#898 2014 Australian Grand Prix

2023-01-21 23:00

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#2014, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Sofia Scrigna,

#898 2014 Australian Grand Prix

The silent revolution - and it's not just a figure of speech - has already begun. Overwhelmed by the din of nostalgia for noisy and antiquated engines


The silent revolution - and it's not just a figure of speech - has already begun. Overwhelmed by the din of nostalgia for noisy and antiquated engines, and by the controversies of the usual reactionaries, the F1 of the future will debut next Sunday in Melbourne with the nonreassuring cry of: who knows how many cars will be able to finish the first race? The technological contents of this revolution are so many and so complicated that listing them all is almost impossible. But one in particular is destined to change the face of this sport forever and, consequently, the way in which everyone, even non-enthusiasts, will conceive cars in the future. In short: from this year the cars will no longer have an engine. In its place, they will mount a power unit. In other words, a hybrid power unit that combines the power produced by a 1.6 6v turbo engine with that of two energy recovery electrical systems (they reuse the heat emitted during braking, from the exhaust gases and from the turbo). A very complicated mechanism - there are 25 km of electric cable on board - which, as you can guess, works thanks to a very sophisticated and delicate electronic control unit, as those at Red Bull know well, who are suffering a lot from breakdowns and fires and unidentified damage. Only three major constructors took up the challenge launched by the FIA from Jean Todt (despite the fierce opposition of Bernie Ecclestone, worried that the hybridization of the engines would compromise the sound and with it, the spectacularity). Mercedes (supplier of McLaren, Williams, Force India), Ferrari (Sauber and Marussia) and Renault (Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Lotus and Caterham). Mercedes and Ferrari have done well so far. Renault, on the other hand, is in dramatic difficulty. In the paddock, the most popular explanation is the following: Mercedes and Ferrari reasoned in competitive terms, Renault, the only one that does not have its own team, instead reasoned in business terms:


"We sell the engines for this amount, so the project must cost us less".


Problems, however, they have had and will have them all. So you will need to be very patient. But the leaders of motorsport are convinced that it will be worth it. Fabrice Lom, the FIA engine manager, explains it.


"We are not talking about a bet. But of a bet already won. Think about what happened in Bahrain during the tests. The cars were running at about the same speed as last year. And this with an engine that consumes at least 35% less, whose real potential is still far from being discovered. The truth is that in cars about 70% of the energy produced is lost in friction and heat. It is clear that the future belongs to those devices that recover all that energy".


In brief: of the hybrid:


"As far as I know both the Ferraris and the road-going McLarens use similar systems. It's just about developing them and making them more accessible. This too is a way to make F1 economical: to bring it back to that splendid laboratory bench for road cars that it has always been".


Lom is also enthusiastic about the noise. Similar, he must say, to that of a lawn mower.


"Many miss the noise of the old V8s. But it is a prejudice. These too are very noisy, well beyond the pain threshold, and then it's the quality that counts. And the turbo sound is beautiful. Without considering that a large part of the audience is television and that the television rendering of noise depends on the microphones".


So it will be better for the directors to get busy, because there is no turning back from the future.


"Mercedes in Australia can give everyone two laps".


Red Bull team principal Christian Corner sees the unrivalled Anglo-German cars in the Formula One world championship kick off on Sunday in Melbourne.


"You may see even bigger domination than ours last season".


Mercedes dominated preseason testing, while Red Bull and the other Renault-powered teams appeared to be struggling.


"If you look at the Mercedes race simulations it wouldn't be a surprise if they gave everyone a couple of laps in Melbourne".


Bookmakers give Lewis Hamilton as the favourite to win the world title.


"We know that he is extremely talented and naturally fast. He is also in a good team".


Horner says again referring to the 2008 World Champion. But he doesn't even underestimate Nico Rosberg, Hamilton's teammate at Mercedes.


"Nico and Lewis are the two favourites".


To review a competitive Red Bull, however, we will have to wait.


"We believe we have a good car. I have full faith in the team, so don't panic. There are no better engineers than ours in the pit lane. We should be ready for the European races in May".


The Australian Grand Prix which will open the 2014 World Championship is the most awaited race in recent years. Impossible not only to predict who will win, the most recurring question is: who will be able to finish the race? During the winter tests, the aspect on which we worked the most was reliability, but now the teams have to start focusing on the race weekend. Ferrari Engineering Director Pat Fry says:


"From a mechanical point of view there is a huge increase in the complexity of the cars and therefore in the tests we practised, precisely in view of Melbourne, also on the assembly of the single-seater and on the replacement of components in order to be ready for any eventuality. During testing we worked 24 hours a day taking turns to make sure the F14 T was ready, because in Melbourne there will be regulatory restrictions on the hours you are allowed to work".


Fry admits that the race weekend this year could be completely different than in the past:


"In recent years the reliability of the Formula 1 cars has been incredible, but this season the complexity of the projects will put the resistance of the single-seaters to a much more severe strain, especially in qualifying and in the race".


While reliability concerns will dominate the early races, handling the new power train promises to be a long puzzle for drivers and engineers to piece together.


"In certain races we will be at the limit with fuel and we will have to do our best to save it. In fact, our goal for the race will be to find the best balance between the type of power, electrical and thermal, and consumption".


Once the teams have found this balance they will have to worry about the traditional factors related to aerodynamic and tire performance which will certainly be present again this year. The area in which Scuderia Ferrari has no worries is that relating to the drivers. Fernando Alonso and his new teammate Kimi Raikkonen put three championship titles and three victories on the Albert Park track in Melbourne. Also for this reason, Ferrari June in Melbourne with a good dose of optimism, as revealed by the two drivers of the Maranello team, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso:


"Anything can happen, but we aim for the podium. If we do everything right, we should be there".


