x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Formula One season starts with shake-up at Australian Grand Prix

Hamilton left frustrated by engine troubles while Vettel lashes out at Red Bull engineers.

German Formula One driver Nico Rosberg, centre, of Mercedes celebrates on the podium after winning the Australian Grand Prix at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, Australia, on March 16, 2014. Srdjan Suki / EPA
German Formula One driver Nico Rosberg, centre, of Mercedes celebrates on the podium after winning the Australian Grand Prix at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, Australia, on March 16, 2014. Srdjan Suki / EPA

And so it begins. The German tricolour fluttered in the wind, the German anthem rang out and a German Formula One driver stood atop the podium.

Had you squinted, there was a brief moment when the result of Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix might have seemed much like the final nine races of last year’s painfully predictable season.

Sebastian Vettel finished 2013 with nine consecutive wins, a fourth successive drivers’ championship and as the lead driver of the four-time constructors’ champions.

Yet he and his Red Bull Racing team arrived at Albert Park with as much likelihood of winning as did a tourist of making it out of Melbourne airport without being called “mate”.

Vettel retired on Lap 5 after losing power in his engine and the German atop the podium instead took the form of Nico Rosberg, the Mercedes-GP driver who had come into the weekend as one of the favourites. Rosberg started in third, behind teammate Lewis Hamilton on pole and Red Bull Racing’s local hero Daniel Ricciardo, but by the time the field reached Turn 1, Rosberg led.

From then on, his mirrors were largely unnecessary.

For our complete interactive guide to the F1 season, click here.

For an expalanation of changes to the engines and car design this season, click here.

“I always dreamt of having such a strong Silver Arrow and now it seems we are there,” said Rosberg, who beat Ricciardo over the line by 24.5 seconds.

“It’s been an amazing day. I’m just over the moon, really. It’s incredible. Everybody has worked so hard over the winter and now to have such an amazing Silver Arrow to drive is just unreal.

“It was unbelievably quick and the reliability was also good. It was just the perfect start to the season.”

The same could not be said of Hamilton, who saw his hopes of converting a 32nd pole position into a 23rd career win fizzle out with less than three laps of the race completed.

Told to retire to save his engine, the 2008 world champion continued for one more lap before pulling into the pits.

Retirements were expected, but not so much from Mercedes, who had shown the most reliability of the 11 marques during a pre-season peppered with technical failures and engine issues.

A visibly downbeat Hamilton denied being too upset, but in a season billed by some as his title to lose, a retirement was the last thing the 29 year old Englishman wanted.

“My start didn’t feel great and I had a lot less power than usual when pulling away, so it was obvious immediately that something was wrong,” he said. “It looks like we only had five cylinders firing, and while I wanted to keep going, we had to play safe and save the engine.”

Vettel, in contrast, said merely finishing this weekend would be seen as a success, yet his frustrations boiled over briefly when he reacted to losing engine power by rebuking his engineers over the team radio: “Do something, I’ve got no power, less ICE [internal combustion engine] than normal and no K [kinetic energy],” he said. “That’s ridiculous, guys.”

Like Hamilton, Vettel’s teammate also enjoyed a far more fruitful afternoon as Ricciardo became the first Australian driver to finish on the podium at his home race in the world championship era, though the joy of that achievement was not to last.

Long after spectators had left the Albert Park circuit, after midnight local time, Ricciardo was disqualified for exceeding the fuel flow limit of 100kg per hour mandated in the new regulations.

That leapfrogged F1 rookie Kevin Magnussen into second place on his debut in the series with McLaren-Mercedes.

Magnussen, winner of the Formula Renault 3.5 Series last year, has shown composure all weekend. He drove expertly from start to finish to hold position throughout and benefitted from Hamilton’s retirement to climb a place and secure the bottom step of the podium.

After a season of disappointment for McLaren, when they failed to secure a single top-three finish for the first time since 1980, the Woking-based team now lead the constructors’ championship.

“I can’t believe it,” said Magnussen, who finished 3.3s ahead of his McLaren teammate Jenson Button.

“It’s not a win, but it definitely feels like a bit of a win because the team is coming off a difficult season and they really wanted to come back. And working with a rookie as well, it’s been tough for them, for sure.

“They’ve done such a good job, made me feel really at home and made me feel comfortable with everything. I couldn’t have asked for more.”

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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