules Bianchi 31.004 (18) 25.170 (18) 38.208 (17)
Esteban Gutierrez 30.935 (17) 26.245 (22) 37.783 (14)
Marcus Ericsson 31.794 (21) 25.054 (15) 38.309 (20)
Romain Grosjean 31.104 (19) 25.525 (20) 38.888 (21)
Pastor Maldonado 41.403 (22) 26.030 (21) 41.281 (22)

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Engine Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Valtteri Bottas Williams Mercedes 317.5 (197.3)
2 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes 315.4 (196.0) -2.1
3 Kevin Magnussen McLaren Mercedes 314.8 (195.6) -2.7
4 Nico Rosberg Mercedes Mercedes 313.8 (195.0) -3.7
5 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes 313.6 (194.9) -3.9
6 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes 312.9 (194.4) -4.6
7 Jenson Button McLaren Mercedes 312.0 (193.9) -5.5
8 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari 311.4 (193.5) -6.1
9 Fernando Alonso Ferrari Ferrari 310.9 (193.2) -6.6
10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Mercedes 310.7 (193.1) -6.8
11 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso Renault 309.4 (192.3) -8.1
12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber Ferrari 308.0 (191.4) -9.5
13 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham Renault 307.3 (190.9) -10.2
14 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso Renault 306.8 (190.6) -10.7
15 Marcus Ericsson Caterham Renault 306.8 (190.6) -10.7
16 Adrian Sutil Sauber Ferrari 304.3 (189.1) -13.2
17 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Renault 303.2 (188.4) -14.3
18 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Renault 302.0 (187.7) -15.5
19 Romain Grosjean Lotus Renault 301.5 (187.3) -16.0
20 Max Chilton Marussia Ferrari 301.4 (187.3) -16.1
21 Pastor Maldonado Lotus Renault 300.5 (186.7) -17.0
22 Jules Bianchi Marussia Ferrari 299.5 (186.1) -18.0

Over to you

Can F1′s latest revolution in the rules possibly live up to expectations? Is this really Mercedes’ race to lose?

Share your views on the Australian Grand Prix in the comments.

2014 Australian Grand Prix

Browse all 2014 Australian Grand Prix articles

Images © McLaren/Hoch Zwei, Ferrari/Ercole Colombo, Force India, Red Bull/Getty

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51 comments on Expect a slow-starting race and a sprint to the flag

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  1. Paul A (@paul-a) said on 15th March 2014, 18:43

    P.S. A great article, but three paras from the end I think you mean ” strategy for the race is two soft [not medium] stints”

  2. adamx84 said on 15th March 2014, 18:43

    Based on P2 pace, the only man who could challenge the mercs in the dry is starting waaaay back

    http://en.mclarenf-1.com/index.php?page=chart&gp=914&s=7314&graf=3&dr1=Lewis%20Hamilton&dr2=Daniel%20Ricciardo&l1=20&l2=18&l=13

    • adamx84 said on 15th March 2014, 18:45

      Plus, based on those times I’m really not sure how you can say the Mercs were punishing their tyres in 2nd practice. They were a second quicker than anyone (and 2-3 seconds quicker than many) and did their fastest race laps at the end of 12 lap stints on softs.

  3. Osvaldas31 (@osvaldas31) said on 15th March 2014, 18:48

    If the race is dry, Mercedes will probably crush the opposition, presuming they will finish the race. If the race is wet, anything can happen and the victor might be a surprise.

    • Mr win or lose said on 15th March 2014, 20:40

      If it’s raining, Mercedes will probably crush the opposition as they don’t have to save that much fuel. However, I don’t think there will be a sprint to the finish, as it seems that everyone will be managing fuel all race long. Even if fuel saving is only a minor issue, I expect drivers to be fast in the opening stages in order to reduce their fuel load a little more (but that may be risky indeed in case of a safety-car period). I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. ;)

  4. Mouse_Nightshirt (@mouse_nightshirt) said on 15th March 2014, 18:50

    I really cannot stress how excited I am! I don’t think I’ve been this excited since I was 8 and saw Santa come into my room on Christmas Eve night. Hopefully the race won’t be as disappointing as finding our two years later that the fat, bearded man who came into my room that night was my dad.