For Raikkonen it will be the official return to Ferrari after his stint in Rallying and with Lotus. The Finn talks about the last few weeks of preparation:


"Maybe the last few days of testing weren't the best for us, but I also think we managed to do most of the things we had planned. We have to see how we start, try to finish the race and at least get on the podium. Wherever we go we know we have a lot of work".


Fernando Alonso also has good feelings on his car:


"We have to see where we are and how competitive we are. We can't be too pessimistic or too optimistic, because it's likely that Australia will be a blind race for everyone in terms of performance. If we do everything right, the points and even the podium are a chance. This year a race can end even after just one small mistake, so we will have to be 100% concentrated".


On his opponents, the Spaniard fears Red Bull, despite the difficulties in the preseason tests, and above all Mercedes, very fast in Bahrain:


"Mercedes seems strong, as we saw in the tests. But they were only tests. Now we'll see what the reality is. It's the same for Red Bull. Many talk about their problems, but maybe we get to the first race and we'll see what we will get in front. Everything is still to be discovered but we have to be focused on our things, which are already a lot".


Suzie is the name of the new Red Bull with which Sebastian Vettel will chase for the fifth world title. The German christened the single-seater on the eve of the Australian Grand Prix.


"There's no reason, we just liked the name".


The German driver has renewed this year a tradition established in past seasons. Suzie picks up the heavy legacy of Hungry Heidi, the single-seater with which the German won the fourth consecutive world title in 2013. Vettel has always chosen special names for his single-seaters: in the past he had raced behind the wheel of Abbey, Kinky Kylie, Luscious Liz, Randy Mandy, Kate's Dirty little Sister and Kate. 


The regulatory changes applied to qualifying with the aim of making it more exciting for spectators and preventing drivers from not lapping in Q3, so drivers will start the race with the same tires with which they will record their best time in Q2, they won't produce big changes, according to Fernando.


"I don't expect to see big differences. In the past there were cars that did only one lap in Q3 or no laps at all, now we'll see everyone doing an extra lap, but this doesn't represent a huge change in the approach to qualifying. If it will allow us to see more cars on the track, this change is certainly welcome".


Regarding the extra set of soft tires made available in Q3 by the new regulation, the driver from Oviedo declared himself in favour.


"I often arrive in Q3 without a set of new tires, so this news makes me particularly happy".


Last year Kimi Raikkonen won the Australian Grand Prix in a Lotus. The Finn is now at the wheel of the Ferrari with which he made his winning debut right here in 2007.


"It's the start of a new season, let's see how it goes. I'm with a new team, but I've already raced with them, so the adaptation was much easier".


Like his teammate Fernando Alonso, Raikkonen is silent and very cautious about the weekend he is about to face.


"Every season brings with it questions, the number of which usually depends on the progress of the tests. This year, with a rather radical change of rules, it is a bit more complicated to try to understand  at what level we are and say what could happen, even if everyone has a rough idea of what it is worth. However, I believe that it will be necessary to wait for the first games to get a clearer idea of the values on the field. This is why it makes little sense to rack our brains trying to understand our competitiveness at the moment. Some teams seemed a bit faster than us during testing, but everything is different here, starting with the track: Albert Park is very different from the Bahrain circuit. I think anything can happen. Obviously I want to win and I hope we'll be in a position to do it and play for the championship. The weather conditions could make this race even more difficult and with the new rules it could be quite a different picture than when we could race with more petrol on board".


Lewis Hamilton is the big favourite, and he isn’t hiding:


"We did well in the tests and now the goal is to be ahead of everyone".


The British Mercedes driver underlines his newfound feeling with the car after a troubled 2013:


"Compared to last year, I feel the car is better. This year, with the change of regulations, there's a lot of technique. It applies to us and it applies to everyone, we're in the same boat. Last year there was much more downforce and even the roar of the engines was less impressive".


Among the most dangerous rivals there will undoubtedly be teammate Nico Rosberg:


"Sometimes he can be ahead of him, other times I obviously hope to always finish ahead of him. We'll begin to understand from this first race".


Whoever chose a completely different path was Ferrari. And the results, at least so far, have been seen. Domenicali and James Allison have decided to take the path of contained risk. As usual, they designed and built the chassis and engine in the same building. And they have chosen low-risk solutions for the engine configuration. The assumption is that reliability will be the key element for the world championship, especially in the first part of the season, when, in the words of Montezemolo, we will have to see who will manage to reach the end of the races. A shareable approach, strengthened also by a certain motivated certainty: the engines, at Maranello, are good to do. And it is no coincidence that, at least as far as is known so far, Ferrari is the only car to have a completely innovative solution for the engine (a system for containing the parts in the event of a turbo explosion that weighs three kilos less than the competition). Still, in Maranello there is not exactly an atmosphere of enthusiasm. The tests went well, Raikkonen and Alonso lapped a lot and also set good times. The problem is, apparently, that's not enough. Because the Mercedes ones are better. Much better. As if there was a curse: every year Ferrari finds someone who has done better.


"They invested much more than us".


The men of the Maranello team explain, referring to a structure, set up on purpose to create the power units, four times larger than that of Ferrari. Explains Felipe Massa, who this year will have a Mercedes engine in the Williams:


"I've seen it, and I don't know if it's four times bigger, it certainly makes an impression".


