Expect a slow-starting race and a sprint to the flag

2014 Australian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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If unpredictability is the key to great motor racing then tomorrow’s Australian Grand Prix should be one for the ages.

Exactly what will unfold around 58 laps of Albert Park is the subject of intense speculation. A variety of outcomes – some positive, others negative – are possible.

How competitive will the racing be? Are Mercedes about to reveal the full strength of their hand and inflict an embarrassing rout on their rivals?

Or will Daniel Ricciardo’s superb front row qualifying performance for Red Bull serve as the prelude to an opening-race win for the team, which few would have expected when they were eating dust in Bahrain just two weeks ago?

Just as important, how good will the racing be? This could be a long-awaited return to drivers fighting tooth-and-nail in cars with insufficient grip for their prodigious power. Or we might be about to tune in to and hour and a half of ‘lift-and-coast’ radio messages with only the occasional retirement to liven things up?

And with two rookie drivers starting in the top eight and three world champions outside the top ten, tomorrow’s grand prix offers many intriguing possibilities.


This weekend didn’t need another variable thrown into the mix, but it’s got one. And if the wet weather returns tomorrow many of the questions above will remain unanswered for at least another two weeks.

The rain arrived as expected today, but while Sunday was previously forecast to be dry the chance of race day showers has risen.

While most forecasts agree it will rain on Sunday, they differ on when it will arrive. Some indicate the bulk of the rain will fall before the race starts. Others suggest it will begin closer to 7pm, by which time the race should have only a few laps left to run.

They also agree that tomorrow will see a continuation of the cooler temperatures which arrived in time for qualifying. This will be a relief to some teams, particularly Mercedes, who were punishing their tyres during the hotter conditions in the second and third practice sessions.

The start

How well the sound of 22 V6 turbos at 15,000 rpm will compare to the 18,000 rpm V8s which roared off the grid last year is just another of tomorrow’s talking points. And then we come to the question of how well each team has got its starting procedures sorted out.

One driver who carries a particular weight of expectation in this respect is Daniel Ricciardo. It’s not just that he’s an the only home driver in the field and he’s just delivered on his big shot at the first time of asking by planting his RB10 on the front row of the grid – considerably higher up the order than it got in testing.

But he has also taken the place of another Australian, Mark Webber, who had an unfortunate reputation for poor starts. These were not always his fault: at this race last year a KERS fault cost him five places.

Worryingly for the home crowd, the only driver who made a worse start in this race last year was Ricciardo. Over the full season Webber made a net loss of 23 places on the first lap – Ricciardo’s was better, though still not great, losing a total of 10. Ricciardo admitted his starts were “a bit up and down last year”.

“I think they were on the up so let’s see how we go tomorrow,” he added. “I think it’s going to be interesting for everyone now, with the V6 turbos. I think it’s also a bit of a different animal off the line. Hopefully we get off well.”


One of the biggest unknowns about the coming race is how the need to save fuel will shape the races. The drivers are going to have to manage their fuel loads to begin with, but how long in the race will it go on for?

This is where the difference between engines is likely to have the greatest effect. And engine that can run leaner while producing the same performance is going to have a significant advantage. It is also going to throw light on which driver can continue to lap quickly while hitting their fuel targets.

Why save fuel at the beginning of the race and not the end? Doing so early in the race offers cover in the event of the Safety Car being deployed. Using up fuel to pull away by two seconds per lap at the start is a waste of time if the Safety Car comes out on lap ten.

Pirelli’s more conservative approach to tyres this year – because the teams have enough to cope with as it is – means the need to preserve tyres is likely to be reduced.

According to the sport’s official tyre supplier a likely tyre strategy for the race is two soft stints of similar length followed by a short medium stint of around seven laps. With the soft tyre offering performance and not degrading too quickly, they believe the medium won’t get much use.

