F1: Sorry, Bernie... simply not good enough
THE season-opening Australian Grand Prix was an embarrassment for Formula One – 15 starters was the worst since the politically decimated San Marino in 1982, when just 14 took the green, and the tyre-affected 2005 US race where only six cars competed.
The Silver Arrows were boringly dominant, led by pole man Lewis Hamilton, Ferrari and Williams were left to fight over the scraps, and Red Bull looked like they’d been sleeping through the northern winter.
RBR was outpaced by Sauber and was even under threat from its junior team of Toro Rosso rookie babies.
A margin of 1.3 seconds back in second, Nico Rosberg never really threatened his champion team-mate, but was comfortably ahead of third-placed Sebastian Vettel in the surviving Ferrari, and Williams-Merc’s Felipe Massa.
“It was still a tough race, though, as Nico was very quick throughout,” Hamilton insisted, while admitting “it was about managing fuel and also the tyres. Once I'd built a two-second gap it was about maintaining it.”
If there was a pleasant surprise, it came courtesy of Sauber’s Felipe Nasr, the rent-a-drive rookie who impressed in qualifying and then continued the fine work in the race, giving the embattled outfit a happy end to a week in which it spent more time in court than on the track.
Nasr was quick early, then fought off an attack from Daniel Ricciardo to bag a rightfully acclaimed fifth at the chequer. To think that Sauber failed to score even one solitary point last year.
Pleased enough with seventh in qualifying after power pack dramas and an engine change that cost him valuable track time, Ricciardo raced as well as ever, though struggling with driveability issues. Sixth was as good as he and Red Bull could have expected.
Between them, Red Bull and Renault managed to look pathetically under-prepared.
“It wasn’t the most exciting race,” commented a downbeat Ricciardo. “We finished the race and got some points, which was positive, and there are things we can learn. I hope we have a smoother weekend in Malaysia.”
Just 11 cars finished. Jenson Button was the luckless one out of the points, two laps down in his troubled McLaren-Honda.
Along with McLaren, the biggest embarrassment was reserved Formula One itself.
Manor F1, the reborn Marussia, didn’t even make it out of its garage all weekend. Then poor Valtteri Bottas, in pain through qualifying, was ruled out with back issues after spending Saturday night in hospital. Soft tissue damage…
Red Bull’s Daniil Kyvat was a non-starter, too, with gearbox failure on the way to the grid, while McLaren-Honda’s stand-in for Fernando Alonso, Kevin Magnussen, blew his power pack, also on the forming-up lap.
With a thin grid of 15 starters, Ron Walker should demand a partial refund from Bernie…
Then came the opening-lap turn one silliness, triggered when the Ferraris got together, sending Pastor Maldonado into the wall. Moments later, his team-mate Romain Grosjean retired his Lotus with a technical issue.
Carlos Sainz Jr looked good until a recalcitrant left-rear kept him stationary for an agonisingly long time. He finished a good ninth at the end while teenage team-mate Max Verstappen parked his Toro Rosso-Renault with engine failure a mid-race.
Kimi Raikonnen was another DNF after premature ejection from the pits left him with a wobbly rear wheel.
V8 SUPERCARS: The AGP races that don’t matter
V8 SUPERCARS raced at Albert Park on the support card to the Australian F1 Grand Prix.
The races were non-championship events so the results don’t really count for much. This is a shame for Ford Performance Racing, which per agency of Mark Winterbottom and Chaz Mostert finished first and second in all four races…
Heading to the line in race four, young Kiwi Andre Heimgartner jumped the (rolling) start by a good margin, causing a modicum of havoc. Perhaps he was operating on New Zilland time.
Lots of cars banged up for nothing.
F1: Sauber brings high farce to the pit lane
IT GETS no weirder than this.
Everyone, it seemed, had an opinion on the court action taken by driver Giedo van der Garde against Sauber after the team dumped him despite the Dutchman holding a firm contract to race in 2015.
Van der Garde claimed he was guaranteed a drive this season but embattled Sauber flicked him in favour of a couple of other pay drivers, Swede Marcus Ericsson and Brazilian Felipe Nasr.
A Victorian Supreme Court judge ruled on Wednesday that van der Garde, who raced for Caterham in 2013 and was Sauber’s reserve driver last year, should be able to race in the season-opener in Melbourne, upholding a Swiss arbitration tribunal's decision.
A Sauber appeal against the ruling was then dismissed on Thursday, at which time it was no clearer which two of the potential three Sauber drivers would race in the Australian Grand Prix. Or in fact if Sauber would be able to race in light of van der Garde's lawyer seeking a court-imposed freeze on Sauber's assets.