Never as much as the timetable made us read after the last tests in Bahrain, with the Mercedes-powered cars razing everyone's certainties to the ground. Massa was precisely one of the most effective, so much so that he could not hide behind the sentences of circumstance and in some recent interviews has declared that he too felt in the running for the world championship (and for a personal revenge to be consummated, evidently, against a team, Ferrari and a driver, Alonso, who didn't behave so well with him). But the real favourites, it cannot be denied, on this inscrutable eve, are the two Mercedes guys, the talented and discontinuous Lewis Hamilton, and his alter ego, a German, all concentration and effectiveness, Nico Rosberg. They are very strong, both of them. And their car, on which Mercedes has invested a fortune, and not just this year, is the fastest and most reliable. And as if that weren't enough, the management of the team, renewed and restructured according to criteria dictated by Bernie Ecclestone himself, after the farewell of Ross Brawn, seems very very inspired. And that’s all that can be said, at least until Friday, when words will be covered by the roar of the engines, or rather, by the whistle of the turbos. In the end, therefore, it is Lewis Hamilton who smiles and after the unexpected problems encountered in the first session (an electrical failure on his #44), in the second he set the best time, 1'29"625. 0.157 seconds faster than his teammate , Nico Rosberg, second. In third place, 0.5 seconds behind the leading Mercedes, was Fernando Alonso, who had been fastest in the morning. Kimi Raikkonen, on the other hand, seems more uncomfortable with the new car. After risking printing himself against the protective wall at the exit of a bend, the Finn ended the day 1.2 seconds behind Hamilton.  All in all, a decent day for Sebastian Vettel, the World Champion  who until today had not yet found the right feeling with his Renault-powered car set an encouraging fourth fastest time just 0.7 seconds behind Hamilton and just behind his long-time rival, Alonso, while his Australian teammate Daniel Ricciardo edged out Kimi Raikkonen in sixth fastest time with 0.002s. seconds ahead of the Finn.


"On the first Friday of the season, there's always a little more tension, it's the start of a new championship and the common expectation is to see all the things we have worked on during the winter work".


Leading at the end of the first free practice session and third after the second, behind the two Mercedes, Fernando Alonso can be satisfied with his debut at the Australian Grand Prix.


"Overall it was a positive day for us and, although there was some concern about all the complexities of applying the new rules to the car, it went well, the team did a super job and we did not encounter any problems. Between the first and second session the track improved, there was more grip than in the morning and also more wind. Rubnning with the soft compound definitely helped, because with more grip, you record lower times, but it's impossible to get a clear idea of our competitiveness, because as always, Friday's results are not very indicative. To find out more, we have to wait until we are all in the same conditions".


As Kimi Raikkonen says:


"Today was quite a challenging day, because even if we managed to complete the planned programme, there were some difficulties. In the first session we lost some time, but this didn't stop us from collecting enough data for an overall assessment of the behaviour of the car and the compounds brought here by Pirelli. A lot of work awaits us tonight, above all to understand what went wrong and to try to improve in view of qualifying and the race".


And Pat Fry, Scuderia Ferrari’s chassis manager, at the end of the two free practice sessions of the Australian Grand Prix, adds:


"Today we tried to take advantage of the good weather and track conditions to work on different strategies and mappings depending on the race, because the forecast for the weekend is very uncertain, especially for tomorrow. During the first practice session we concentrated on the set-up of the car, above all to improve its balance under braking and to optimise the feeling of the drivers, while in the second session we dedicated ourselves to evaluating the performance of the soft compound, completing the program with a series of long-distance laps. It is very complicated to make the new system work perfectly and even more complex, once this threshold is reached, to make it work at maximum performance.The road is long, and in this moment it is very important to stay focused, paying the utmost attention to every single detail".


Lewis Hamilton can only be satisfied with the result of the first tests:


"I feel comfortable in the car so overall it's a positive start, but we need to look at the data to understand where exactly we are. It was really a two-part day. Although it was disappointing not to have any times this morning , with new cars these little setbacks will happen and we have to get used to them. It's like we were starting from scratch, but in second practice we quickly found each other and found a certain balance".


Sebastian Vettel is also smiling after the first day of free practice for the Australian Grand Prix. The German driver of Red Bull, reigning World Champion, set the fourth fastest time on Friday in Melbourne.


"A great start, that's a big relief".


After the huge problems in the winter testing, the world champion team managed to rack up a total of 115 laps.


"It took a lot of work, the result is extremely positive. Friday's times aren't of great value but it's always better to be close to the top".


It's a positive day for Danile Ricciardo as well: the Australian, making his official debut on the Red Bull, set an encouraging sixth fastest time.


"Let's hope that the gap doesn't increase. If the situation stays like this, the gap of less than a second is better than we could have expected before getting out on the track. It was a positive day, we learnt a lot. We have accumulated many laps, going over. This is why we are very happy and even more motivated: the team wants to demonstrate that it can face and solve problems".


Now it's getting serious. Free practice for the first Grand Prix of the season, in Australia, offered confirmation, Mercedes announced as the master of Formula 1 2014, and hopes, Ferrari second force in the championship not too far from the Anglo-German cars. Disappointing in the first two sessions at Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit was Felipe Massa's Williams, while the newfound competitiveness of Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull arrived astounding (fourth behind Fernando Alonso and the Hamilton-Rosberg pairing) who took to the track with Michael Schumacher's initials printed on his helmet. The first day on the track for the Circus therefore partially confirmed the indications received during the tests, with Mercedes at the top of the class and a Ferrari that can look to the future with optimism. Now we must wait for the response from qualifying. Then it will be the turn of the race.


"No more trickery, the FIA is vigilant".


