Power Ranking the F1 Teams After 2014 Australian Grand Prix
The 2014 Formula One season kicked off in dramatic fashion at the Australian Grand Prix.
Nico Rosberg won the race at a canter, while Daniel Ricciardo was disqualified after coming home in second. Kevin Magnussen marked his F1 debut with a podium, and it's his McLaren team leading the way in the constructors' standings.
On the other end of the happy scale, pre-race favourite Lewis Hamilton's race was over almost as soon as it began when his Mercedes developed a misfire. Defending champion Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull also lasted just a few laps.
Valtteri Bottas lost a likely podium when he hit the wall, and Felipe Massa was furious to be taken out at Turn 1.
And the less said about Caterham and Lotus, the better.
Looking at reliability, single lap and race pace, here's how the teams currently rank.
After a yo-yo preseason, Caterham got off to a shocking start in Friday practice, managing only three laps. Practice on Saturday went better, then Kamui Kobayashi somehow qualified the CT04 in 15th place.
Unfortunately, that was as good as it got.
A loss of rear brakes at Turn 1 on the opening lap sent Kobayashi into the back of Felipe Massa. The car was damaged beyond repair.
In the other car, Marcus Ericsson was lapping a little slower than the Marussias and Lotus until his oil pressure dropped on Lap 27, forcing him to park up at Turn 4.
It's difficult to separate Caterham and Lotus for last spot, but the green guys take it by a whisker.
Lotus struggled all weekend in Australia.
When they did finally get it out on the circuit in practice, the car looked extremely difficult to drive. Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado spent as much time ploughing through gravel traps as they did on the track.
Lotus were the only team to qualify exactly where evidence suggested they would—last and second last.
And in the race, they trundled around near the back of the field. In the few laps they completed together, the two Lotuses were actually slower than Lewis Hamilton's five-cylinder Mercedes.
Both cars retired with energy-recovery issues. The only consolation is that Grosjean was just 14 laps shy of the race distance when his E22 packed in.
That actually represented significant progress.
Maybe the car will be quick once they've caught up with everyone else, but for now the team have a mountain to climb.
Marussia very nearly turned the start of the Australian Grand Prix into a farce.
First, Max Chilton's engine decided to turn itself off before he could set off on the formation lap. Then when the cars were ready to start, Jules Bianchi's engine did the same thing, sparking another formation lap.
Both men started from the pit lane, Bianchi several laps down. And both men finished, though only Chilton was classified.
The Englishman has now finished 20 consecutive races.
Aside from getting off the line, the team's biggest weakness is probably top speed. The Marussias were consistently slow through the speed traps, some 20 kilometres an hour slower than the quickest cars.
Part of this is likely explained by the need to run higher wing levels than their more heavily developed rivals. The rest is maybe down to the Ferrari engine.
The one little ray of sunshine is that the car is, at this point in time, better than the Caterham and Lotus.
Sauber had a largely anonymous Australian Grand Prix, but anyone paying close attention will have noticed they were going slowly all weekend.
Esteban Gutierrez went out in Q1, outqualified by both Marussias and a Caterham. Adrian Sutil qualified 14th in a wet Q2.
Things didn't improve on Sunday. Both cars finished (11th and 12th), but each was a lap down and ahead of only the Marussias.
To illustrate quite how dismal it was, when the safety car came in on Lap 16, Sutil was ahead of Toro Rosso's Daniil Kvyat. Thirty laps later, he was 40 seconds behind him.
Both drivers were effectively on a one-stop strategy (though Gutierrez did two, the first was on Lap 1), but that alone isn't enough to explain away losing that much time to a Toro Rosso.
In the team's post-race reflections on their website, both drivers had one primary complaint: The car is slow.
It's not as bad as it could be, but work is definitely needed.
7. Toro Rosso
Toro Rosso went into the Australian Grand Prix with low expectations. The car hadn't shown any great pace, the Renault engine was known to be a little bit fragile and their driver lineup wasn't frightening anyone.
So a double-points finish, their first since Korea 2012, is genuine cause for celebration.
Daniil Kvyat and Jean-Eric Vergne showed the wet-weather ability of the STR9 in qualifying and lined up 6th and 8th.
Both lost ground in the opening laps, but once everything settled down they were circulating at around the same pace as the Force Indias.
Vergne came home in eighth, and Kvyat's ninth made him the youngest points scorer in F1 history.
The result flatters them slightly, but no one at Faenza will be disappointed with the weekend.
6. Force India
There are a lot of teams very close together from this point on, but Force India can probably be punted down to sixth with a degree of confidence.
Sergio Perez had a difficult race. Caught up in the first-lap mayhem, he dropped to the back and spent the day playing catch-up.
