So, the 2014 Formula One season is officially under way, and if the first qualifying session was the precursor for the action to come, fans should be ready for a vintage year of racing.
Pre-season was dominated by talk of new engines, double points and a struggling Red Bull team. These changes have ignited the title race once more, as 2014 is all about the new contenders rather than the one-man show of recent years. With Lewis Hamilton taking pole for Mercedes in qualifying on Saturday and his teammate Nico Rosberg following in third, Mercedes are showing that they can, at the very least, force a challenge to Red Bull’s recent dominance. Toto Wolff is sensibly playing down his team’s chances, but Mercedes are unquestionably the frontrunners in these early stages.
The qualifying session reached a tense climax, as teams had to wrestle with the unpredictable weather conditions. The wind and rain combined made the drivers wrestle to keep the cars on track. Yet, Daniel Ricciardo thrilled his Australian support at the race, taking his place in the front row in the Red Bull. Surely this shows that, despite troubles with the Renault engine, the team is not as far away from the front as had been expected? He took a preliminary pole position just before Hamilton snatched it away in the final moments. Ricciardo was beaming and is seemingly unfazed by his new position in the Red Bull team. He looks composed and confident, but his performance on Sunday will reveal more about his ability to challenge for the title.
On the other side of the garage, Sebastian Vettel’s failure to qualify for Q3, leaving him in 13th place was the shock of qualifying. His bad luck was cheered by the Melbourne crowd; the neutral F1 fans want to see his dominance challenged this year.
Another rookie, Kevin Magnussen took an impressive fourth place, showing why Ron Dennis has told fans that he is ‘something special’ before the first race of the season. If he can convert this impressive display in qualifying into a podium place, the McLaren team may have found a future contender for the years to come. His aggressive style is certainly reminiscent of Hamilton’s bullish nature when he first raced for his former team in 2007. With Magnussen and Ricciardo, it will be exciting to see new faces challenge the circuit regulars such as Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel.
The race tomorrow will not give definitive answers, but will most likely highlight the unpredictability that F1 fans should expect this season, especially if the conditions do not stay dry throughout. Sunday’s race should be a fascinating spectacle, especially with the home fans able to cheer Ricciardo at the front of the grid. It should also prove nothing more than we already know, the driver’s championship this year is well and truly up for grabs.