Sound of silence

AUSTRALIA REVIEW

“What do you mean cancel the order?”
“There’s no need for them anymore!”

Surely this must’ve been the telephone conversation at an ear-plug manufacturing factory somewhere in the world before the red lights went out at Melbourne. The Turbo cars of the new era sent out a new message to fans all over.

And it was loud and clear.

No more brightly coloured pieces of foam stuffed into your ears then. You can actually have a relaxed conversation with a fellow race goer on the main straight at any circuit now.

That’s not a bad thing. But if it’s about dissing the new oddly-shaped noses of the cars then the old wailing V8s would’ve helped censor that.

The Turbo Hybrid ERS cars are so quiet on TV that if it weren’t for a botched up late-braking attempt from Kamui Kobayashi at Turn 1 providing visual relief, the start of the Grand Prix would’ve been almost dead silent!

Sadly, Felipe Massa’s Australian outing was as dead as the muted sound of his FW36 thanks to the crashing Caterham. Both these guys need strong results this season.

There were more DNFs waiting to happen as pole sitter Lewis Hamilton was called in to retire on Lap 3 with a misfiring cylinder. And soon defending champion Sebastian Vettel too joined him at the paddock.

Nico Rosberg demonstrated that his superb long runs in pre-season testing were no fluke. After his teammate’s woes ensured he had no real threat, his became a victorious walk in Albert Park. Although he was followed home by local boy Dani Ricciardo in the RBR10, the podium places fell to a team that were denied a podium the whole of last season! McLaren.

Kevin Magnussen equalled the best performance by a rookie in his debut Grand Prix leading home his World Champion teammate Jenson Button. Finishing 2nd and 3rd for McLaren after Ricciardo was DSQ on a technicality.

Valtterri Bottas entertained the fans with some close racing with the wall too! After replacing a damaged wheel rim he fought back to finish a fine P6 behind Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard and Kimi had a lack lustre afternoon in Melbourne.

19 year old Russian debutant Daniil Kvyat put in a spirited performance to claim P10 in his maiden Grand Prix for STR while Nico Hulkenberg showed off his superior race craft yet again. His amazing drives have gone largely unnoticed by the big teams so far. It won’t be long before he is the reason for the German anthem in the FIA’s playlist.

But for now he’ll have to allow Rosberg and Mercedes that honour. They went into this season as the team to beat. And they’ve started off on a flyer. It seems the Silver Arrows have mastered the futuristic, high-tech, energy-efficient and quiet battle of 2014.

It’s about time the others make some noise.

Nico Rosberg

Turbo spray at Melbourne. Image Copyright © 2014 Mercedes AMG

PODIUM
P1 Rosberg - Mercedes AMG 1hr 32m 58.710s
P2 Ricciardo [DSQ] – Red Bull Renault
P3 Magnussen – McLaren Mercedes

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F1 2014: Time for change

W05

Lewis locks up at Bahrain. Image Copyright © 2014 Mercedes AMG

SEASON PREVIEW

Okay. So the defending world champion has admitted his RB10 isn’t really in great shape for Melbourne. Not worth bowing down to…yet. It hasn’t put in the number of laps it should have by now. Reliability of the Renault engine plant then? Not so. The advanced aero required to cool the all-new Energy Recovery systems isn’t working as it should either. No Red Bull domination so far? The season sounds exciting already and it hasn’t even begun!

Elsewhere, across social media and newsrooms the pace of the current-spec Turbo Hybrid ERS F1 cars has drawn hasty comparisons with GP2 and the lesser formulae. Interestingly, everyone agrees that it’s only pre-season testing and the time sheets don’t tell an accurate story.

Mercedes power however, appears stronger than Renault or Ferrari right now. To see Williams top the time sheets frequently at Bahrain is a strong indication that their new German engine supplier may just have the advantage. McLaren have been clocking up the miles and so have Force India. All on Mercedes engines. Lewis Hamilton assures us though that it’s all a journey into the unknown come the ides of March at Albert Park.

Christian Horner famously said last year that he wouldn’t be surprised if half the grid didn’t finish at Melbourne! So is reliability the new ‘X factor’?

To fall back on the old racing adage, to finish first you have to first finish, Formula One seems to have moved from purpose-built unreliable tyres to complicated energy recovery systems with unreliable engines.

Through all these new rules and regulations a few fresh talking points have emerged. The Mercedes AMG Petronas W05, will it finally pay back? Kevin Magnussen in the other McLaren alongside Jenson Button, is he special? The new throaty Turbo sound, is it right for F1?

The old ones from winter remain too. Will Kimi get the upper hand over Fernando at Ferrari? Should Dani assume the #2 driver’s role at RBR? Can Massa revive Williams and vice versa? Are these the ugliest cars we’ve ever seen? Where now for Team Lotus? And many more…

But deep down, the seasoned Grand Prix critic in all of us is smiling nervously. There’s uncertainty in the air. It’s all a gamble. Like a wet weather race. The green formula, the new look, the new rules. It’s all looming large like a big cloud of doubt. And yet, there appears a ‘silver’ lining. With a champion waiting to be crowned hidden behind it.

The 2014 FIA Formula One World Championship is here.

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