Nico Hulkenberg had a better time of things. He made a good start and ran in fourth until midway through the race.
Then he pitted. In the modern era of no refueling, it's usually the man who pits first who ends up ahead as he has new tyres—known as the undercut. But Hulkenberg got "overcut" by Alonso, who stopped a few laps later. In clean air, the Ferrari was clearly a lot faster, even on used tyres.
The recovering Bottas later got past the German too, who finished sixth after Daniel Ricciardo was disqualified.
Force India are certainly not where they wanted to be. Definitely last of the Mercedes runners at this time.
One of the most obvious points of interest from Australia was the difficulty Ferraris had in overtaking.
Fernando Alonso found himself stuck behind his old buddy Nico Hulkenberg early on. The Ferrari was clearly a lot quicker around a lap, but on the straights—even with DRS—he could do nothing.
The car has pace when it's not cooped up behind someone else, but if Ferraris struggle to overtake all season, they're not going to have a happy time in the races.
Were the rumours floating around all winter (mentioned here on ESPN) about the Ferrari engine being underpowered true?
Alonso finished fourth.
Kimi Raikkonen had less success. The Finn qualified 12th and came home in a disappointing seventh. He suffered tyre graining and, according to Ferrari, "electrical glitches," but he didn't look happy all weekend.
Ferrari have work to do.
4. Red Bull
Red Bull went into the weekend on the back foot, but appear to have made massive strides.
In terms of pace—both single lap and race—they look second only to Mercedes, despite being relatively slow in the speed traps.
That's not down to the car being worse. During Sky Sports F1's live practice coverage, Martin Brundle noted the Red Bull was better than any other car in the fast corners and was carrying more entry speed too.
It's the Renault powertrain holding them back. Once it's running at the same level as the Mercedes, the RB10 is probably going to be at least as fast as the W05.
But that may not happen in 2014, and it brings us nicely to their main Achilles heel—reliability, specifically that of the Renault lump.
Sebastian Vettel retired early from the Australian Grand Prix with a loss of power. It was a continuation of a problem he first felt in P3 and which also affected him in qualifying.
Daniel Ricciardo drove an impressive race with no engine troubles to finish second. He was later disqualified for a fuel flow irregularity, but nonetheless proved the car can do a full race distance.
The team still have to worry about getting their cars to the end, but the situation isn't as bad as previously thought.
McLaren ended their podium drought in style with Kevin Magnussen taking a brilliant third (later second). Daniel Ricciardo's disqualification elevated Jenson Button onto the bottom step.
After a dismal 2013, the Woking-based team now lead the constructors' championship. That flatters them, but it's just reward for the team producing a very good all-round car.
Their pace isn't in the same league as that of Mercedes—in race trim it's approaching a second. Red Bull are quicker too, by a smaller margin, and arguably Williams as well.
But McLaren have reliability equal to or better than any team on the grid. And as Ron Dennis (among others) said in the past, to finish first, you first have to finish.
A fair whack of pace coupled with a lot of reliability (and two quality drivers) means McLaren are in a good position going forward.
Williams had what could be called a nightmare weekend, but they still scored more points in Australia than they did in the whole of 2013.
Both cars qualified much further back than they should have when rain affected Saturday's session.
On Sunday, Felipe Massa's race was over at Turn 1. We'll never know what he could have achieved at Melbourne.
In the other car, Valtteri Bottas drove beautifully in the early stages. Starting from 15th after a gearbox penalty, he made up several places in the opening laps.
The Finn probably had the pace to challenge for a podium, but hit the wall as he chased Alonso.
He was lucky to be able to carry on, and even luckier that debris from his crash brought out the safety car. It meant he lost track position but not too much time, and he was able to fight back up to what became fifth.
The results say Williams did okay—but the performance says they're in a very good place right now. Just a shade ahead of McLaren.
Lewis Hamilton's early retirement with a misfire will have sent a wave of relief down the rest of the pit lane.
But that wave will have melted away into a sad, salty ripple by the chequered flag. The remaining Mercedes of Nico Rosberg absolutely destroyed the field in Australia.
His race-pace advantage was such that the Mercedes man could easily pull out a second per lap when he wanted to. Rosberg won by "only" 26 seconds, but he set the fastest lap of the race on Lap 19.
In the no-refuelling era, that's borderline absurd. Had he pushed, a winning margin of a minute was possible.
Over a single lap, they have a substantial lead too. Maybe not as much, but in excess of half a second.
Reliability-wise they're not where they'd like to be, but as the old saying goes, it's easier to make a quick car reliable than a reliable car quick.
And they're so far ahead, it's impossible to put anyone else in first.
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