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

Advert | Go Ad-free

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

  1. Fishingelbow (@fishingelbow) said on 15th March 2014, 20:45

    “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.”
    Couldn’t a case be made for going all out and use up fuel at the beginning of the race to make the car lighter as soon as possible? A lighter car would be quicker and use less fuel than competitors.

    • vjanik said on 15th March 2014, 21:18

      so you propose to use up more fuel to save fuel. cunning

    • pxcmerc (@pcxmerc) said on 15th March 2014, 21:28

      i suspect you might see people sitting just 1 second out to get DRS, and some other people might risk losing out at the end of the race to help out their sponsors.

      w/ the 4 MJ ERS option, and drivers who saved more fuel early on, w/ lower weight later in the race, those guys will have the better average speeds over a race, assuming they don’t get walloped by all the mid field looking to capitalize on a conservative race strategy.

  2. In_Silico (@insilico) said on 15th March 2014, 20:47

    Can I just ask why the fuel limit has been reduced to 100 kilo’s? Because I don’t see how that is going to be a positive implementation this season.

  3. spoutnik (@spoutnik) said on 15th March 2014, 20:52

    So much to come! I am a bit disappointed by the Williams performance, as well as Ferrari and McLaren, but anything can happen. I really wonder if the Ferraris will perform well tomorrow or if they are a step behind. And, as said, if rain comes, we’ll have to wait another two weeks to know the real pecking order.

  4. Diego (@ironcito) said on 15th March 2014, 21:10

    Non-Q3 drivers have an extra set of softs for the race? Is that right? Or does it not count because Q3 was wet? Tire allocations get tricky.

  5. Paul (@frankjaeger) said on 15th March 2014, 21:11

    Really looking forward to the collective roar of 22 cars come tomorrow. I’ve seen nobody so far mention Vergne’s performance, 6th place is very commendable

    Would be great for Kamui to score Caterhams first points tomorrow, providing he keeps out of trouble

  6. Matt (@superf1fan) said on 15th March 2014, 21:14

    I do fear we may be in for an anticlimax tomorrow. One dominant team in exchange for another etc etc.

  7. Breno (@austus) said on 15th March 2014, 21:52

    No one noticed Nico went through a set of primes in 8 laps in P3? 4 quick and 4 slow laps?

  8. timi (@timi) said on 15th March 2014, 21:57

    The Tortoise transforms into the Hare! This should be great to watch. Too often in recent seasons has the action only lasted the first quarter-ish of the race, before petering out into a spaced-out field cars and maybe one or two final battles for position.

    This is what a race weekend should be, in my opinion. The excitement and sheer captivation starts on Thursday, rising slowly to a great qualifying session, before calming down. The calm before the storm that is Race Day. Sunday arrives, the lights go out… No-one is 10seconds ahead in as many laps. The cars are still together for now.. but soon.. soon the Gladiatiors will go all-out to the flag.

    A mad dash to the finish line will be great, there are so many talented drivers on the grid. The cars are much harder to drive, and they’re surprisingly evenly matched! 2014, here we go!

  9. davey said on 15th March 2014, 22:00

    ‘fuel saving’ was something that occurred quite frequently in cart/champcar and to a lesser degree the current indycar & on the whole it never really hurt the racing.

    having said that i think the fuel saving could be bad this weekend because its the 1st race so there is a lot of unknowns. over the rest of the year once everyone has it figured out & systems/engines are optimized i dont think it will be an issue at all.
    was the same with other big changes like the 1 engine rule in 2004 & the fueling ban in 2010, everyone was super conservative the 1st race because nobody really knew where they were, it always gets better over the other races.

    by the end of 2014 & into 2015 we wont be talking about it.

  10. Hairs (@hairs) said on 15th March 2014, 22:31

    I’m worried by Red Bull in qualifying. If there’s a chance they’re quick now, they’re always dominant at the end of the year, and the double points nonsense which would play into their hands too.

    I don’t want them to do badly, but I don’t want to see another year of predictable domination.

  11. Nige said on 15th March 2014, 22:46

    Let us just all pray that Red Bull doesn’t win. Everyone’s interest will tank if it turns into a boring Red Bull show all over again.

  12. Robbie (@robbie) said on 15th March 2014, 23:50

    I won’t be at all surprised if there is a lot of wheel to wheel or wing to wheel contact at the start and for the first few corners. There just seems to be so much movement with these cars, and combined with the different braking systems….I’m not saying it’s going to be mayhem, but I do think there’s going to be some rubbing going on.

    As to the questions posed by Keith…I do think it is Mercedes race to lose, and I think we need to be fair and give the revolutionary rules changes more than just this race before we judge…especially if it rains tomorrow.

  13. fantastic blog – as a newcomer!

  14. iAltair (@ialtair) said on 16th March 2014, 0:33

    The highlight would be how much recovery can the 3 World Champions that fall off in Q2?

  15. David Bretz (@cynical) said on 16th March 2014, 2:19

    With the braking issues, unreliability, etc I expect to see the safety car doing quite a few laps. It would be a waste of fuel and too risky mechanically to push too hard early.

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments must abide by the comment policy. Comments may be moderated.
Want to post off-topic? Head to the forum.
See the FAQ for more information.