New engines, new cars, and new driver combinations had the potential to shake up the order for the first qualifying session of 2014, but how much? Well, to truly compare, we have to look at last season’s qualifying times to see what impact the regulations have had, and whether this will be a sign of things to come for 2014.
2013 Australian GP Qualifying Average
Shake n Bake: 1:26.457
2014 Australian GP Qualifying Average
Willows: 1:25.655 (-1.295)
Exolite: 1:26.039 (-0.259)
Shake n Bake: 1:26.066 (-0.391)
Gojira: 1:26.116 (+0.288)
GRM: 1:26.218 (-0.842)
FJR: 1:26.222 (-0.401)
Horizon: 1:26.268 (-0.937)
AndrewF1: 1:26.303 (-0.802)
Mitchell: 1:26.337 (-0.359)
Pedersen: 1:26.681 (-1.603)
Tornado: 1:26.749 (+0.603)
It should come as no surprise that Pedersen are the most improved team, slashing a staggering 1.6 seconds off their average thanks to their new Mugen engine propelling Romain Grosjean to an impressive 10th on the grid.
Another team to lap on average more than a second quicker compared to 2013 were Willows, whose strong pre-season translated into a pole position for Fernando Alonso. They appear to have the quickest combination, and quite comfortably too, with a near four tenth buffer to the next quickest team, which interestingly enough, is Exolite.
Those who ran the Ferrari engines last season have generally lost their power advantage, most significantly and surprisingly, Tornado. Having been the 2nd fastest team in last season’s opener, they have the slowest combination in Melbourne, which will no doubt be a wake-up call for team boss Tobias. Gojira are the other team to lap slower than last season, but conversely, the other two Ferrari teams from last season, Exolite and Shake n Bake, have lapped quicker.
One of the more impressive efforts has come from GRM, with Valtteri Bottas in particular showing some impressive pace with 6th on the grid. Debutant Carlos Sainz might only be 16th, but he did outqualify both Tornados and a Gojira. Horizon have also significantly improved, although with more balanced results with Adrian Sutil and Paul Di Resta closely matched in 13th and 15th, but they can be satisfied with that. AndrewF1’s improvements are also evident, but more erratic as Felipe Massa appears to not be quite up to speed yet having been absent for two seasons.
FJR could well be disappointed to have only modestly improved compared to last season, but it must be assumed that the Albert Park circuit isn’t particularly suited to the Yorkshire team with the straights not long enough to showcase their straight-line speed. It is also worth noting that FJR were semi-competitive in last season’s opener as well. Mitchell are another team to have only slightly improved, but this could well be down to the noticeable gaps between Nico Hulkenberg and Jaime Alguersuari.
The closeness of the field means that the formbook is likely to fluctuate as the season goes on with eight teams separated by just three tenths of a second. In 2013, the entire grid was separated by 2.4 seconds. This season, the gap between the fastest and slowest teams has more than halved, immediately suggesting that we are in for an intensely competitive season.