Australian Grand Prix 2014: Were Reliability Concerns a Fuss over Nothing?

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2014

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 16:  Marcus Ericsson of Sweden and Caterham leads from Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Infiniti Red Bull Racing and Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela and Lotus during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 16, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Throughout winter testing, the buzzword in Formula One was reliability. As we approached the Australian Grand Prix, a number of teams still hadn't completed race distances.

All of them had experienced multiple problems during testing and none could say with confidence that both cars would get to the end.

Team personnel, media, experts and fans alike weighed in with their thoughts. Those saying we might have no finishers were going a little bit too far, but the realistic predictions being thrown around were that a finish might be enough for points.

In the end, it was 21 December 2012 all over again. The doom-mongers were wrong, the squib was a damp one, the apocalypse was not now.

A total of 15 cars were still running at the chequered flag. They including the later-disqualified Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo and Jules Bianchi's Marussia, which was so far behind it wasn't classified.

Of the seven retirements, six were due to car failures. Kamui Kobayashi, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Pastor Maldonado, Romain Grosjean and Marcus Ericsson.

So it was all a fuss over nothing?

Ross Land/Associated Press

Not quite.

That figure of 15 looks good, but it could easily have been much lower. Max Chilton's engine decided to turn itself off at the start of the formation lap, and Jules Bianchi's did the same thing on the starting grid.

Both got going from the pit lane, but the two Marussias were only a whisker away from being the first retirements of the race with mechanical failures.

Also struggling were the Ferraris. The chassis technical director Pat Fry said on the team's website:

Today we saw how reliability can never be taken for granted: it caught some people out and it also affected our performance at some stages of the race. On both the F14 Ts, we had some electrical problems, especially on Kimi’s car, which meant he couldn't use all the car’s potential.

Two more minor issues which, on another day, might have been major ones.

And Adrian Sutil had an electric motor problem early on which left him running very slowly. It resolved itself but how close was he to retiring as well?

Had all five gone out, we would have had only 10 cars classified. Add in Ricciardo's disqualification, which was down to a faulty new component, and we're down to nine.

Then consider the issue that affected Lewis Hamilton (two issues, actuallyhis engine switched itself off in practice) could have hit any of the Mercedes runners. Sebastian Vettel's race-ending problem could have affected any Renault.

And don't forget that Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Gutierrez suffered gearbox failures. It was their good fortune the failures occurred in practice.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 14:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP drives during practice for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 14, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The feared carnage didn't materialise, but that doesn't mean we can sit back and fix the vanquished defeatists with our smug glares of hindsight.

Well, maybe the ones who said no finishers but not the more thoughtful bunch who expected fewer than 10.

There's a well-known saying, "There but for the grace of God go I." Any driver who finished the race could look at Hamilton, Vettel, Kobayashi or Grosjean and utter those words.

Legend says the man who (according to said legend) coined the phrase, John Bradford, spoke it as he saw condemned criminals being led to the gallows in the 16th century.

He was himself executed shortly afterwards.

Australia was a good result for the new regulations, but it's hot, sticky Malaysia next. Air temperatures will be in the region of 15 degrees Celsius higher than they were on Sunday in Melbourne.

Cooling problems still exist, and the event will provide a much sterner test for the new power units.

So let's wait until we've had a few more races before jumping to any conclusions.


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