  5. matt90 (@matt90) said on 15th March 2014, 18:55

    I can’t wait to see how these things get off the line.

  6. Ninjenius (@ninjenius) said on 15th March 2014, 18:57

    And people were saying Marussia are relying lots of DNF’s for their first points. Nevermind that, they look to be on course for around 50 points in one race! :P

  7. CashNotClass (@cashnotclass) said on 15th March 2014, 19:02

    Thanks for the interesting, and one assumes final, preview. I’m excited about seeing it all unfold in a few hours time!

  8. OOliver said on 15th March 2014, 19:04

    This is exactly how I assumed the race will be run.
    The gamble for those who decide to push early on in the race, is that there will be no safety car. And this is a gamble a driver may never recover from if the safety car gets introduced at some stage.
    Right now, I’d hate to be the one in charge of race strategy.

    • adamx84 said on 15th March 2014, 19:07

      Based on the Friday practice race stints, absent rain the only threat for Hamilton and Rosberg are each other – they both have a clear margin on all the cars around then, so you’d assume there’s an agreement to run lean (but still very decent pace for everyone else) and hold station to begin with.

  9. OmarR-Pepper (@omarr-pepper) said on 15th March 2014, 19:39

    Ok, I know I may be hating myself tomorrow, but as I said maaaaany times before, you’ll tell me how the race was . I would feel as betraying my F1 fanatism if I dare to see a race this season. Good fun for all of you.

  10. Scalextric (@scalextric) said on 15th March 2014, 19:40

    I’m thinking RIC needs a wet race to reduce any power disadvantage and to maximise any downforce advantage. His front row performance supports that to some degree, though it was presumably helped by his use of inters.

  11. Sir OBE said on 15th March 2014, 19:45

    Is this supposed to be like all the other things that doomsayers told us to expect, that never materialized?

  12. Strontium (@strontium) said on 15th March 2014, 19:47

    I feel so sorry for Grosjean. The guy was running around for the lead in some races at the end of last year, and now he is stuck in a car right at the back.

  13. kbdavies (@kbdavies) said on 15th March 2014, 19:51

    The Red Bull speed is no flash in the pan – weather or no weather. It was absolutely mighty in sector 3; crushing both Mercs! This means it is still producing more downforce and stability than it’s competitors.

    • adamx84 said on 15th March 2014, 19:56

      It means those times are comparing RIC on softs to both Mercs on Mediums. 2 tenths quicker than another mediocre Ferrari does not quite support your argument.

    • pxcmerc (@pcxmerc) said on 15th March 2014, 21:26

      Yeah I was watching the Merc’s last sector times and comparing it to Vettel’s and some others, Merc own the last sector by a good margin. If Merc own the fuel consumption strategy, they should walk this race in the dry. If it’s wet, I suspect Red Bull will have something to say, if it’s dry, I suspect more Mercedes powered cars will be closer to the pointy end.

      Sadly, it doesn’t cost anything for it to rain :) The return on investment for the new power units has yet to materialize.

      • Eric Morman (@lethalnz) said on 15th March 2014, 23:07

        your all forgetting the one thing that happened continuously during practice,
        cars falling off the track, there is going to be a lot of Safety Cars,
        these cars are a drivers car not a push to the limit with unlimited down force,
        the cars will be backed up together at least 3/4 times i am expecting during the race,
        you will be on the edge of your seat i am sure more cars will go off the track in this race than we have ever seen before.

  14. andae23 (@andae23) said on 15th March 2014, 20:00

    Very excited because of the grid, with Magnussen and Ricciardo that high up, but I’m afraid how the fuel saving will affect the racing. I hope it won’t turn into one of those eco-marathon races….

    About the weather: if any rain is going to fall, it will be very little, so not like today. I’m hoping for a dry race, just to see what F1 will be like in 2014.

    • I think it will be a case of who dares goes the fastest tomorrow, certainly for the first two thirds of the race. In future it could be case of not needing to tune in until the last 20 laps. I hope i’m wrong but it’s hard to see the strategy going down any other way.

  15. sato113 (@sato113) said on 15th March 2014, 20:34

    wow they are doing 2013 Monza top speeds at albert park!

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