March 18, 2012 in Australian Grand Prix
The idea of Niawm is all get fans opinions and thoughts out there, which is why I’m so happy to tell you that this is a guest post, written by the lovely Louise. It’s a fantastic post and hopefully you can look forward to many more posts from Louise. Enjoy!
After what seemed like a painfully long off-season, for the fans anyway, today was finally the day everyone had been waiting for: the first race of the 2012 F1 season at Albert Park in Melbourne. And if the weekend so far was anything to go by, it certainly wasn’t going to be a boring one.
Qualifying had brought about some surprisingly results: most significantly, a Ferrari that could only find the pace for P12. Although Fernando Alonso didn’t get the chance to improve his time, as he didn’t seem to be able to keep the car on the track. The team acknowledged they would struggle, and I knew this race would definitely test my allegiance to the Prancing Horse. Their planned upgrade for the European races couldn’t come soon enough, in my opinion.
Defending Constructor’s Champions Red Bull also found their drivers with an unusual view from 5th and 6th on the grid, however Christian Horner was quietly confident that they had a car better set up for racing than qualifying. Mercedes had shown fantastic pace through practice, lining up in P4 and P7, but there had been speculation over the legality of their controversial “F-duct rear wing”. So far it’s been given the thumbs up by the FIA, as it’s operated by the driver when he presses the DRS button. There were two DRS activation points this weekend: into Turn 3, and out of Turn 14 into the main straight. McLaren had also been under scrutineering yesterday; their front wing was closely investigated, but deemed to be ok.
Strategy-wise, 2-stop was widely regarded as the best option, but with the Pirelli tyres looking increasingly durable, it was possible that some drivers could try for a 1-stop. And I’m sure a lot of fans (and probably teams, too!) were glad to see the 107% rule finally being enforced, and HRT having to watch on from the pit lane.
A starting grid formed of some unfamiliar faces at the sharp end, and many drivers out of position, had all the makings for a thrilling 58 laps, far from the increasingly predictable Vettel-dominated races of 2011. McLaren looked to be the team to beat, but it was all to play for as the lights went out in Melbourne. So let’s go racing!
After what seemed like an age on the start line, all the front-runners got away cleanly, with Michael Schumacher moving up to 3rd, while wheelspin off the line cost Lewis Hamilton a place to his teammate. Mark Webber seemed not to have fixed his issues out of the box and dropped to 9th, while there was some minor contact towards the back of the field and a Toro Rosso took an early trip across the gravel. Bruno Senna was involved in a potentially nasty “up and over” incident with Daniel Ricciardo at the first corner, but managed to make it to the pits and continue racing.
Sebastian Vettel proved everyone who says he can’t overtake wrong by snatching 4th place from Nico Rosberg at Turn 10, which isn’t a usual overtaking spot on this circuit. A bad start from Romain Grosjean left him vulnerable to the attack of Pastor Maldonado, and this unfortunately resulted in contact and a broken suspension, which ended the Frenchman’s race. An unlucky start after such a good first qualifying. The two Ferraris managed surprisingly good starts, wrestling their wayward cars up to 7th and 9th after just 3 laps. Nico Hulkenberg was the first retirement of the day after suffering damage at the start.
Jenson Button was looking fantastic, having pulled out a 3 second lead over 5 laps, and Hamilton just didn’t seem to be able to keep up. An error from Vettel left him susceptible to the Mercedes of Rosberg close behind, but the World Champion held his line and retained 4th place. Felipe Massa complained of problems with his rear tyres ominously early on lap 11; meanwhile Schumacher ran off and allowed his fellow German World Champion through to claim P3. Schumacher’s Mercedes slowed significantly and it appeared he’d suffered some front wing damage. He headed for the pits soon after and his race was over. Massa pitted on lap 12, suggesting a 3-stop strategy, while Rosberg, Fernando Alonso and Webber fought for 4th place.