The F1 World Championship begins and the controversy begins. Luca Montezemolo decides to move first, and scores a strange stroke. Preemptive flavour, addressee unknown. In the traditional open letter to the fans, between a warning and an encouragement, between a thank you and a wish, the president of Ferrari sends his encrypted message.


"Such an important change in the regulation also brings with it some grey areas, such as petrol, software, consumption... here I expect, and I am sure it will be so, that the FIA is vigilant to avoid tricks as also happened in the recent past and that they must never occur again for the good of the sport".


Style clear enough to make noise, contents nuanced enough not to indicate, at least not openly, a real recipient. The hunt, however, is on. What tricks is the president referring to? The list of suspicious manoeuvres in F1 in recent years is so extensive as to be frightening: it ranges from the double diffuser by Ross Brawn (2009), to the blown diffusers of the following years, up of the following year - and most probable - magic done with Red Bull’s petrol, up until last year's tire change during the race, a joke that cost the Maranello team yet another disappointing season. On closer inspection, however, all these episodes have something in common: their Anglo-Saxon origin. In other words, the various protagonists belong to the infamous British lobby. The very powerful one, led by Bernie Ecclestone, the master of the Circus, and equipped with extensions in all the key points of the system, Charlie Whiting (FIA, or the referee of the Grands Prix, historical friend of Ecclestone), Paul Hembery (Pirelli, that of the tires, historical friend of Charlie Whiting) and Christian Horner (the godson of Ecclestone, indicated as his replacement). In all likelihood, Luca Montezemolo's message at the beginning of the year is directed at them (to all or in part), and can be translated in these terms: dear gentlemen, be careful, Ferrari will not be scammed again. The president's alarm is more specific than one might think. In fact, there is a device in the new cars that has been worrying Ferrari for months, from the point of view of possible tricks: it is a probe that the FIA has put in all cars and that measures the flow of petrol in the engine (which must not never exceed 100 kg per hour). A key parameter: a (maliciously or negligently) inaccurate adjustment of 0.5% would be enough to irremediably condition a race and a World Championship. Now we need to see how the paddock will welcome Montezemolo's move. 


There will hardly be an explicit reaction, more likely that the matter will be dropped, allowing the start of the season to cover everything with the strength of its novelties, if anything to re-address the issue at a later time. Reports that still appear rather obscure, above all due to Red Bull, the true mysterious object of this phase. Sebastian Vettel explains.


"Our pre-season has not been excellent. There were many things that didn't go right. And objectively our goal, at the moment, is to make it to the end of the first race. For the World Championship, however, everything is still to be written. I remember that in 2012 Fernando Alonso showed up for the first race with the car going a second and a half slower than mine, and in the end he fought until the last corner".


Alonso remembers it all right, that's why he invites everyone to calm down.


"We will understand better in the next 24-48 hours".


Also in the Saturday session the fastest is a Mercedes driver, Nico Rosberg. The German leads Jenson Button by 0.6 seconds and Fernando Alonso by 0.7 seconds: Rosberg sets the fastest time using Medium tyres, unlike the other two drivers who set it on Soft tyres. The session was conditioned by a strong wind that didn't allow the times to drop significantly compared to Friday. Valtteri Bottas, Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutiérrez did not set valid times in this session. Moreover, Lotus breaks the rule that imposes a curfew on the work of mechanics, between Friday and Saturday nights, to fix its single-seater. A few hours later, in the first phase of qualifying, the best time went to Daniel Ricciardo on Red Bull: the Australian driver was ahead of Kevin Magnussen and Felipe Massa. The Marussia drivers (with gearbox problems highlighted by Jules Bianchi), the Lotus drivers, together with Esteban Gutiérrez and Marcus Ericsson are excluded from Q1. The rain began to wet the track in the last minutes of the session, also causing Maldonado to spin. The second phase, still with the rain present along the track, recorded the elimination of reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel, who had not missed Q3 since the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix. Kimi Räikkönen was also eliminated, who in the fastest lap, at the end of the session, went off the track and crashed into a wall. In addition to them, Jenson Button, Adrian Sutil, Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Pérez also do not pass to the decisive stage. 


In Q3 Nico Rosberg conquered the top of the standings but in the last attempt he was overtaken first by Daniel Ricciardo and then by Lewis Hamilton. The German, on the other hand, takes the chequered flag and cannot improve. For Hamilton it is pole position number 32, the number 100 for Mercedes as an engineer. Ricciardo conquers the front row of the grid for the first time. The second row is composed, in addition to Nico Rosberg, also by Kevin Magnussen. This is the first pole position achieved by a car wearing the number 44. As expected, Mercedes dominated the official practice of the Australian Grand Prix. A dominance by Mercedes that was there at all times, even in Q2 under the pouring rain. In short, the confirmation of what was seen in the winter tests arrives from the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne: the Mercedes are flying, the Ferrari is there and Red Bull is not in trouble as many imagined. Of course, the argument does not apply to Vettel who stopped in Q2 and remained out of Q3, an incredible thing for the ruler of the last four world titles, for the driver who took an extraordinary pole here last year and who this time only made up for a modest thirteenth place. And Ferrari? Raikkonen crashed at the end of Q2, damaging his nose, while the good Alonso ended up in fifth position. In short, the 2014 World Championship started badly for the Finnish Ferrari driver who sadly returned to the pits after the accident with the twelfth fastest time, failing to access the third and decisive stage of the official qualifying.


"The car doesn't change much between wet and dry, everything went more or less ok and fifth position is quite good".


