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10 lessons learned in Melbourne to bear in mind in Malaysia

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The Australian Grand Prix heralded the dawn of a new era in F1 and we can expect more of the same in Malaysia this weekend.

So as we approach the second race of the F1 season, what important lessons did we learn from the first?

Our F1 expert Will Gray gives us his insight...

1. Mercedes could be ahead for a while

Mercedes dominated, with Lewis Hamilton taking pole and Nico Rosberg taking over to comfortably manage the race as he finished a commanding but controlled 25 seconds ahead of the chasing pack.

That form was predicted right from the start of pre-season testing, but the big question is: just how far ahead are they really and how long can they stay there?

Friday running led rivals to suggest the advantage is at least a second and had rain in qualifying not allowed Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo to split the Mercedes pair it would likely have been a front-row lock-out.

In the race, Hamilton’s engine problems showed reliability is not yet bullet proof but in terms of performance, don’t believe team boss Toto Wolff’s claims that they are only a little bit ahead. Other paddock sources suggest there is definitely plenty more in the tank.

2. The cars’ sound is not a hit

Last weekend’s first public airing of F1’s new sound was far from convincing – with one observer claiming they sound like “golf carts”.

When the lights went out at the start, the muffled popping from a full field of new 1.6-litre V6 turbos was not a patch on the screaming whine produced by a pack of full-tilt 140dB-producing V8s – hear for yourself here:

The sound is not actually that bad, it’s just the volume – and the race promoters in Melbourne even suggested F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone could be in trouble with races claiming it to be a “breach of contract” due to a genuine change in offering to the fans.

At least the race attendees can finally now hear the track commentator though.

3. Reliability is not as bad as expected – for most

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In the pre-race press conference Daniel Ricciardo joked that “we’ll all be running across the line” when the top drivers were all asked how many cars would finish the race – but in the end it was a surprising success with just eight cars failing to finish from the field of 22.

The figure, however, is more concerning for Renault as their engines counted for six of the eight retirements and of their eight partner cars on the grid only 25 percent made it to the finish.

Mercedes had a 75 percent finish rate and took six of the point-scoring positions, and although Ferrari teams had a 100 percent finish rate their best finish was only fifth.

4. The FIA could be in trouble over fuel flow

The controversy over Red Bull’s disqualification from second place due to a high fuel flow rate highlighted a major flaw in the process – and it’s a problem that could cause serious issues.

The new regulations require a maximum fuel flow rate of 100kg/hr and while teams have spent years developing highly accurate measurements for this crucial element of engine performance the FIA is using testing equipment that can only guarantee a top accuracy of 0.25 percent.

The fact that other teams were aware of the inaccuracies but played it safe while Red Bull went with their own readings rather than erring on the side of caution is irrelevant.

If Red Bull can conclusively prove their measurements to be correct, something is going to have to change.

5. Raikkonen’s in trouble

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There’s no doubt Kimi Raikkonen will be happy to have left Lotus given their current challenges but his time at Ferrari has not started well and it appears that he and the car just don’t get on.

The Italian team was fairly invisible throughout the weekend and Raikkonen was well off the pace of his team-mate Fernando Alonso as he complained that the car did not suit his driving style.

The team knows the problem - most likely poor handling under braking and corner entry due to the functionality of the energy recovery systems – but they have admitted it’s not a quick fix.

It will require different parts to be designed and manufactured – but at a time when he needs to bed into the team and get to grips with Alonso, it’s just what Raikkonen didn’t need.

6. Magnussen looks as good as they say he is

In one race, Kevin Magnussen has shaken off the ‘son of’ tag by bettering the best his father Jan ever achieved in F1 – and it is clear the young Dane is one to look out for.

The reigning Formula Renault 3.5 champion ran his debut race perfectly, both on and off the track, as he outqualified and out-raced team-mate Jenson Button, but it was not just his finishing position that impressed, it was the maturity with which he took on the task.

It was a challenging weekend, not only having to get used to the new car but also to monitor and manage changing weather conditions, but McLaren appears to have given Magnussen a car that can compete at the front, and it’s going to be exciting to see what level he can reach.

7. What a difference a year makes for Lotus

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Last year Lotus won in Melbourne with Kimi Raikkonen and it immediately positioned them as potential title contenders. This year they could not be further away, qualifying last and posting a double retirement. But there is more to be concerned about than simply the car.

Since that win, they have not only lost lead driver Raikkonen but more crucially they have lost technical chief James Allison to Ferrari and team principal Eric Boullier to McLaren and the long-running buy-out negotiations of investment from Quantum have faded away.

It looks like it’s going to be a long way back.

8. There’s no rush on development

Normally in Australia teams unveil new parts that make their pre-season testing spec look a bit old hat as they remove the secrecy boards to reveal their full battle armoury for the opening race.

This time, the major change in rules meant that most teams stuck with Bahrain test spec and hinted that they will not be bringing development parts in until the fly-aways are over.

There is so much to get used to on the new cars they don’t want to introduce any other elements that could confuse the mix – so for this year we could see a return to the big step change in development for Spain that was once the norm.

9. Interesting times ahead for Red Bull

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The outlook for Red Bull has been doom and gloom all winter due to reliability issues but Melbourne proved that in outright pace the team is right in the mix – at least in the hands of Daniel Ricciardo.

How much effect the fuel flow factor had on Ricciardo’s performance is not clear, but the fact that the Australian clearly settled into his new high-profile drive so well could make things interesting.

For a change, it was Vettel and not the Aussie in the other garage who had problems with his car and Ricciardo took the opportunity to inflict some early psychological damage.

While Vettel cracked a couple of times during the weekend, dissatisfied with his team’s current position, Ricciardo’s omnipresent smile was beaming wider than ever. Round one to the new guy. Roll on round two...

10. The order has been only slightly shuffled

This massive change to the regulations for 2014 gave all teams a clean sheet and every opportunity for the smaller teams to take a major jump up the grid – but it looks like that has not really happened.

It’s only race one and the order has yet to settle but with all teams able to string at least a few laps together by Saturday afternoon, the qualifying order gave a fair indication of initial relative pace.

It showed that Marussia and Caterham are still down the back although they have perhaps closed the gap on the midfield ahead and one did manage to get ahead of one Sauber and one Force India.

It also saw Lotus replace Williams as the lowest established team – in fact they currently appear right at the back although how much that lack of pace is down to lack of running remains to be seen – while Sauber, Force India and Toro Rosso are all in the midfield once again.

The big winners appear to be McLaren and Williams – although a big part of that is down to the current superiority of the Mercedes engine and it will be interesting to see where they settle if and when the other manufacturers catch up.

The season needs a few races to settle down, but initial impressions suggest the cream – and the best resourced - will rise to the top once again.

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