Andrew Davies returns with his Winners and Losers column for the 12th season and is stunned to see 15 cars circulating at the finish...
Star of the Race*
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, 2nd
Although there may be those that say Kevin Magnussen's F1 debut was the performance of the race, it's a close call. With a rookie, you have no fear. If you slide off the corner on the opening lap, well, that's a learning curve. For Daniel Ricciardo there were all kinds of issues to contend with, and the fact that he kept his nerve till the end of a hard-pressed race showed that Mark Webber's is in good hands.
Fuel flow issues aside, Dan's stellar job started on Saturday with the trickiest set of qualifying conditions you could throw at an F1 field. Complex new tail-happy cars on a street circuit, with high wind, varying degrees of rainfall and a lot of painted lines don't make for an easy start to the season. The fact that Ricciardo could put in P1 after P1 on his way to his best ever grid slot (previously P6) showed that the pressure of performing in front of his home fans wasn't getting to him. If the positions had been reversed with Vettel scorching round at the front and Dan suffering 'driveability problems' nobody would have been surprised.
In the past Ricciardo's starts have been less than convincing, and it may well be that the false start, where Bianchi couldn't get off the line, gave him the data he needed to adjust. There was speculation before the start of the race that the Renault engines really struggled on getaway. Just leaving the garage they looked juddery. Daniel radioed back after the first launch to get more adjustments "it's bogging down a little bit". That helped him get away cleanly and he wasn't to know that going into Turn 1 the polesitter was already cruising.
It also helped that it was Magnussen behind him in the race and not Bottas, because both Williams drivers (on the strength of Bottas' speed) looked capable of making the podium today. So he got away without any wheel-to-wheel combat.
Coming into the race nobody really expected Red Bull to be contenders or even last the distance, so that's the big bonus. Now we're into all the wrangling that follows the fuel flow disqualificatrion and the realisation that Ricciardo's performance was based on an unfair advantage. When we re-set for Malaysia we may get an indication of how small or large that advantage was.
Overtaking Move of the Race
Lap 8: Valtteri Bottas (Williams) on Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
Valtteri was on a charge from the start and having escaped the flying Caterham, set about making his way to the front in a hurry. Vergne proved easy enough, but his compatriot would be tougher. On Lap 8 he launched it down the outside of Kimi Raikkonen and held on round the outside of Turn 3 to get the inside line on the short run to Turn 4. He got it done.
In a similar move from Nico Hulkenberg after the second pitstops, Fernando Alonso was fractionally further ahead of the Force India driver in Turn 3 and simply swept across the line. Had Raikkonen done the same there would have been quite a bit of debris.
Despite the commentary team of James Allen and Allan McNish ignoring Jules Bianchi as a 'runner' for the entire race, there were 15 cars still running at the flag. This was way better than the eight of 2002 which included a car of Pedro de la Rosa that was five laps down. Bianchi was only six laps down at the finish, but not classified.
Given the turmoil of pre-season failings and the lack of race distances run, to have 15 cars still circulating at the end was remarkable. Two of the seven cars eliminated were courtesy of Kobayashi. The Caterham was supposedly a victim of brake failure, but it looked to all the world like a failure to brake.
Many thought it would be Carmageddon, but as Fernando Alonso predicted before the race, it wasn't so different from usual races. Just a lot quieter.
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 1st
Lewis Hamilton's early elimination robbed us of a true fight at the front. Without him, Rosberg was in a race of his own. Even with the Mercedes W05 dialled to Tootle mode, he finished twenty seconds down the road - that, after a Safety Car compressed the field. And with another potential Safety Car at any stage of the race you have to assume that Rosberg was the right side of the fuel balance all the way through, otherwise he would have slowed down a lot more.
Immediately after the Safety Car came in he opened up a 2.2 second gap - it would have been more if Red Bull had heeded calls from the FIA to turn Ricciardo's fuel flow down.
Kevin Magnussen, McLaren, 3rd
Magnussen dodged a bullet in qualifying by putting in a faster lap in Q2 despite passing the stricken Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen at the side of the track. The stewards looked at both his time and Vettel's after qualifying and let them off. So does that mean all you have to do now for a flashing yellow is show that you've lifted? Jenson Button did the old school thing and slowed down and missed the cut, whereas Vergne and Magnussen both improved.
That said, to qualify the car where he did, in the conditions that prevailed on Saturday, were astonishing from a rookie (and the same for Kvyat too). In fact Saturday was more impressive than Sunday, when the cards fell into place. He also survived a very scary and potentially expensive swerve on the run down to Turn 1. Luckily for him he hit no-one because he was so close to the front. He couldn't get away witht hatinmidfield.
As debuts go it was impressive - Hamiltoneque - and has already justified the faith that McLaren have invested in him. But there will be a lot tougher afternoons. Ron may hug him some more.
