F1 2014 Australian Grand Prix
Formula 1 is back and the weather at Melbourne might hold some surprises.
Local Time: 5PM (Melbourne)
TV: Sky Sports F1 (UK), NBC (USA)
Finally after all the talk and bluster the Formula 1 season of 2014 got underway yesterday with a good quality day of Friday practice.
There was nothing exceptional throughout the day, neither nothing too unexpected but rather a day which confirmed a few suspicions and reaffirmed Mercedes as the favourites for the Australian Grand Prix and on a larger scale, as favourites for this season.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Lewis Hamilton’s day could not have been marked by two starker opposites. His first lap in FP1 was a disaster as a mechanical issue forced his car to come to a stop. It appeared to be catastrophic, as Hamilton would miss out on crucial running with his brand new W04 on a track he hadn’t raced on for over a year.
But perhaps in a mark of just how far in front Mercedes really are, the 2008 World Champion finished Friday with the fastest time in FP2, a very impressive 1,29:625, over 0.5 seconds clear of his next non-Mercedes rival, Fernando Alonso in third.
Now it’s clearer than ever, that this weekend, should it remain relatively variable free, is going to be an absolute walkover for Mercedes especially in the qualifying stakes.
There is simply no stopping a team that has the better engine, the better outright speed and by far and away the better reliability. Mercedes’ strongest challenge appears to be coming form the trio of Ferrari, Williams and McLaren.
Ferrari maintains grave fears over their ability to manage fuel levels and last the race distance. Williams are a team that have been perennial under achievers since their glory days of decades ago. McLaren appear to be talking down their chances, and not surprisingly either, considering their just coming over their worst season in recent memory.
Their challengers all have issues, and issues that aren’t small ones that can be swept under the carpet as they chase the champagne here in Melbourne. Mercedes’s only issue is what to do when their two drivers decide to fight like mad for the victory in the last lap of the race. Inevitably, at some point, team orders will have to be used.
The rest of the field actually poses some interesting questions. Can Williams come out of their slumber that appeared to be over with their stunning victory at Barcelona in 2012, or is this going to be a short lived experience at the pointy end of the grid, waiting for the big guys to pick up their game.
What about Red Bull? Their dire testing horrors appear to be behind them with some strong times and laps put in on Friday, but they’re still not in a position to be thinking about race wins, let alone the defending the championship.
And what of Ferrari? This is a team that is Formula 1 and Formula 1 is Ferrari. But seven long years have passed since Ferrari sat atop the standings and their dream team of Alonso and Raikkonen should provide the flair and experience to get Ferrari as close as they’ve ever been to the title.
In one respect Friday times can be very misleading. We still have little idea whether sandbagging has been a widely used tactic. The only 100% foolproof data is available at the end of Q1, when teams are forced to throw everything into their cars.
Mercedes will take pole; of that there is conclusively no doubt. Any man on the street can pickup the newspapers, read the form guide heading into Melbourne and frame a qualifying market that has Mercedes at about $1.01.
It’s of more interest and harder to pick what happens to that third and, perhaps in the event of a miracle, second spot.
Williams are quick and Valtteri Bottas has shown previously he has the class to make hay while the sun shines.
But it’s his Finnish compatriot, Kimi Raikkonen, who I think will rise from his struggles and compete strongly with the Mercedes. Raikkonen has a lot to prove, such as the ability to still cut it at a big team.
He’s my pick to finish in the top three of qualifying.