Fernando Alonso explains qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix as follows:


"Very difficult qualifying. We passed Q1 for a few seconds because then it started to rain while in Q2 we took advantage of the track at the best moment. I don't think we could have done better than fifth place in the dry. Mercedes is very strong and given the complications that have arisen, this position is fine, it's the one we deserve. As for tomorrow, consumption won't make the difference and it will be essential to finish the race. It seems like a pessimistic target but after the winter and all the difficulties for all the teams, finishing the race is the number one priority. A good result, whether it's on the podium or off the podium, depends on how we do the race".


Kimi Raikkonen tries to hide his disappointment for his second Ferrari debut. The Finn went out in the second qualifying heat of the Australian Grand Prix and will start from the sixth row.


"I think I slipped and then I crashed. It was a pretty difficult weekend for us but sometimes it goes like this, we'll see tomorrow. I'll do better tomorrow. The weekend was complex, I think we have the speed but I got stuck in the middle traffic and we didn't have time to do another lap. It was a difficult day with the set-up, it went better than the other days but this was the result".


Lewis Hamilton enjoys his first pole position of the year:


"The rain complicated things, but I'm satisfied. We did a great job. The new cars are more difficult to drive in the wet. For me, and I think for many other drivers, it was the first time. This is a great result for the team and I'm also happy for Ricciardo".


Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff hopes Hamilton-Rosberg fight:


"Congratulations to Ricciardo but let's hope tomorrow will be a fight between Hamilton and Rosberg even if you never know. We were a bit unlucky with Nico even if third place is good".


Sebastian Vettel can certainly not be satisfied at the end of the disappointing qualifying of the Australian Grand Prix. The World Champion, at the wheel of a revisable Red Bull, will start from the twelfth position.


"I had to fight with the car, I didn't feel at ease. I'm not satisfied, it was a difficult day. I didn't feel at ease behind the wheel, I had problems driving the car which, by the way, seems fast enough "We have a lot of work to do and, as a team, we need to understand many things. The race is long, anything is possible".


Christian Horner, team principal of the reigning World Champion team, enjoys the second time in qualifying from Ricciardo who makes up for Vettel's flop, out in Q2:


"Sebastian was very unlucky, he lacked some power and we have to understand why. Daniel was fantastic, he did an impressive job: the front row at his home Grand Prix in his first race for Red Bull is great. I don't think so. I expected Daniel to be so fast, not even to get to Q3. He did a great job, let's hope we have a good race tomorrow with both cars".


Felipe Massa feels penalised by the arrival of the rain:


"Not satisfied, we always expect better but it wasn't a bad qualifying, both cars qualified for Q3 so it went better than last year but the rain didn't help us. We suffered a lot in these conditions. In the dry it would have gone differently and tomorrow, under normal conditions, we can do much better. We are not the fastest on the track but a lot of things can benefit us, the race is long and anything can always happen on this track".


Masochists and reactionaries. There is no other way to define F1 fans, in the light of what is being seen in Melbourne. The fact is simple: as everyone knows, the FIA - by the will of Jean Todt - has imposed a new type of engine for this year. Outside the old noisy, tired 2.4 V8s, inside the brand new hybrid power units with a turbocharged engine, 1.6 V6 and two electric thrusters. Anyone, in good faith, can only judge Todt's choice to be sensible, even intelligent. The car market is moving towards that type of engine. The hybrid, economical and ecological, is the solution of the future. And F1, which has always been a forerunner in the automotive market, could only go in that direction. But, according to enthusiasts, it was better than before. The reason? Simple and absurd: the new engines are too quiet and don't hurt the ears enough. It's not a figure of speech. Pain plays a fundamental role in the rejection of this novelty. The pain threshold is set at 130 decibels. The old and regretful 2.4 V8s emitted a noise that reached 140 decibels and more, to the delight of plug and headphone dealers (almost all abusive) and ENTs from all over the world. Now, however, the 1.6 V6 turbo timidly exceeds 131. Says a mechanic present in the pits:


"That is disgusting. In the garage, with the engine running, it was even possible to talk to the mechanics".


A disappointment, his, identical in the audience in the stands. In the first practice session everyone instinctively put their hands to their ears. Then, disappointed, they put them back (Anglo-Saxon naturalness) around the glass of beer.


"It's a perception problem, you see cars passing at 200 km/h or 300 km/h. The more noise they make, the faster you think they are".


Said the fans, frustrated by the news. It would be enough to avoid the comparison with older generation engines to perceive them as very fast. But the objection is not accepted.


"It's not just the noise, the fact is that everything is too complicated, between Ers, Kers and all that new stuff they put in".


Forgetting that last year, between blown diffusers, the coanda effect, DRS and Pirelli tyres, we understood even less. But the problem, obviously, is another. Sunday 16 March 2014 Max Chilton's Marussia remains stationary on the grid at the start of the formation lap and is taken to the pit lane. The other Marussia, that of Jules Bianchi, instead stopped at the traffic lights: the starting procedure was interrupted. The cars complete an additional formation lap, while the duration of the race is shortened by one lap. At the start of the Australian Grand Prix, Nico Rosberg takes the lead, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, Lewis Hamilton, Kevin Magnussen, Fernando Alonso and Nico Hülkenberg; the German passes the Spanish in the first lap. At the first corner Kamui Kobayashi goes wide due to a problem with the braking system and collides with Felipe Massa: both retire. In the first laps, both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel retired due to engine problems. On lap seven Valtteri Bottas, after quickly getting rid of the two Toro Rosso, also passes Kimi Räikkönen for sixth place, then goes on the attack of Fernando Alonso but on lap ten he touches the wall and is forced into the pits to change a tyre. The Finn's Williams lost some debris along the trajectory and the race direction sent the safety car onto the track. Many drivers take the opportunity to change their tires. At the restart, Nico Rosberg is still in the lead, followed by Daniel Ricciardo, Kevin Magnussen, Nico Hülkenberg, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, who, having changed tires first, climbed from ninth to sixth place. The classification, at least in the top positions, remains unchanged until the middle of the race, when the second tire changes begin. 