By this stage in the race drivers should be pushing their cars as hard as they can, so a late pit stop for fresh tyres should mean some rapid laps in the closing stages. Assuming everyone gets their sums right.

For now only one thing is certain: the time for speculation is almost over.

Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’31.6991’42.890 (+11.191)1’44.231 (+1.341)
2Daniel RicciardoRed Bull1’30.7751’42.295 (+11.520)1’44.548 (+2.253)
3Nico RosbergMercedes1’32.5641’42.264 (+9.700)1’44.595 (+2.331)
4Kevin MagnussenMcLaren1’30.9491’43.247 (+12.298)1’45.745 (+2.498)
5Fernando AlonsoFerrari1’31.3881’42.805 (+11.417)1’45.819 (+3.014)
6Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso1’33.4881’43.849 (+10.361)1’45.864 (+2.015)
7Nico HulkenbergForce India1’33.8931’43.658 (+9.765)1’46.030 (+2.372)
8Daniil KvyatToro Rosso1’33.7771’44.331 (+10.554)1’47.368 (+3.037)
9Felipe MassaWilliams1’31.2281’44.242 (+13.014)1’48.079 (+3.837)
10Valtteri BottasWilliams1’31.6011’43.852 (+12.251)1’48.147 (+4.295)
11Jenson ButtonMcLaren1’31.3961’44.437 (+13.041)
12Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’32.4391’44.494 (+12.055)
13Sebastian VettelRed Bull1’31.9311’44.668 (+12.737)
14Adrian SutilSauber1’33.6731’45.655 (+11.982)
15Kamui KobayashiCaterham1’34.2741’45.867 (+11.593)
16Sergio PerezForce India1’34.1411’47.293 (+13.152)
17Max ChiltonMarussia1’34.293
18Jules BianchiMarussia1’34.794
19Esteban GutierrezSauber1’35.117
20Marcus EricssonCaterham1’35.157
21Romain GrosjeanLotus1’36.993
22Pastor MaldonadoLotus

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton29.863 (1)24.155 (2)37.375 (9)
Daniel Ricciardo30.045 (3)24.386 (6)36.344 (1)
Nico Rosberg30.188 (7)24.795 (11)37.058 (7)
Kevin Magnussen30.069 (4)24.068 (1)36.812 (3)
Fernando Alonso30.220 (8)24.547 (7)36.514 (2)
Jean-Eric Vergne30.692 (13)25.134 (16)37.639 (11)
Nico Hulkenberg30.465 (11)24.775 (10)38.185 (16)
Daniil Kvyat30.859 (15)25.260 (19)37.658 (12)
Felipe Massa29.940 (2)24.358 (5)36.849 (4)
Valtteri Bottas30.133 (6)24.287 (4)37.084 (8)
Jenson Button30.091 (5)24.285 (3)37.020 (6)
Kimi Raikkonen30.309 (9)24.654 (8)37.476 (10)
Sebastian Vettel30.345 (10)24.668 (9)36.852 (5)
Adrian Sutil30.831 (14)25.015 (14)37.731 (13)
Kamui Kobayashi30.860 (16)24.985 (13)38.252 (19)
Sergio Perez30.537 (12)24.948 (12)38.210 (18)
Max Chilton31.140 (20)25.142 (17)37.938 (15)
Jules Bianchi31.004 (18)25.170 (18)38.208 (17)
Esteban Gutierrez30.935 (17)26.245 (22)37.783 (14)
Marcus Ericsson31.794 (21)25.054 (15)38.309 (20)
Romain Grosjean31.104 (19)25.525 (20)38.888 (21)
Pastor Maldonado41.403 (22)26.030 (21)41.281 (22)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Valtteri BottasWilliamsMercedes317.5 (197.3)
2Sergio PerezForce IndiaMercedes315.4 (196.0)-2.1
3Kevin MagnussenMcLarenMercedes314.8 (195.6)-2.7
4Nico RosbergMercedesMercedes313.8 (195.0)-3.7
5Nico HulkenbergForce IndiaMercedes313.6 (194.9)-3.9
6Felipe MassaWilliamsMercedes312.9 (194.4)-4.6
7Jenson ButtonMcLarenMercedes312.0 (193.9)-5.5
8Kimi RaikkonenFerrariFerrari311.4 (193.5)-6.1
9Fernando AlonsoFerrariFerrari310.9 (193.2)-6.6
10Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes310.7 (193.1)-6.8
11Jean-Eric VergneToro RossoRenault309.4 (192.3)-8.1
12Esteban GutierrezSauberFerrari308.0 (191.4)-9.5
13Kamui KobayashiCaterhamRenault307.3 (190.9)-10.2
14Daniil KvyatToro RossoRenault306.8 (190.6)-10.7
15Marcus EricssonCaterhamRenault306.8 (190.6)-10.7
16Adrian SutilSauberFerrari304.3 (189.1)-13.2
17Daniel RicciardoRed BullRenault303.2 (188.4)-14.3
18Sebastian VettelRed BullRenault302.0 (187.7)-15.5
19Romain GrosjeanLotusRenault301.5 (187.3)-16.0
20Max ChiltonMarussiaFerrari301.4 (187.3)-16.1
21Pastor MaldonadoLotusRenault300.5 (186.7)-17.0
22Jules BianchiMarussiaFerrari299.5 (186.1)-18.0

