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Pick and mix - F1's auspicious start in Australia - Essential matters from the opening Grand Prix weekend

Published by Christine

In a new post-race wrap-up, I’m here to pick out a handful of things that caught my eye during the race weekend. From the headline grabbing statistics, to the little things you might have missed, this pick and mix of the Australian Grand Prix begins with a team you might have missed.

1. The invisible Sauber F1 team

Sauber took part in the race, honest
Credit: Sauber Motorsport AG

When we asked Sidepodcast readers to make their predictions for the coming 2014 season, we weren’t expecting a huge amount of accuracy or detail. It’s a tough ask to put your neck on the line and pin yourself to race winners and champion contenders when we’re in a season such as this. You all stepped up in style and delivered heaps of thoughts about what F1 would bring us this year.

One line in particular caught our attention, though, as Ryan tagged on the end of his comment: “Nobody will notice Sauber.”

At the time, it was an amusing line, perhaps a throwaway comment about how disappointing they were in 2013 and how things couldn’t get much worse. One race complete, we now know that Ryan’s prediction was spot on. Did you see Sauber at all during the weekend?

The first time I even heard a reference to the team was with the unfortunate news that Esteban Gutiérrez was missing most of final practice – which in turn meant a gearbox-related grid penalty. Neither driver was particularly strong in qualifying. Esteban dropped out in the first session, which meant a back row grid start. Sutil managed to scrape through to the second session and settled on the grid in a mediocre 14th place.

There was little in the way of forward progress during the race, either, as Sutil finished 12th and Gutiérrez 13th. It doesn’t sound too bad put that way, but when you note that there was only one classified car behind them, one non-classified finisher, and the rest were retirements, it appears less promising.

And yet, the ever-positive team principal Monisha Kaltenborn can only look on the bright side.

Overall it was a positive start to the new Formula One Era with a surprising result. We knew that our performance was not where it should be. Therefore we concentrated on finishing the race with both cars... Unfortunately we didn’t make it into the points. However, we gained a lot of insight this weekend... We now take this experience into the next race weekend.

- Monisha Kaltenborn, team principal, Sauber

The real question is, will the carry-forward of experience help them get any more screen time?

2. Staring at the same old rear wing

If you’re Fernando Alonso, and you’ve spent the latter half of the 2013 season following Nico Hülkenberg around, staring at that Sauber’s rear wing and unable to get past a driver with an impressive set of defensive driving skills, you’d be forgiven for hoping 2014 would be different. Nico has moved on to Force India, the competitive order is supposed to be shaken up, and the Ferrari should be capable of better.

How frustrating to find yourself in exactly the same situation, once again.

Familiar rear wing of Nico Hülkenberg
Credit: Sahara Force India F1 Team

3. Claire's new jacket

The arrival of Martini as a title sponsor for the Williams team was a positive thing for the employees at Grove, but received mixed responses from the fans. No longer simply Williams F1, the team rebranded to Williams Martini Racing, with all new logos and colour schemes. The refreshed livery was the main point of contention, with most of the Williams traditional blue gone to be replaced with a stark white paint job instead.

I’ll admit to not being a fan of the new colour scheme, and I’m not convinced that the swap from dark blue to bright white overalls has done the drivers any favours, but like all F1 things, it’s something that we’ll soon get used to.

Thankfully, to ease the transition, I spotted Claire in a brilliant new team jacket over the weekend, and instantly began to covet it.

Apparently there was no Williams merchandise at all available at the circuit, which is a shame. Our on the ground reporters suggest there will be no team gear for sale until Canada. It makes sense that they can’t sell the old stuff anymore, and the Martini announcement came so late they likely didn’t have time to make the new-look apparel either, but I want that jacket! Also, there’s a certain level of irony in not having merchandise available, when it was a picture of the team t-shirt that appeared on the internet and gave the Martini game away.

4. Highs and lows for Lotus

I know that all we have talked about for the majority of the pre-season is how the Renault powered teams were going to suffer hideously once the racing began, but when the Melbourne running approached, I sort of forgot all the issues they’d been having.

During the practice sessions, qualifying and the race, reliability troubles seemed more evenly distributed up and down the grid, and although the Renault power units were still struggling for pace, it seemed as though they might be on the way back up in terms of getting to the race finish.

Except it wasn’t like that at all, was it? Of all the teams powered by the French manufacturer, Lotus suffered the most. Their lap count was way down going into qualifying, and it wasn’t a surprise to see neither driver able to get any traction on moving out of Q1.

During the race, both drivers pulled off to the side of the track and retired from the race, with power unit problems. But there were positives to be had from such a disappointing result. It was the most laps the team had completed in a row during the weekend.

SessionRomain GrosjeanPastor Maldonado
Free Practice 102
Free Practice 2120
Free Practice 3415
Grand Prix4531

In the end, the engines didn’t do as badly as expected. The best placed Renault-powered car was Ricciardo, until his subsequent disqualification. Without Daniel in the top ten, the next best was two Toro Rosso cars, finishing 8th and 9th respectively. Sebastian Vettel likely wasn’t impressed with whatever was failing to power his car, but his reliability issue was matched with Lewis Hamilton’s similar Mercedes issue. That just leaves Caterham, who had car failures of a different kind.

If you brush over Ricciardo’s disqualification, that’s three Renault power units getting to the end of the race and finishing in the top ten. I wouldn’t have put money on that in the early days of pre-season testing.

5. Magnussen's great start

It will have escaped no one's notice that Kevin Magnussen put on a storming performance in his first ever race. He's currently leading the way on our driver of the day poll, was promoted into second place following Ricciardo's penalty, and got the seal of approval from the team as well.

On this day 7 yrs ago @LewisHamilton made his #F1 debut. He did almost as well as @KevinMagnussen, but not quite!

McLarenF1 McLarenF1

Harsh but true. Hamilton finished third in his debut race with the team, just as Magnussen did out on track. Of course, Lewis followed it up with eight more consecutive podium finishes. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say it's unlikely Kevin can do the same!

All content in the series Australia 2014