In the rear, Bottas went from sixteenth place to ninth by the end of lap 25. Tire changes were made between lap 32 and lap 36. Rosberg always remains in command, ahead of Ricciardo and Magnussen. Button now climbs to fourth, ahead of Alonso and Hülkenberg. Valtteri Bottas continues his comeback first passing Jean-Éric Vergne on lap 46 and then Nico Hülkenberg for sixth place on lap 52. During lap 53 Räikkönen also passes Vergne. Nico Rosberg wins the Australian Grand Prix, followed by Daniel Ricciardo and Kevin Magnussen, who finish on the podium for the first time in their career. Daniil Kvyat also finished in the points, the youngest points-scoring driver in the history of the World Championship, at 19 years, 10 months and 18 days, thus beating the record that belonged to Sebastian Vettel. Mercedes flies, there is none for anyone: Rosberg thus dominates the Australian Grand Prix.


"It was a fantastic day, I'm over the moon, seeing such an amazing Mercedes seems unreal".


And Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff adds:


"A win is a win, we've sadly lost a car but it's a good time. In terms of pace, everything is good, but we need to work on reliability, but overall we're satisfied".


From the podium in Melbourne where he won his fourth career race, Nico Rosberg smiles and greets everyone, thanking his team for giving him such a competitive Mercedes.


"It was the best start to the season we could have had, we were dominant. Now, however, we have to improve a lot because our opponents won't sleep, we are preparing for Malaysia".


So no surprises? In short: his teammate Lewis Hamilton starts slowly from pole position and then has to retire due to technical problems. Not to mention that the same fate occurs in Red Bull: Vettel stops and his teammate Ricciardo comes second.


"Ricciardo's podium? It's still early days, but in any case it was a fantastic race from Daniel, I'm really happy for him".


Red Bull team principal Christian Horner comments on Daniel Ricciardo's second place in Australia. Vettel, on the other hand, is a bit frustrated at not being able to finish the race.


"Actually, he hadn't even started, so we need to understand the problem and solve it quickly".


But the real surprise comes for the third place on the podium: and not only because we find a reborn McLaren there, but because it was Kevin Magnussen who brought it to us on his F1 debut. Making your debut in an F1 race at the age of twenty, putting down your teammate, who is also a World Champion, surpassing all the results set by your father when you weren't born yet and he was already doing your job and, finally, to top it all off, step onto the podium with such a big smile. All in one dazzling windy day in mid-March, on the other side of the world. We would be losing our heads, were it not for the fact that Kevin Magnussen, a twenty-year-old Danish man full of talent, has his head firmly on his shoulders, always oriented towards a single goal: the victory of the world title. It seems like an exaggeration, a kiddie excess. It is not. Kevin's adventure in F1 began in November last year in Abu Dhabi, when Sam Michael,  McLaren’s sporting director was enchanted by this blond with glacial manners, and granted him the opportunity to drive for the British team during the reserved tests to young drivers, on the Yas Marina circuit. The initiative is initially criticised, in England and also in Denmark. 


Kevin is a son of art, his father Jan had been a McLaren and Stewart driver, and despite having won very little (just one point in 25 races), in England he had nonetheless left a good memory thanks to his unscrupulous and carefree style . A Hunt in miniature, and with a round face. In sum, someone sees in the folds of McLaren's decision an attempt to do an image operation in a not exactly happy season for the team. Lowering the visor of the helmet, however, Kevin demonstrates that the image has nothing to do with it, only speed. He concludes that test collecting the best time and a heavy statement from Michael:


"This boy has what it takes to win the world title".


After all, he, Kevin, had always believed in this. Ever since he decided to switch from karting to Formula Ford in 2008, that is, to real cars, he has always worked to achieve two objectives: to get to F1 as soon as possible, and not repeat his father's mistakes. No distractions, no weaknesses, no concessions to fantasy and the good life. Just work and focus. Which then today have become his trademark. In the lower categories, which he crossed all in one go, he won a lot. In 2008, first in German Formula Ford, in 2009 second in Formula Renault 2.0, in 2013, after McLaren's blessing, first in Formula Renault 3.5. Always and only thinking about the goal. The F1. What time has come, full of promises.


"It feels surreal to me to be here on the podium, the car went well, I had never tried a Formula 1 car before, before the winter tests".


And Ferrari? Alonso finished fifth, Raikkonen only eighth, but after a couple too many mistakes under braking. Among the positive sides of the matter is the fact that of the top teams Red Bull and Mercedes, the Maranello team is the only one that has managed to bring two cars to the finish line, so the reliability is there. But among the downsides there is a real boulder: the Mercedes appears on another planet, with performance for now unattainable. From what we understand, the Ferraris raced without being able to have maximum power (electrical problems), will this be enough to reduce the gap? Mystery, of course you can't really watch a Ferrari battling it out with Toro Rosso and Force India throughout the race and then being thrashed in time by Williams. Of course, the new Formula 1 has shown many reborn teams (and among these the ones just mentioned) but a mid-group Ferrari is - in any case - unacceptable. We are only at the beginning of a very long World Championship, it is too early to draw conclusions, but from what we have seen today there is a lot of work to be done in Maranello.


