Aside from the switch from V8’s to 1.6 liter V6 Turbocharged engines, there have been several other changes affecting the driver line-up, calendar and rules for the new season. Our buddy James Deakin, sums it up best with in his ‘What’s new for F1 2014’ article which highlights to die-hard fans and newcomers alike the differences between this season and last year’s lackluster.
Qualifying on Saturday threw the first curve-ball as four-time World Champion Sebastien Vettel failed to proceed past Q2 (much to the delight of local fans). On the other hand Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo received a much better result after qualifying second behind Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and ahead of Mercedes Nico Rosberg who lined up in third. Other surprises saw newcomers Daniil Kvyat lining up in eighth and Kevin Magnussen securing a spot on the second row.
Race day is when the real drama unfolded. Caterham’s Kamui Kobayashi collided into the back of William’s Felipe Massa right at the get-go, forcing both drivers out at turn one. By the time the dust settled Nico Roseberg had moved up into the lead with Daniel Riccardio following in second. Things however didn’t look good for Lewis Hamilton who’s race rapidly deteriorated after being passed by Kevin Magnussen and then by Nico Hulkenberg. By lap three he was forced to retire after falling victim to an engine cylinder malfunction. A similar tune was also sung by reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel who pulled out on lap six after being plagued with engine problems all weekend.
Excitement turned into frustration for Williams driver Valterri Bottas who had been enjoying a good drive until his collision with the track wall forced him down to three tyres and resulted in the deployment of Bernd Mayländer in the Safety Car. Claire Williams could barely watch, but much to the credit of Bottas, he managed to limp the wounded Williams car back to the pit and after a tyre change the crew sent the Fin back on his way. By Lap 16 the race restarted and the Safety Car was pulled in. Roseberg continued to extend his lead and dominated right up to the checkered flag. Meanwhile third place Kevin Magnussen continued to keep pressure on local-boy Daniel Riccardio, but was persistently denied by the Australian in his debut race for Red Bull.
Daniel Riccardio received an amazing reception on the podium from the home crowd but only got to enjoy it for a few hours after stewards disqualified the Australian for a violation of a fuel-flow rule. The ruling moved Kevin Magnussen up into second and Mclaren’s Jenson Button into third. Fernado Alonso managed to tie up forth position followed by Bottas, Hulkenberg, Raikkonen, Vergne, Kvyat and Perez who all finished in the points.
Red Bull look likely to appeal the stewards decision and potentially enter a legal battle with the FIA, the governing body of Formula One. As for Mercedes, it seems clear that the team are committed to being a dominant force in the upcoming season.
As the dust settles from the controversy of round one, all eyes turn to Sepang.