Many would have been forgiven for thinking that Formula One’s new era would favour the wiser, more experienced heads but instead it was the young hotshots that left the biggest impression on the Melbourne curtain raiser. The new breed of Formula One cars proved devilishly difficult to drive in free practice and when rain was thrown into the mix for qualifying, the task couldn’t have been any more daunting.
Yet when the chequered flag came out for the conclusion of Q2, what did we see? The drop zone included three world champions, one of which had sent his car into the wall, while the top ten shootout included Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kvyat, both taking part in their first ever F1 qualifying session. The debutants subsequently qualified fourth and eighth respectively, outstanding performances by each, but the headlines in Melbourne were stolen by Australia’s own Daniel Ricciardo.
Ricciardo is no rookie but in his first Grand Prix for Red Bull alongside the four-time defending champion, few began the weekend under greater pressure than him, especially with a patriotic home crowd watching his every move. Red Bull had endured a rotten winter with problem after problem halting their testing programme but the affable Ricciardo refused to let any of that faze him, going about his business with great maturity while frustration got the better of his more illustrious teammate.
After coming within a whisker of pole position, Daniel proved he wasn’t just a Saturday man by running second to Nico Rosberg throughout the race and the scenes up on the podium will live long in the memory, even if the party balloon was popped by the stewards later on. The Australian enjoyed a race long battle with Magnussen, offering a glimpse at a rivalry that we may see much more of in the future. The Dane almost ploughed into the wall before reaching turn one after lighting up his rear tyres off the line but once that crisis had been averted, Kevin embarked on the drive that any seasoned veteran would be proud to call their own. He may have avoided the misfortune that befell teammate Jenson Button in qualifying but their race pace was comparable when both were in clear air. His reward once Ricciardo’s fate had been sealed was a sensational second.
Not to be outdone, Kvyat capitalised on his lofty grid slot to score his first points in ninth, becoming the youngest driver ever to achieve that feat. The 19 year old arguably had the worst preparation of the rookies with Toro Rosso crippled by unreliability in testing while problems under braking saw him a regular visitor to the Albert Park gravel traps on Friday but the lack of mileage under his belt didn’t show on Sunday.
Much credit should go Red Bull and McLaren whose junior programmes have produced and nurtured such star potential. In an era where pay drivers are becoming increasingly prominent, how refreshing it is to see three drivers who have earned their place at motorsport’s top table on talent alone. Red Bull’s decision over their 2014 line-up received many column inches, Kimi Raikkonen being one of the names in the frame, while McLaren had to move Sergio Perez aside but their faith in youth has already been justified.
Three of the sport’s finest young stars have put Formula One on notice and what impressed most was their temperament in the face of one the sport’s biggest ever challenges. No-one would question the speed of Ricciardo, Magnussen or Kvyat but when the heat was truly on, could they handle the pressure that comes with being front-line F1 drivers? If first impressions are anything to go by, that question has received a fairly emphatic answer.