With an anti-climactic feel to a very predictable end to the first weekend of the new Formula 1 season, Peter Murphy looks at whether or not this is a pattern that looks set to mar the rest of the season’s races.
There was an eerily silent 30 seconds at the finish line of Melbourne’s Albert Park early on Sunday morning. The familiar pair of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg had just cantered to an all too familiar Mercedes one-two, as the rest of the depleted, shabby and most importantly slow field fumbled around the track, and silence reigned at the finish line. It was in this half a minute that it became abundantly clear to anyone watching that this season was going to be in no way different to the -last. It was during these 30 seconds, until Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari fell over the finish line in third, that many people will have disconnected for another year and the sports chiefs will have been kicking themselves. It was in these 30 seconds that the 2015 formula 1 season ended.
Following winter testing, little else could have been expected, yet the first race was still disappointing to watch. From the off it was obvious there would only be one winner and Lewis Hamilton duly delivered, keeping his only competitor, Rosberg at arms length throughout. Despite a gap of 1.3 seconds, it is abundantly clear that the Briton is a class above his German team-mate. If this was a glimpse of what Hamilton is going to deliver for the rest of the season, it seems Rosberg will be in for a long year of being a runner-up. If Rosberg is to have any chance though, he is going to have to play to his strengths, namely performing from the go in practice and qualifying, therefore putting the pressure on Hamilton, who can be somewhat slow off the blocks at the beginning of a race weekend.
However this is unlikely and if Rosberg, who drives a car equal in capabilities to the reigning world champion, was dealt such an imposing blow during this race, all of the sport’s other teams must have been devastated by his showing. Despite large strides being made by numerous other teams on the grid, they will now have consigned themselves to slugging it out for the final place on the podium and second place in the constructors’ championship.
The first instalment of this battle was won by four time world champion Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari. The Italian outfit, which have undergone extensive personnel changes since last season, notably the introduction of new team principal Maurizio Arrivabene and Vettel, have come on strongly over the winter break. Following a strong winter testing, their car for this year looks quicker and more reliable than the model that left them mired in mediocrity last season. In Melbourne they employed a superior pit-stop tactic that allowed Vettel to finish 4 seconds ahead of Williams’ Felipe Massa, giving Ferrari a psychological edge over their closest rival.
Despite this early loss, the Williams team also look in a stronger position than last year to finish highly in both the driver’s and constructor’s championship. Their car has tested well and they are being carried by the momentum of a wonderful 2014 season. With the pairing of hugely experienced Massa and the rising star that is Valterri Bottas, Williams will be hoping to get a lot closer to Ferrari for the rest of the season.
Both Williams and Ferrari only managed to get one of their drivers over the finish line this time around though, as Bottas missed the race due to a back injury and the mercurial former world champion Kimi Raikkonen was left rueing a pit stop mistake that left his car unable to finish. Their absence afforded F1 debutant Felipe Nasr an opportunity to introduce himself to the sport with a 5th place finish. His hugely impressive performance, which came on the heels of an internal meltdown at Sauber regarding the selection of their drivers, gave Sauber points which will be invaluable come the end of season when funding is being awarded. Nasr’s result is even more impressive when you consider the fact that Sauber failed to register a single point in last year’s championship.
Home favourite and leading racer for F1’s fallen giant, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo finished a disappointing sixth in a race where so many of his rivals, including his team mate, Daniil Kvyat, and the entire Lotus Team, failed to compete and/or finish. Red Bull will hope that this was just a disappointing race for Ricciardo as opposed to a demonstration of what is to come, although if testing is anything to go by, Red Bull should be competing for the final podium spots.
The rest of the point positions were filled by lower order team drivers, with Nico Hulkenberg (Force India), Marcus Ericsson (Sauber), debutant Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso) and Sergio Perez (Force India) completing the top ten respectively. Only one more racer, McLaren’s Jenson Button managed to complete the circuit, of the 20 registered drivers for the season. Coming last and 2 laps behind Hamilton’s car, McLaren will be praying for a miracle for their snail paced car before the Malaysian Grand Prix. However they will be boosted by the return former two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, who sat out the first race of the season having received a concussion in pre-season testing.
Teams, spectators and the F1 brass will be hoping the dearth of racers, particularly big name racers who can draw crowds and compete (for 3rd place) that marred the Australian GP will not be a regular occurrence in 2015. While it has been nice to see new talent shine and smaller teams winning points, during this difficult time for Formula 1, it is integral that the glamour and character that only top racers can produce is present.
The fight amongst the teams below Mercedes is all that F1 has this year, and it will be entertaining to watch. Yet despite the strong characters of the sport, the depths the analysts will go to talk this season up and the newly modified, louder sounds the engines make this year, it is still that silence at the finish line that speaks the loudest. And until that 30 second void has been filled, the sport will only be a relic of its glory days.