Over to you

Can F1’s latest revolution in the rules possibly live up to expectations? Is this really Mercedes’ race to lose?

Share your views on the Australian Grand Prix in the comments.

2014 Australian Grand Prix

    Browse all 2014 Australian Grand Prix articles

    Images © McLaren/Hoch Zwei, Ferrari/Ercole Colombo, Force India, Red Bull/Getty

    Author information

    Keith Collantine
    Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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    51 comments on “Expect a slow-starting race and a sprint to the flag”

    1. P.S. A great article, but three paras from the end I think you mean ” strategy for the race is two soft [not medium] stints”

      1. @paul-a Fixed it, thanks.

    2. Based on P2 pace, the only man who could challenge the mercs in the dry is starting waaaay back


      1. Plus, based on those times I’m really not sure how you can say the Mercs were punishing their tyres in 2nd practice. They were a second quicker than anyone (and 2-3 seconds quicker than many) and did their fastest race laps at the end of 12 lap stints on softs.

    3. If the race is dry, Mercedes will probably crush the opposition, presuming they will finish the race. If the race is wet, anything can happen and the victor might be a surprise.

      1. Mr win or lose
        15th March 2014, 20:40

        If it’s raining, Mercedes will probably crush the opposition as they don’t have to save that much fuel. However, I don’t think there will be a sprint to the finish, as it seems that everyone will be managing fuel all race long. Even if fuel saving is only a minor issue, I expect drivers to be fast in the opening stages in order to reduce their fuel load a little more (but that may be risky indeed in case of a safety-car period). I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. ;)

    4. I really cannot stress how excited I am! I don’t think I’ve been this excited since I was 8 and saw Santa come into my room on Christmas Eve night. Hopefully the race won’t be as disappointing as finding our two years later that the fat, bearded man who came into my room that night was my dad.

      1. Your father is Santa ?!!

      2. Disappointing? Imagine how concerned you’d be if it turned out not to be your dad!!!!

        1. And was your mum..

          1. Or your future wife…

            1. But that is your mum.

    5. I can’t wait to see how these things get off the line.

    6. And people were saying Marussia are relying lots of DNF’s for their first points. Nevermind that, they look to be on course for around 50 points in one race! :P

    7. Thanks for the interesting, and one assumes final, preview. I’m excited about seeing it all unfold in a few hours time!

    8. This is exactly how I assumed the race will be run.
      The gamble for those who decide to push early on in the race, is that there will be no safety car. And this is a gamble a driver may never recover from if the safety car gets introduced at some stage.
      Right now, I’d hate to be the one in charge of race strategy.