Jenson Button, McLaren, 4th
So often the victim of bad luck, Jenson was the beneficiary of a handily timed Safety Car for a change. With all teams nearing their first tyre-stops, when Valtteri Bottas decided to test the bounce-ability of his FW36, the subsequent Safety Car was always going to penalise drivers who were running close on track and had two cars to pit on the same lap. Button got the drop early, but even without his opportune dive for the pits he would have made places on Ferrari and Toro Rosso, who had two cars to service.
That helped get past Vergne and up into P6 and he was able to join the Hulkenberg-Alonso fuel-saving queue until he could make the undercut to pass them both. F1's most seasoned campaigner thus got himself back into the kind of position his machinery warranted, had he not done the gentlemanly thing in Q2 and stopped to enquire about Kimi Raikkonen's health on his final hot lap.
Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 5thIt would be interesting to know Fernando Alonso's true feelings after the race. Going into it he knew that the Williams and the Mercedes were faster than him, but that Ferrari probably had the edge on McLaren and certainly Red Bull. After it, he might be starting to worry.
It was also a bit of a collector's item to see him overtaken on the opening lap by Nico Hulkenberg. That doesn't happen very often.
Hindsight's a wonderful thing in motor racing but given the speed of the laps he was pulling at the finish you've got to wonder why he didn't go for the undercut to get past Hulkenberg a bit earlier.
Valtteri Bottas, Williams, 6th
His own mistake was his saviour. Having thrown the car at the wall, he needed a safety car to put him back in touch with the race, and his tyre carcase and the jettisoned wheel rim did that for him. More points than last season in just the first race, but Valtteri knows he could and maybe should have been third or fourth.
Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, 7th
Given the team's strong testing pace I was expecting even more from the Silverstone boys in Melbourne, but a good return for the Hulk nonetheless. And unlike the factory units, they got both engines to the flag.
Toro Rossos, 9th and 10th
Considering they've had more pre-season problems than Christian Horner's had fuel flow sensors, Toro Rosso had an outstanding Australian Grand Prix with two cars in Q3, two cars in the points, the youngest ever points scorer in F1, and a vindication for Helmut Marko's staircase of talent.
Some heroic all-nighters from the Lotus mechanics to get their car up and running after a late late start to the season. They got their reward in some consistent running for Grosjean and Maldonado.Losers
It was eerily quiet in the race and for the first time you started to hear other noises - the fans cheering, the fans jeering (that must be the biggest ever cheer for a P12 in qualifying) and the screech of tyres under braking and tearing away from the pits. Getting used to F1 without the sound effects is probably going to be harder than getting used to Lewis's new haircut.
The diehard traditionalists are horrified by the lack of noise, and even though the turbo whistle has its own impressive timbre, it's Rush with a significant hush. We know we can't bring back the V8s V10s, V12s or even riding mechanics, but it will be interesting to see how the sport reacts.
Maybe that will be one more parameter that you have to add to the package. Teams will have to run to a certain weight, use 100kgs of fuel and tune their exhausts to a minimum 110 decibels.
Ironically, it's the deaf old ******s who hate the new engines the most, because a lifetime spent next to F1 machinery has impaired their hearing so badly that, to them, it's even quieter.
Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, DNF
The bad news was that the engine software was playing up and the RB10 wasn't very driveable. But the good news was that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the fuel flow sensor. You've got to take positives out of every weekend.
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, DNF
It was a question of all or nothing at all for Mercedes this weekend, typified by Lewis's Friday where a sensor shut his engine down right at the beginning of first free practice. With only five cylinders in the race he was going nowhere.
Felipe Massa, Williams, DNF
A frustrating afternoon for Felipe and a surprise to hear that Kamui admitted to the mistake that took him out, braking too late for Turn 1, and then being reprieved by the FIA stewards who said the Caterham's brakes had failed. How often are drivers unaware that their brakes have failed? Kobayashi isn't your average driver, but the average driver would have been quick to point this out. In TV interviews Kamui was saying that he should have braked earlier. If your brakes fail why would you be talking about braking points? It's a puzzler.
In case you were wondering, Allan McNish is a three-time Le Mans Winner, he hasn't changed his name by deed poll to Three Times Le Mans Winner Allan McNish. Because that's what the BBC are constantly introducing him as, to cover their silent shame of getting rid of technical expert Gary Anderson. As David Coulthard (and everybody) kept saying, "the biggest technical change to F1 in a generation" and what do the BBC do - they get rid of their technical expert.
Allan's good at what he does, but he doesn't fill in the gaps that Gary Anderson could. So now you have a James Allen Mk2 and a David Coulthard Mk2 rather than extra insight. The three times Le Mans winner came up with the biggest understatement of the weekend speaking at the end of the BBC programme. Daniel Ricciardo's car had just been disqualified and Red Bull reduced to zero points and Allan predicted: "It's taken a bit of the shine off the result for Red Bull..." **
*All positions based on original result.
** More media quotes in Team-Mate Wars on Wednesday