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GP Week : Issue 216
15 GPWEEK.com // 15 GPWEEK.com // F1 >>> AUSTRALIA PARTNERS: Lewis Hamilton and Nico rosberg made it look easy. Comfortably faster than the rest of the field, the two Mercedes drivers were rarely separated by more than two seconds throughout the 58 lap Australian Grand Prix as they claimed a strong 1-2 for the German marque. The final gap back to third placed sebastian Vettel was over half a minute, though without any need to push and a focus on preserving engines in 2015 there is little doubt the silver Arrows had plenty in reserve. For a time it looked as though the battle for the lead may develop into a full blown scrap between the two Mercs but in reality Hamilton had his teammate covered. Whenever Rosberg charged Hamilton was able to respond, the gap never closing to a degree that would worry the reigning world champion. Rosberg's plight was echoed up and down the field as cars, while significantly faster that those ahead, simply couldn't get close enough to think about passing. Albert Park is not an easy overtaking circuit but it's a fact that does not bode well for the sort of wheel to wheel action which highlighted the racing in 2014. Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen were couped up behind Felipe Nasr for the first part of the race unable to find a way by while Sergio Perez had a significant advantage over Jenson Button but struggled to find a way by him, frustration finally getting the better of him and leading to a mistake. One of the surprises of the weekend was the Ferrari power unit, which has benefitted significantly from the changes made over the winter. Not only was the factory team fast but so too was Sauber, the power unit playing a significant role in the Swiss squad's return to form. Sauber's weekend was a tale of two halves. From courtroom drama at the start of the weekend to a fairy- tale finish with two cars scoring points and the emergence of Felipe Nasr as a driver to watch for the future. There's no doubt the team benefitted from the misfortunes of those around it, but still Nasr fended off Ricciardo and Raikkonen and Marcus Ericsson was able to pass Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz. There is plenty of potential there, and the team will do well to capitalise early in the season before the likes of Red Bull get their game sorted. Tipped to be a contender for the best of the rest mantle, most expected Ferrari to be chasing Williams. As things stood the Maranello squad had genuine pace, Vettel was able to leap free of Felipe Massa once released through pit strategy. Kimi Raikkonen also showed good pace once he had clear track, though there is little between the red and white cars in lap time. By comparison, Renault made far less progress over the winter with rampant complaints of poor drivability and a general lack of power. Red Bull in particular was well below the level expected of it pre-season, seventh in qualifying for Daniel Ricciardo viewed as a good result for a team which lost an engine on Friday but a sixth place finish behind the Sauber of Nasr meant it was a below par weekend for the Milton Keynes squad. That's especially so when one considers Valtteri Bottas failed to take the start and Raikkonen didn't finish, two cars which, on pace alone, would in all probability have been ahead of Ricciardo. Still, at least Ricciardo saw the finish and scored points, Daniil Kvyat didn't even see the start before his gearbox cried enough. Lotus' race was a similar story as both Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean became early casualties. Maldonado was the innocent victim in a chain reaction clash which begun with Vettel jumping the inside kerb at the first corner and resulted in the Venezuelan being pitched into the fence at turn two by Nasr. Grosjean didn't last much longer, his Mercedes engine suffering a loss of power which saw the team park him in the garage at the end of the opening lap. It was a disappointing end to a weekend that seemed to offer so much; both drivers had qualified in the top 10 for the first time since 2013 and with others suffering it was an ideal opportunity for a healthy haul of points. Instead it heads to Sepang empty handed, but at least with a far more competitive car than this time last season. The biggest disappointment was the Honda engine. Honda dialled the power down in an effort to have its units reach the end of the race. It didn't work as Kevin Magnussen parked his McLaren before he even made it to the grid, a cloud of smoke making it difficult to suggest it was something other than the Honda engine giving up. One sliver of encouragement can be taken from the fact Jenson Button saw the chequered flag but his pace was poor. In an event that had just eleven cars running at the end Button was the only one not to score a world championship point. Still, both he and Magnussen say the car is fundamentally good and once the Honda engine is sorted will be a front runner. On the evidence provided in Australia Honda has a long, long way to go before that happens. Much can be learned from the Australian Grand Prix. It reaffirmed the belief Mercedes would be strong, showing that if anything it's extended the advantage it held over the field last year and that there is little between Ferrari and Williams. We learned the improvements in the Ferrari engine have been significant while Red Bull needs to knuckle down with Renault and sort out its issues before it has any hope of being competitive. Lotus looks to be a solid midfield contender as does Toro Rosso with Red Bull currently mixing it at the lower end of the top 10. It's then Force India and Sauber fighting over any crumbs that fall off the table with McLaren bringing up the back end – it's competition likely to come from Manor in the first phase of the season.