For his part, van der Garde said afterwards that he still hoped to race in Melbourne, claiming he was more experienced than either of the two favoured by Sauber.
"I'm fit, I'm ready. Of course I want to race; it's my life," said the Dutchman, who is supported by his father-in-law Marcel Boekhoorn, a billionaire businessman and racing enthusiast.
Sauber argued unsuccessfully that it would be unsafe to let van der Garde drive in the race at such short notice in a car designed for Ericsson or Nasr. But the judge said regulators would ensure the race was safe.
Then Sauber’s legal eagle told the court van der Garde would not have time to get the necessary licence from the sport's governing body.
On Friday, no Sauber appeared for the opening practice session. But then both rolled out for Free Practice 2… driven by Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr.
Van der Garde was earlier seen trying to get into the paddock without the obligatory FIA pass. When he finally did get in he was quickly into a borrowed Sauber race suit, but wasn’t given the chance to get hot and sweaty.
Social media ran white hot with rumours and opinions.
Why, some asked, did Van der Garde take such potential destructive action that could bring down an F1 team and its 300 employees as well as ruining his own F1 future?
That’s easy. He (or his sponsor) late last year paid Sauber a figure said to be not unadjacent to $11 million on the understanding that that would secure him a race seat. He claimed he had a contract to race, and the courts supported him. Hardly unreasonable.
But it has been suggested that struggling Sauber later signed contracts with Nasr and Ericsson, who the BBC reports between them brought $55m to the team.
Then at noon on Saturday came a statement from the Sauber F1 Team that it had been able “to agree with Mr Giedo Van der Garde that he refrains from driving in the Australian Formula One Grand Prix so it can keep its original planning. The Sauber F1 Team, Mr Van der Garde and his management will continue to have constructive talks in order to find a mutually acceptable solution.”
In a statement, van der Garde declared the decision had been "very difficult". He said: "My management will continue talks with Sauber early next week to find a mutually acceptable solution for the current situation that has now arisen. I am confident such a solution will be found."
Nasr and Ericsson duly tackled Saturday practice, then qualifying, where they were 11th and 16th fastest. Not bad considering the distractions.
The next exciting instalment should come before the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday week.
SPORTSCARS: Mr Le Mans would consider the Bathurst 12 Hour
RECENTLY retired sports car great Tom Kristensen says he will continue to race in selected events, mainly for historic sports cars.
But when pushed by Wheels, the nine-times winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans also admits that, yes, “maybe” he would be prepared to race in the Bathurst 12 Hour.
Kristensen has heard much about Mount Panorama, especially from his friend, countryman and protege, the late Allan Simonsen, the former sports-car lap record holder at Bathurst.
He would love to race there, he says.
An ambassador for Audi, Kristensen would not be interested in racing for any other brand.
He was at the Geneva motor show earlier this month when Audi unveiled the new R8 supercar, and the GT3 race version.
And, if he were to race in the Bathurst 12 Hour, it would have to be within the next two years while he is still race fit and with the urge to win.
All of this is not to suggest that Kristensen is unhappy with his decision to quit full-time racing after the final round of the World Endurance Championship last December: “I loved every minute of my career. I had a chance to stop at the right time, when I was still strong [competitive].”
Kristensen said he always wanted to quit before people asked him, “Why don’t you retire?”
So far he has felt no pangs of regret about retiring, but expects to struggle emotionally a little at Le Mans this year, when he will go to work as a race steward.
The great Dane is still alarmingly fit. He had just returned from a 14km run when Wheels buttonholed him.
F4: Aussie Mawson to tackle German single seater series
AUSTRALIAN rising talent Joey Mawson has been signed by Dutch team Van Amersfoort Racing for the inaugural 2015 German ADAC Formula 4 Championship with the support of the CAMS Foundation.
Sydneysider Mawson, 18, is the first Australian to race for the Dutch squad, which will also be running the sons of Michael Schumacher and Adrian Newey this year.
The CAMS Foundation has a history of supporting young elite Australian drivers on their way to higher levels.
Mawson stood out in karting at an early age. He won three Australian championships, a round of the CIK-FIA U18 World Championship and finished second in the Rotax Junior Max Grand Finals, before moving to Europe to boost his racing career.
In his rookie season, Mawson scored three wins, three pole positions and three fastest lap times in the French F4 championship last year. Despite missing the last three races, Mawson was fourth in the final championship standings in his first season.
Van Amersfoort Racing has a history of running up-and-comers, including Max Verstappen, who made his F1 debut yesterday.
Mawson also said he was excited to be joining with 15-year-old team-mates Mick Schumacher, the son of seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, and Harri Newey, son of Adrian Newey, Red Bull technical director.
The eight-round German F4 series starts on April 24-26 at Oschersleben and runs through to October.