Rosberg rules Down Under to win memorable Australian GP

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Nico Rosberg has won the opening round of the 2014 Formula 1 season in Australia today with a sparkling performance that saw him trounce the field in one of the most memorable races in years.

The German driver took the lead at the start of the race and managed to keep himself out of trouble to win his fourth grand prix as pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton was forced to retire after just three laps. Sebastian Vettel’s title defence started with a whimper as he too had to retire, but teammate Daniel Ricciardo kept the Red Bull flag flying to finish in second place at his home race, marking his first podium in Formula 1.

However, the stars of the day were Kevin Magnussen – who finished an incredible third on debut for McLaren – and Valtteri Bottas, who fought back from a grid penalty and a puncture to finish sixth for Williams by virtue of some incredible overtakes.

The 2014 Formula 1 season got off to something of a false start as both Marussias stalled on the grid, warranting an extra formation lap. When the race did get underway, Nico Rosberg made an incredible start to launch past teammate Lewis Hamilton and take the lead of the race, whilst Daniel Ricciardo stayed steady in second place.

Further back, Sebastian Vettel reported that he was losing power and began haemorrhaging places, and he quickly fell towards the back of the field. Kamui Kobayashi and Felipe Massa got tangled at turn one and both crashed out, whilst Hamilton’s race lasted just three laps as he was told to retire due to an engine problem.

The start to Vettel’s championship defense went from bad to worse as he was forced to retire from the race after just four laps due to an engine problem. Adrian Sutil was also reporting problems, and six cars were already out of the race after just six laps. Valtteri Bottas was having no such issues though, moving up to sixth place from P15 on the grid with some great passes on the likes of Daniil Kvyat, Jean-Eric Vergne and Kimi Raikkonen.

However, Bottas pushed too hard for his own good and hit the wall at turn ten, losing the tire on his left-right wheel. All of his hard work was undone as he was forced to pit for repairs before being sent on his way again. The safety car was soon sent out in order to pick up the debris from Bottas’ tire, bunching the pack and allowing some of the drivers to make a pit stop. Having stopped, Rosberg still led from Ricciardo and rookie Kevin Magnussen whilst Bottas was forced to start his fight back all over again from P16.

Off the restart, Rosberg quickly put his foot down and pull out a two second lead over Ricciardo as the Australian’s mirrors were filled by Kevin Magnussen. Bottas’ fightback began in earnest as he worked his way back into the top ten, whilst Alonso and Button set their sights on Hulkenberg’s fourth place. However, neither could find a way past the Force India to begin with, but a huge lock-up for the German driver allowed Alonso to close. Bottas’ next victim was Kvyat for P9, marking the second time the Finn had passed the Russian in the race, and he soon set his sights on compatriot Kimi Raikkonen in P8.

Having seen both cars stall on the grid, Marussia fought back well with Max Chilton leading the team’s charge. Jules Bianchi spent the race over six laps behind the leader after having extensive repair work done, but Chilton went into battle with Caterham rookie Marcus Ericsson. However, the Swede was forced to retire from the race, ending the team’s day early. Pastor Maldonado also retired due to a problem with his power unit, leaving Romain Grosjean to fight on as the sole remaining Lotus. The Frenchman eventually had to stop with twelve laps to go, ending a disastrous weekend for the team.

At the front, Rosberg continued to push and saw his lead grow to over ten seconds. In second place, Ricciardo did well to drop Magnussen and set into a gentle rhythm on his Red Bull debut. Hulkenberg finally released Alonso by pitting in order to cover Button’s stop, but the Briton was able to pass the German driver by virtue of his earlier stop. When Alonso pitted two laps later, he split the two drivers. Bottas’ fight continued at Raikkonen’s expense, seeing him move up into fourth place before stopping.

As the final round of stops came about, the front three remained unchanged, but Magnussen did manage to cut the gap to Ricciardo with a quick pit stop. The Dane continued to push and closed to within two seconds of the Red Bull as he looked to make it a Mercedes-powered one-two. Rosberg’s lead stood at 16 seconds after stopping, but there was a minor bit of damage to his left front wheel caused at his final stop. Both Toro Rossos were running well in the top ten as Kvyat chased Raikkonen, but Vergne was under pressure from Bottas for seventh place. A mistake from the Frenchman at the final corner finally allowed the Finn past with ten laps to go, and he was soon on Hulkenberg’s tail for sixth place. The German driver couldn’t stop the Williams driver’s charge though

Having run in P2 for the entire race, Ricciardo finally came under some pressure from both McLarens in the closing stages. Magnussen managed to close on the Australian driver and get within DRS range, but he opted to save his rich fuel setting for the final two laps of the race. This allowed Ricciardo to pull away and ensure that he stayed in P2 come the checkered flag, but both drivers performed admirably to finish on the podium.

At the head of the field though, it was all about Nico Rosberg. The German driver proved that Mercedes is definitely the team to beat in 2013 by producing a near-perfect display, keeping his head whilst all around him lost theirs. He crossed the line over 20 seconds ahead of Ricciardo, and dominated proceedings from start to finish.

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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