      1. Based on the Friday practice race stints, absent rain the only threat for Hamilton and Rosberg are each other – they both have a clear margin on all the cars around then, so you’d assume there’s an agreement to run lean (but still very decent pace for everyone else) and hold station to begin with.

    9. OmarR-Pepper (@)
      15th March 2014, 19:39

      Ok, I know I may be hating myself tomorrow, but as I said maaaaany times before, you’ll tell me how the race was . I would feel as betraying my F1 fanatism if I dare to see a race this season. Good fun for all of you.

      1. @omarr-pepper Wait what? Why aren’t you going to watch this season? Are you trying to make a protest against double points or something?

    10. I’m thinking RIC needs a wet race to reduce any power disadvantage and to maximise any downforce advantage. His front row performance supports that to some degree, though it was presumably helped by his use of inters.

    11. Is this supposed to be like all the other things that doomsayers told us to expect, that never materialized?

    12. I feel so sorry for Grosjean. The guy was running around for the lead in some races at the end of last year, and now he is stuck in a car right at the back.

      1. Every radio message from Grosjean was him screaming in frustration. :(

    13. The Red Bull speed is no flash in the pan – weather or no weather. It was absolutely mighty in sector 3; crushing both Mercs! This means it is still producing more downforce and stability than it’s competitors.

      1. It means those times are comparing RIC on softs to both Mercs on Mediums. 2 tenths quicker than another mediocre Ferrari does not quite support your argument.

        1. For reference, Lewis did a 35.8 in practice for that sector. Half a second quicker.

      2. Yeah I was watching the Merc’s last sector times and comparing it to Vettel’s and some others, Merc own the last sector by a good margin. If Merc own the fuel consumption strategy, they should walk this race in the dry. If it’s wet, I suspect Red Bull will have something to say, if it’s dry, I suspect more Mercedes powered cars will be closer to the pointy end.

        Sadly, it doesn’t cost anything for it to rain :) The return on investment for the new power units has yet to materialize.

        1. your all forgetting the one thing that happened continuously during practice,
          cars falling off the track, there is going to be a lot of Safety Cars,
          these cars are a drivers car not a push to the limit with unlimited down force,
          the cars will be backed up together at least 3/4 times i am expecting during the race,
          you will be on the edge of your seat i am sure more cars will go off the track in this race than we have ever seen before.

    14. Very excited because of the grid, with Magnussen and Ricciardo that high up, but I’m afraid how the fuel saving will affect the racing. I hope it won’t turn into one of those eco-marathon races….

      About the weather: if any rain is going to fall, it will be very little, so not like today. I’m hoping for a dry race, just to see what F1 will be like in 2014.

      1. I think it will be a case of who dares goes the fastest tomorrow, certainly for the first two thirds of the race. In future it could be case of not needing to tune in until the last 20 laps. I hope i’m wrong but it’s hard to see the strategy going down any other way.

    15. wow they are doing 2013 Monza top speeds at albert park!

    16. “Why save fuel at the beginning of the race and not the end? Doing so early in the race offers cover in the event of the Safety Car being deployed.”
      Couldn’t a case be made for going all out and use up fuel at the beginning of the race to make the car lighter as soon as possible? A lighter car would be quicker and use less fuel than competitors.

      1. so you propose to use up more fuel to save fuel. cunning

      2. i suspect you might see people sitting just 1 second out to get DRS, and some other people might risk losing out at the end of the race to help out their sponsors.

        w/ the 4 MJ ERS option, and drivers who saved more fuel early on, w/ lower weight later in the race, those guys will have the better average speeds over a race, assuming they don’t get walloped by all the mid field looking to capitalize on a conservative race strategy.

    17. Can I just ask why the fuel limit has been reduced to 100 kilo’s? Because I don’t see how that is going to be a positive implementation this season.