"I think that first of all we brought two cars to the finish line and this makes us confident. In terms of reliability, we are ok".


Fernando Alonso looks on the bright side after the fifth place obtained in the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix.


"At the beginning I had problems with the electric motor, so I had to make some changes. There was a bit of chaos in the first ten to fifteen laps, then everything worked fine. The positive thing is that we have 10 points more than Hamilton and Vettel, the negative thing is the 35 seconds from Rosberg. That’s too many and we have to fill them for the next race. In view of the next races we have to analyse the strong points and the weak points, especially the laps behind Hulkenberg can give us important inputs. I still have faith in the team, we're only at the beginning. There's still everything to understand, it was a very strange and difficult race. There are important rivals who haven't finished but we need to improve in the second stage".


And Stefano Domenicali adds:


"The first race of the championship provided a clear picture of the values on the pitch at the start of this season and which teams have shown better preparation for the new regulations. Today we achieved our goal in terms of reliability , but the gap to recover was evident, especially on the Mercedes. The information gathered this weekend indicates with absolute clarity which path to take and where action is needed. It will be important to speed up recovery times and react as one is always done in the team we belong to. Our engineers know what the priorities are and the areas where we need to improve our car immediately".


Plot twist. At the end of the race during checks on the cars, the FIA discovered that Ricciardo had consistently consumed more petrol than allowed (100 litres). The Australian Red Bull driver was disqualified and therefore lost the second place he had conquered in the Australian Grand Prix. Ricciardo's single-seater has in fact exceeded the limit of 100 kg of fuel set by the new regulations, according to what was announced by the international federation. The new podium now sees behind Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) the two McLarens of the Dane Kevin Magnussen and the British Jenson Button. Spaniard Fernando Alonso moves up to fourth with Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen in seventh. In all likelihood, Red Bull had telemetry problems, given that at the end of the race, with the result already secure, the team kept telling the driver to push without worrying about fuel consumption. On the eve of the race weekend, the FIA had communicated its intention to apply zero tolerance towards transgressors of the 100-litre rule, after Montezemolo had invited the controllers to avoid the usual tricks. Red Bull announces its intention to appeal the disqualification of Daniel Ricciardo. The team highlights that inconsistencies with the FIA's fuel flow metre were noted throughout the weekend.


"The team and Renault are confident that the fuel flow into the engine is in full compliance with the rules".


It must be admitted that Stefano Domenicali said so when presenting the F14T in Maranello.


"When and if things go a certain way we will have to be good at not panicking".


Here we are, then. Things went exactly in that certain way, the front rows are flooded with Mercedes-powered cars, the future is already unknown, and overall the sensations are ugly. However, don't panic.


"We have to stay calm, and analyse what happened this weekend carefully. And then let's get to work to improve".


The fact is that, carefully analysing the weekend, one suspects that Ferrari's half-step yesterday is not accidental. Quite the contrary. Rather, it seems to be the direct consequence of a series badly miscalculated by the team. In fact, it is no secret that the men from Maranello, in conceiving, designing and producing the F14T, perhaps frightened by the number of innovations introduced by the regulation, have focused heavily on reliability. Held key to the season. Leaving the exasperated search for performance in the background. Throughout the winter they repeated that the most important thing would be not to break the engine. Get to the bottom of the races. The president Luca Montezemolo, from the Geneva motor show had reiterated the concept, admonishing:


"I really want to see how many cars will finish in the first race".


And, confirming that this was the central point of the Maranello team's strategy, towards the end of the Grand Prix, Alonso's track engineer, Andrea Stella, explained to his driver that the goal was only to bring home the car since the race was a question of reliability, and nothing else. Mistake. Things turned out differently, very differently. There were just five withdrawals due to failure. 


A number perfectly in line with those of past seasons: in the last three years, during the debut race, in Melbourne, there have always been no less than four retirements. In short: that great death imagined by Maranello did not take place. Indeed, the track generously rewarded those who worked harder and better on performance. Which then, to be precise, Ferrari was not even too reliable, given that both Alonso's and Raikkonen's cars suffered significant problems at kers for more than half the race and therefore struggled to keep up with the Toro Rossos and to Force India. But Stefano Domenicali knows it well. So much so that at the end of the race, to those who asked him if Ferrari hadn't focused too much on one issue rather than another, the team principal answered very sincerely:


"We need to take an overall step forward, from every point of view, on the engine, on the chassis, in terms of reliability and performance. There is room to make up ground, even on Mercedes, which must be our goal. We have the resources to do it and we will do it".


However tinged with optimism, a fair admission of guilt. Also because it is the fifth consecutive year that Ferrari starts the world championship with an inferior car to the competition. So, now, those thirty-five seconds of detachment trimmed by Rosberg are very scary.


"But we cannot sit here and go mad and despair. We scored a few points and are ahead of Hamilton and Vettel. Now let's work well on what we have, which is a solid base, and let's see what we can do in Malaysia".


The day after a bad race is the worst day around Maranello. It has always been, from the time of its founder up to the present day: Ferrari is doomed to win and it is no coincidence that Enzo Ferrari himself consigned to history the famous:


"The second is only the first of the last".


And if in question there isn't even a second place, but a fifth transformed into fourth by a disqualification, it's easy to imagine the spirits in a team that lived 2014 as the year of redemption. The first to speak is Kimi Raikkonen, seventh on his debut and clearly having difficulty managing the F14T, especially under braking and corner entry:


"It takes time to fix things, but we can only get better. We know more or less what we want to do, but some things don't happen overnight. It takes time to produce certain parts or to be able to address the situation in a certain way Nor can we promise that we will fix everything as soon as we get what we want" says the Espoo driver referring to the corrections to be made. Sure, the season is very long but the alarm bell has sounded. I've found myself in these conditions in the past, sometimes it takes a while".


