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F1 seeking silver lining in dark clouds

2015-03-17 07:59


SHEER JOY: Mercedes' Nico Rosberg (rear) and 2014 Drivers' champion Lewis Hamilton celebrate their 2015 1-2 in finish Australia. Image: AFP / William West

LONDON, England - Sunday's season-opening 2015 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix showed the sport has lost none of its ability to shoot itself in the foot yet still detect a silver lining in the darkest of clouds.

Only 15 cars were on the grid on March 15 after a week of negative headlines that portrayed the glamour sport in a far from flattering light. Worse, there were only 13 after the first lap and 11 running at the finish.

  Struggling Sauber was dragged through the courts to address why it had contracts with three drivers to race two cars, a case that triggered speculation about possible arrests and seizure of equipment for contempt of court.

  Manor Marussia's feel-good story about a team beating the odds to survive turned into a tale of one that failed to turn a wheel on track.

  McLaren - the second most-successful team in F1 history - began its new Honda partnership by qualifying stone last, finishing last, and expressing relief that Jenson Button had even made it to the chequered flag.

By the time fans were heading out of Albert Park after watching a processional Mercedes 1-2 win, Red Bull consultant Helmut Marko was discussing the possibility of billionaire owner Dietrich Mateschitz quitting the sport.

"I feel a bit for the fans," commented Red Bull's Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo. "It was a boring race. It was frustrating."


If Melbourne wasn't the start that F1 wanted, with Mercedes crushing all hope of rivals having closed the performance gap over the (northern) winter, it was also not as bad as the Cassandras were claiming.

"I think we could have had much nicer headlines," the sport's commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone told Reuters on Monday (March 16).

"Nobody has mentioned the fact that, thank God, Ferrari seems to have gone forward, which is good.

"Sauber, after all its problems, got more points than in all of 2014, which is a positive. There are some positive things but unfortunately a lot more negative. But the negative things really are not F1's problem."

That remains a moot point, with smaller teams struggling to survive and demanding a flatter playing field with cost cuts and more of the revenues.

Sunday's (March 15) outcome may have convinced some that the season is already a two-horse race, depending on Nico Rosberg taking the fight to double F1 champion and team mate Lewis Hamilton, but there were glimmers of hope to suggest Mercedes might not have it all its own way.

Australia, with an emphasis on fuel-saving in the V6 turbo hybrid era, cannot be held up as truly representative of the season as a whole. McLaren, which has not won a race since 2012, would have gone away from 2014's opener with its hopes up after taking second and third places.

It turned out to be the high point of the team's year.

Hamilton, winner on Sunday, scored zero in Melbourne in 2014 but went on to take his second title with 11 wins in total.


Williams engineering head Pat Symonds, after his Brazilian driver Felipe Massa started third and finished fourth,, said: "Australia is a unique circuit - we often see some odd results here. Now... you've got Mercedes and ourselves and Ferrari and then the rest. I don't think that will change but the small gaps might be quite different circuit-to-circuit."

Rivals will be hoping that the coming races in Malaysia, China and Bahrain will give them more cause for optimism, no matter how unlikely that looks at the moment.

Ecclestone again: "I'm a bit concerned that Lewis will win by Monza." commented Ecclestone, whose widely-disliked double points-for-the-final-race novelty in 2014 kept last season alive right to the finish but now been discontinued.

"I think Mercedes is going to take a lot of beating."

Stay with Wheels24 for the 2015 F1 season – fresh reports every day.


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