      1. To encourage efficiency. Real-life relevance and all that.

    18. So much to come! I am a bit disappointed by the Williams performance, as well as Ferrari and McLaren, but anything can happen. I really wonder if the Ferraris will perform well tomorrow or if they are a step behind. And, as said, if rain comes, we’ll have to wait another two weeks to know the real pecking order.

    19. Non-Q3 drivers have an extra set of softs for the race? Is that right? Or does it not count because Q3 was wet? Tire allocations get tricky.

      1. +1 Hmmm I was wondering this

    20. Really looking forward to the collective roar of 22 cars come tomorrow. I’ve seen nobody so far mention Vergne’s performance, 6th place is very commendable

      Would be great for Kamui to score Caterhams first points tomorrow, providing he keeps out of trouble

    21. I do fear we may be in for an anticlimax tomorrow. One dominant team in exchange for another etc etc.

    22. No one noticed Nico went through a set of primes in 8 laps in P3? 4 quick and 4 slow laps?

    23. The Tortoise transforms into the Hare! This should be great to watch. Too often in recent seasons has the action only lasted the first quarter-ish of the race, before petering out into a spaced-out field cars and maybe one or two final battles for position.

      This is what a race weekend should be, in my opinion. The excitement and sheer captivation starts on Thursday, rising slowly to a great qualifying session, before calming down. The calm before the storm that is Race Day. Sunday arrives, the lights go out… No-one is 10seconds ahead in as many laps. The cars are still together for now.. but soon.. soon the Gladiatiors will go all-out to the flag.

      A mad dash to the finish line will be great, there are so many talented drivers on the grid. The cars are much harder to drive, and they’re surprisingly evenly matched! 2014, here we go!

    24. ‘fuel saving’ was something that occurred quite frequently in cart/champcar and to a lesser degree the current indycar & on the whole it never really hurt the racing.

      having said that i think the fuel saving could be bad this weekend because its the 1st race so there is a lot of unknowns. over the rest of the year once everyone has it figured out & systems/engines are optimized i dont think it will be an issue at all.
      was the same with other big changes like the 1 engine rule in 2004 & the fueling ban in 2010, everyone was super conservative the 1st race because nobody really knew where they were, it always gets better over the other races.

      by the end of 2014 & into 2015 we wont be talking about it.

    25. I’m worried by Red Bull in qualifying. If there’s a chance they’re quick now, they’re always dominant at the end of the year, and the double points nonsense which would play into their hands too.

      I don’t want them to do badly, but I don’t want to see another year of predictable domination.

    26. Let us just all pray that Red Bull doesn’t win. Everyone’s interest will tank if it turns into a boring Red Bull show all over again.

    27. I won’t be at all surprised if there is a lot of wheel to wheel or wing to wheel contact at the start and for the first few corners. There just seems to be so much movement with these cars, and combined with the different braking systems….I’m not saying it’s going to be mayhem, but I do think there’s going to be some rubbing going on.

      As to the questions posed by Keith…I do think it is Mercedes race to lose, and I think we need to be fair and give the revolutionary rules changes more than just this race before we judge…especially if it rains tomorrow.

    28. fantastic blog – as a newcomer!

    29. The highlight would be how much recovery can the 3 World Champions that fall off in Q2?

    30. With the braking issues, unreliability, etc I expect to see the safety car doing quite a few laps. It would be a waste of fuel and too risky mechanically to push too hard early.

    31. All races have the potential to be exciting, and given the new formula and the cars’ reliability and fuel consumption issues, this one could well be a toss-up. A race for the ages? Maybe an embarrassment to the sport? I’m worried that there might be problems on the starting grid, and I’m also concerned about us being subjected to some sort of fuel economy run. F1 races are supposed to sprints, after all. Anyway, I’m pretty excited for (hopefully) a fun race. There will likely be more questions raised tomorrow than questions answered, but maybe that’s not a bad thing.

    Comments are closed.