And he adds:


"Unfortunately, our position isn't the easiest, but we got the most out of what we had".


Fourth and seventh place cannot be enough for a team that clearly aims to win the title:


"It wasn't the goal we wanted to achieve, but it could have been even worse. I'm sure we can only improve from here on out".


Obvious: if you're in trouble you can only improve, but Ferrari isn't hiding and James Allison himself explains that the reliability shown by the F14T is reason for satisfaction.


"But it is clear that we have our work cut out for us to improve the car if we want to compete on equal terms with the Mercedes team. Various aspects of the F14T are working very well, the starts and cornering, especially at high speeds, are particular strengths while we need to work further on braking stability and speed on the straights".


In Maranello the work proceeds incessantly, it is perhaps trivial to repeat it, to quickly ensure the improvements Allison talks about:


"All recent seasons in Formula 1 have been characterised by a fierce struggle for developments, from March until November. With all the new regulations in 2014, the opportunities to improve these cars are considerable and we can expect a race for developments between the various teams even more intense than normal".


Therefore, after the Australian Grand Prix, the lesson has been learned and there is a desire to do homework well.


"Our competitiveness was not acceptable in Melbourne. But we intend to fight with every improvement we can introduce to climb to the top of the grid".


The day after the collision with reality, the damage count risks being painful for Ferrari. Thirty-five seconds away from Mercedes (not counting the other twenty accumulated before the intervention of the Safety car) and thousands of fans, all over the world, exhausted by an interminable abstinence, annoyed by the usual justifications, by excuses one might say, of the team. Just change the word Red Bull to the word Mercedes and you could reuse last season's press releases and interviews. The problem, however, is that there is no choice. From a disappointing debut we need to start again, trying to look to the future with as much optimism as possible. On closer inspection, there are at least three reasons why Ferrari can try to look at the Sepang race with a little positivity. And then there's one he has to do. The Maranello team can hope, because it is true that in Australia it took a huge gap from Mercedes, but it is also true that the Melbourne circuit, with no fast corners and too many straights, is one of the most unusual of the season. Even the weather, cold and wet, didn't help. At Sepang, in the humid heat of the equatorial jungle, on a more balanced circuit, things should change. They should also change because analysing the Melbourne performance it became clear that yes, Mercedes was on another planet, but the other single-seaters shouldn't be too far away. In fact, Ferrari's power units had a kers problem for about a quarter of the race. A problem that was then somehow resolved without the car being able to express its full potential and when the race was already compromised. Nonetheless Alonso managed to finish fourth (actually he was fifth). With the car in place, life for Button, Magnussen and Ricciardo would probably have been more difficult. Then there is the issue of reliability, on which Ferrari feels very well prepared. The men of the Maranello team had imagined many more breaks and withdrawals. Now however, with the increase in temperatures and the kilometres accumulated on the engines (five of them can be used in the whole season) the question should once again play a favourable role. Explains technical director, James Allison:


"Our competitiveness has not been acceptable. We will have our work cut out to improve the car, but various aspects of the F14T are working very well: starts and cornering, especially those at high speeds, are particular strengths while we need to work further on stability in braking and speed on straights".


Finally, there is the reason why Ferrari must try to look to the future with optimism. And it's a psychological reason. If she didn't, she would be forced to face reality and say unpleasant things to each other. Very unpleasant. Better to roll up your sleeves, therefore, and try everything in a season with a built-in alibi: it is so rich in content that really no one can say what will happen. Still speaking of the engines, these were supposed to revolutionise Formula 1, restore competitiveness between the teams. 


However, many were disappointed after the Australian Grand Prix which saw the domination of Rosberg and nothing more. Now the V6 turbo engines are on everyone's lips and it is the Circus boss, Bernie Ecclestone, who is questioning them. For Bernie it was a low-level performance.


"I was not bothered by the noise. I was disgusted by the lack of noise. I'm sorry that the facts have proved me right: these cars don't sound like single-seater racing cars for the noise they make. I spoke to Jean Todt (president of the FIA, ed) and I told him that we need to see if there is a way to make them look like racing cars. I don't know if it's possible, but we should check anyway. Let's wait for the first races and then see, but we can't wait for the whole season. Then it might be too late".


Bernie Ecclestone has also had contact with Luca di Montezemolo, president of Ferrari.


"I just spoke to him, he said he has never received so many emails complaining that this is not Formula 1".


Ecclestone also had to put up with the protests of Ron Walker, president of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC). The organisers of the Australian Grand Prix dreamed of a noisy, if not spectacular race. Instead, they had to settle for a buzz.


"We have not paid for such a thing. This will become a problem for all organisers".


Bernie Ecclestone replies:


"Ron is right".


And adds Walker:


"Those sitting in the grandstand could barely hear the cars coming onto the straight. We are an entertainment company and we have to offer a show to the public. If the emotion fails, it becomes a problem to sell tickets. The basis for demand has to be created and part of the demand for tickets depends on whether people like the noise the cars make. We are discussing this with Bernie, the current situation is a clear breach of contract. We didn't pay for it, things will change".


Ron Walker's speech should also be linked to the negotiation for the renewal of the contract between Formula 1 and the Australian Grand Prix. The current deal will expire after the 2015 tender. The Victorian state government, the main funder of the event, has yet to formalise its commitment for the future.


©​ 2024 Osservatore Sportivo


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