Australian Grand Prix - comment: Technology still king as 'the great F1 shake-up' merely swaps dominance from Red Bull to their rivals
Mercedes have a clearly dominant car
So the biggest technical shake-up in a generation, introduced in part to break the domination of one German driver, results in a thumping victory by another. For Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel read Mercedes and Nico Rosberg, who could not have paid a greater tribute to the stricken Michael Schumacher, champion of the uncontested victory.
The worrying aspect for Formula One was the conservative nature of the near 30-second win. Rosberg did not get near to finding the limit of the imperious silver arrow. It’s only one race I hear you say, but we have been here before and it doesn’t always get better.
That Formula One should find itself in this position, with one team so obviously superior, results from the sport’s insistence on making an arms race of the competition. It is bogged down in the idea that it must be a flagship for new technologies. Hence the imposition of whiny, 1.6litre, six-cylinder engines, when the requirement is for politically incorrect grunt.
This attachment to the notion of technology as its unique selling point leaves Formula One at the mercy of the boffin. If science were entertaining, we would be awarding gold medals to men in white coats with clipboards. There is a reason cameras are not trained on Adrian Newey and his wind tunnel, and it has nothing to do with secrecy.
This was a terrific weekend for the introduction of new drivers but how much better would it have been were Kevin Magnusson and Daniil Kvyat chasing down Rosberg for the 25 points? This sport is first and foremost about the driver. If technology is to be central to the project let it be shared. If nothing else the driver would be the agency of difference.
At least there is a way back for Rosberg’s team-mate Lewis Hamilton. Though he barely lasted two laps, Hamilton saw enough from his seat in the garage to know that, when he pitches up in full health at Sepang next week, he has the same advantage at his disposal.
After claiming pole so dramatically with his last run in qualifying Hamilton was holed by a failed cylinder, which stole power and then purpose. With Hamilton out of the running it became immediately clear that the prospect of a race at the front was over. And that is the last thing the sport wanted after last year’s procession to a fourth world title by Vettel.
We have seen already, in the exclusion of Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull, the lengths the opposition must go just to hang on to second place. Red Bull strayed the wrong side of legality with the fuel flow regulation. The appeal has gone in, but that appears a stubborn reflex born of hope rather than expectation.
It is true that Brawn GP did not train on after delivering to Jenson Button five wins in the opening six races of 2009, but Mercedes are not strapped by the same lack of resources. Brawn stole a technological march via the double diffuser. By the seventh race in Turkey the field had caught up and, in the end, made Button work for his only world title.
Mercedes are both constructor and team, with pockets as deep as any. The gap might narrow to a degree but how far ahead will they be before, if at all, they have to fight someone other than themselves for victories? Not their problem, of course.
Hamilton was deeply cheesed off, but knows he will not have to wait long for an opportunity to claw back ground. “My start didn’t feel great today and I had a lot less power than usual when pulling away, so it was obvious immediately that something was wrong. It looks like we only had five cylinders firing and, while I wanted to keep going, we had to play safe and save the engine.
“It’s unfortunate but that’s racing and we will recover from this. We have a great car and engine, and the pace was really strong, as Nico clearly showed. Big congratulations to him and the team for achieving the win, it’s a fantastic result for us.
“Of course I’m disappointed with my own race and when I think about all the work that has gone on back at our factories, it’s tough to have a costly hiccup. However, we have achieved an incredible amount to get here, to be at the front and to be so competitive; we will bounce back and learn from this. There is a very long way to go this season.”
The challenge will be keeping the competitive natures of Rosberg and Hamilton in line. The team has spoken about the terms of engagement, but reason withers in the face of a passionate embrace. When the blood is up these two will be all over each other.
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