Troubled teams miss first practice

Published: Friday 13th March 2015 by The News Editor

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First practice ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix was more about those that failed to run than those at the top of the timesheet.

For very different reasons neither Sauber car, nor those belonging to Manor, took to Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit over the course of the 90 minutes.

Over the past few days Sauber have dominated proceedings via a legal battle in the Supreme Court of Victoria with last year’s reserve Giedo van der Garde.

The court upheld an initial Swiss arbitration panel hearing that the team not deny him his right to drive given he has a contract for a full-time seat for this season.

Sauber’s problem is they also signed Marcus Ericcson and Felipe Nasr towards the end of last year before, according to team boss Monisha Kaltenborn, cancelling Van der Garde’s deal in February.

With three valid contracts and only two race seats available, Sauber and Kaltenborn have found themselves mired in controversy.

Sauber have been forced to detail their assets to the court, while Kaltenborn – worst-case scenario – faces the threat of imprisonment if she fails to comply with the order.

Van der Garde, meanwhile, has faced a race against time to obtain a super licence, with the necessary paperwork failing to come through prior to FP1.

At one stage there was the bizarre sight of Van der Garde in the paddock wearing the overalls of Ericsson, suggesting it would be the Swede to make way.

But come the start of FP1, it was Ericsson and Nasr suited up and sitting in their cars, only for neither man to move an inch – t he suggestion being that to do so would have been a breach of any legal guidelines laid down by the court.

A justice is due to issue a verdict on the contempt of court case later on Friday.

As for Manor, their issues are equally as complex, but more of a technical nature.

Following their recent salvation, in racing against the clock to make the grid for the race, the South Yorkshire-based marque has been hit with a number of challenges related to the car.

Ahead of an auction of the team’s assets that was scheduled a few weeks ago, the hardware of every laptop and computer was wiped.

Since being rescued by energy entrepreneur Stephen Fitzpatrick, although the team know how to build a car, they lost valuable and significant amounts of data and software required to help it run.

The team have been working around the clock with power-unit suppliers Ferrari to get the car and computers working in harmony.

That, however, has been complicated and time-consuming, and there is every danger neither Will Stevens nor Roberto Merhi will get behind the wheel of their cars for FP2.

As for the action on track, reigning champions Mercedes underlined their tag as overwhelming favourite by dominating the session, with their rivals some distance off in terms of pace.

It was Nico Rosberg who finished quicker than current champion and team-mate Lewis Hamilton by a mere 0.029 seconds, with the German clocking a lap of one minute 29.557secs.

The nearest challenger to the duo was Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, with the Finn 1.191secs adrift in his Williams, followed by Toro Rosso rookie Carlos Sainz Jr, the young Spaniard 1.457secs back.

Four-times champion and Ferrari new boy Sebastian Vettel was fifth quickest, with Max Verstappen – poised to become the youngest driver in F1 history on Sunday at 17 – next up in his Toro Rosso.

Williams’ Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen in his Ferrari and the Lotus of Pastor Maldonado all finished within two seconds of Mercedes, with home hero in Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo completing the top 10, but 2.013secs down.

Of the 16 cars only on the track, McLaren pairing Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen – standing in for Fernando Alonso – managed six and seven laps respectively.

With new power-unit supplier Honda still attempting to get on top of their problems with the new system, the duo were 4.985secs and 5.228secs behind in 14th and 15th respectively.

Romain Grosjean’s Lotus also encountered issues that restricted the Frenchman to just five laps, with only the last one timed, and a slow one at that as he was 48 seconds back.

Published: Friday 13th March 2015 by The News Editor

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