Melbourne – The 2014 season is here! Watching the live television feed through NBC Sports and the F1 timing app on my phone, I can tell you that practise down in Melbourne has been quite interesting, and possibly a cache full of interesting signs for Sunday’s race.
The first session began at 20.30 Chicago (16.30 Melbourne, 01.00 London), and was characterised by a mix of mechanical issues, good runs, and the lack of a completed lap for 4 of the drivers, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton (GBR), Catheram’s Kamui Kobyashi (JAP), and Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado (VEN) and Romain Grosjean (FRA).
Out of all the teams, Lotus had the most trouble. Frenchman Romain Grosjean didn’t make it out of the pit, whilst his Venezuelan teammate Pastor Maldonado did make it onto the track, only to continually slide and skid off of it before having the Lotus pit crew meet him in the Pit Lane carrying fire extinguishers with 8:00 minutes left in the session.
Likewise, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton made it out of the pit, but didn’t stay on the track for long, according to BBC Sport having oil pressure issues. His teammate, Germany’s Nico Rosberg finished FP1 in 6th at 0.764 seconds behind leader, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso (ESP). Also from Germany, reigning world champion Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel did fairly well in the session, however he was called back to the pit with 1:30 remaining due to some worries of mechanical issues.
My favourite team, McLaren, did fairly well for themselves in Free Practise 1, with veteran Jenson Button (GBR) coming in second with a time of 1:32.357, and Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen finishing in 8th with a time of 1:32.847. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso finished at the top of FP1 with a time of 1:31.840.
Free Practise 2 began at 00.30 Chicago (16.30 Melbourne, 05.30 London) with Sahara Force India’s Adrian Sutil (GER) being the first out onto the track. He was followed 3 minutes later by Hamilton, who at last managed to get a lap in. Soon there after an equally unlucky driver from FP1, Romain Grosjean of Lotus, made his way onto the track, however with 1:24:00, the Frenchman was reporting power steering issues, in particular using the words “force neutral” with his car. Defending world champion Sebastian Vettel came out at 1:22:00. Interestingly enough, at the start of FP2, according to the lads at NBC Sports, the top speed in the speed trap at Albert Park is 7 mph faster than in 2013.
For most of the first half of FP2, Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg (GER) was on top in regards to lap time. To give an example of the speeds being reached on this track, Vettel, with 1:15:00 left, went around Turn 1 in his Red Bull at around 140 mph. There certainly is some concern among Red Bull fans this year, as well stated on NBC that, “If Red Bull manages to win the race on Sunday it’ll be a minor miracle.”
Ferrari had a set of issues around the hour mark, with both cars overheating. Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen (FIN) ended up having to be pushed back to the pit from the lane’s entrance. At the same point, Red Bull’s Daniel Riccardo (AUS) set the fastest time at the 1:00:00 mark. Soon there after, Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) became the first driver of the session to switch to the soft tyres. Meanwhile, by 00:58:00, all of the drivers save Caterham’s Kamui Kobyshai (JPN) and Lotus’ previously ill-fated Pastor Maldonado (VEN) had yet to leave their respective garages. Caterham continued to have issues when their only driver to leave the pits on Friday, Marcus Ericsson returned to the garage with, according to the team radio, hydraulic issues. Another rookie, 19 year old Russian Daniil Kyvat of Scuderia Toro Rosso had his own troubles, radioing in that, “It is impossible to warm the tyres.”
On the lighter side, Caterham’s new nose design is “pretty cool,” at least according to NBC Sports’ David Hobbes. Pit commentator Will Buxton said of the new designs, “I love this season because not all of the cars are the same in the pit lane.”
The great tragedy of the end of the session came when Lotus’ Romain Grosjean began to have issues at around 27:00, when his wheels began to lock up around T1. Meanwhile, most of the drivers in the top half of the table were working on their longer runs, in particular Massa and Bottas at Williams. Grosjean’s troubles came to a head when he hit the barriers at Turn 6, which snapped his rear suspension, initial observations according to the BBC said that it was the right side, whilst their friends at NBC said it was the left. Luckily, Räikkönen was able to avoid any sort of collision with the debris from Grosjean’s car.
At the chequered flag, Briton Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes AMG Petronas finished on top with a 1:29.625. In general at the end of Friday’s run, the major issue for all the teams was dealing with overheating. These new cars are certainly something to get used to, as comically pointed out on Twitter by one Brian Hambling, “Fantastic visual spectacle but the cars sound like Mopeds??” Generally, Lotus and Caterham are in the deeps, having trouble even getting cars out on track. Meanwhile, Caterham’s main competitor Marussia stands a decent chance of doing better in this race than in the past, perhaps even scoring their first point. Their driver, Briton Max Chilton said on the topic that, “There’s a lot more there for us to use.”
Free Practise 3 began at 22.00 Chicago (14.00 Melbourne, 03.00 London). This round ended much the same as the prior one, with Mercedes on top, only this time Nico Rosberg being the leader followed by the McLaren of Jenson Button and the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso. The session was also noted for three drivers: Williams’ Valtteri Bottas (FIN), Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez (MEX), and Lotus’ Romain Grosjean (FRA) remaining in their garages for the duration of the practise session due to various mechanical issues. Grosjean’s teammate Pastor Maldonado did make it out, only to break down whilst on a lap. This session was Caterham’s Kamui Kobayashi (JPN) first time out on the track of the weekend, during which he completed 19 laps, finishing 16th out of 22.
Looking at the practise information, I’d say that qualifications will be a fairly open field. I’d imagine that either Mercedes or Ferrari will take the first 2 rows on the starting grid with McLaren and Red Bull close behind. As for the rest of the field, it’s still pretty open and unsure to say just what will happen.
Qualifying starts at 01.00 Chicago (17.00 Melbourne, 14.00 London), and will be broadcast here in the United States on NBC Sports. Seeing as it’s starting so very late my local time, my upcoming article on qualifying will be out a few hours after the actual event. If you would like an online readable feed of what is going on at Albert Park in Melbourne, see this link to BBC Sport’s Formula 1 section.