Kimi Raikkonen made up for a disappointing qualifying with a solid start that saw him move up to P8, and the Caterhams of Heikki Kovalainen managed to avoid the first-corner melée and quietly found their way into 11th and 12th respectively. Button was the first of the front-runners to pit for prime tyres on lap 16, closely followed by Vettel, and Hamilton carried on for another lap as the team prioritised the race leader. A slow pit exit from Hamilton cost him time, and left him stuck behind Sauber’s Sergio Perez, who was yet to pit.
Alonso was setting good lap times on the medium tyres, overtaking Jean-Eric Vergnewith DRS for P6, suggesting that Ferrari’s tyre temperature woes of 2011 had been resolved. Perez was defending fantastically from the faster McLaren, costing Hamilton valuable time from his teammate, but the Mexican’s worn tyres eventually succumbed to Hamilton into Turn 1 on lap 21. Button had pulled out an 11-second lead, and Perez released Vettel into P3 to close in on Hamilton. Alonso and Rosberg were next to pass, as the Sauber’s tyres reached the end of their life. The Ferrari had definitely found some good race pace and was up to P4, while Button complained of vibrations.
Vettel was rapidly closing in on Hamilton, while minor contact ensued betweenRaikkonen and Kamui Kobayashi as they tried to pass Massa on lap 26. The Lotus andSauber made the move soon after, suggesting the Ferrari’s tyres were about to drop off. And sure enough, Massa made his second stop from P10 on lap 29. An interesting radio message from Raikkonen followed, in which he seemed to have forgotten what blue flags meant. Webber was all over the back of Rosberg for 5th place, and the Williams of Maldonado was hanging on well in 7th.
Webber complained that Rosberg was “weaving all over the place”, and his overtaking move was hindered by the sheer speed of the Mercedes out of the corner. Rosberg then ran wide, but headed straight for the pits, avoiding having to yield to the Red Bull.Vergne took a lengthy trip into the gravel, which cost him time, but he carried on. Hamilton reported rear tyre problems on lap 33, but was told to hang on until the second pit stop window opened around lap 38.
The two Marussia cars were having a relatively quiet race in 18th and 19th, but they were looking consistent and reliable. Alonso made his second stop on lap 35, and the unusual choice of primes suggested he was running to the end. Button pitted on the following lap, followed straight after by his teammate. A risky strategic decision from McLaren there, and incredible faith in the pit crew- an error from Button’s mechanics would have cost Hamilton dearly.
Petrov’s Caterham came to a stop on the main straight, bringing out the safety car (and undoubtedly many cries of “box box box” over the radio!) on lap 37. Vettel took theopportunity to pit straight away. He exited the pits in front of Hamilton, and Button bunched up the pack ready for the restart on lap 41. A new rule for 2012 means that lapped cars are allowed to unlap themselves under the safety car. I’m not sure what this will achieve, but it allows the slower cars to properly race for position, rather than just being back markers, I assume. Kovalainen retired soon after, with what appeared to be a mechanical issue. An unlucky weekend for Caterham, who seemed to be making a good improvement. Kobayashi’s Sauber was reported by Raikkonen to be shedding parts from a broken rear wing endplate.
Maldonado was having a fantastic race so far, and challenging Alonso for 6th place. He’s been berated no end for being only a pay driver, but he seemed to be proving his worth today. Massa and Bruno Senna made contact at Turn 4 on lap 47, possibly stemming from Daniel Ricciardo running wide, and resulting in punctures for both the Brazilians. Massa was forced to retire (and I consequently was NOT HAPPY) but Senna made it to the pits and back out on track. This fuelled (excuse the pun) yet more speculation over Massa’s future; how is it that his teammate can get the best out of a terrible car, while he struggles no end? That’s a discussion for another time I think… The incident was due to be investigated by the stewards- my verdict was a clumsy racing incident and no specific blame.
With only 4 seconds separating the top 4 it was still all to play for with 5 laps remaining, and Webber was rapidly closing in on 3rd placed Hamilton, who seemed to be struggling a lot more with the tyres than his teammate. Senna returned to the pits and his race was over, so close to the finish. Rosberg seemed to fade in the closing stages; it’s possible he tussled a little too closely with Perez and took some damage. Maldonado pushed a little too hard while challenging Alonso, and stuck it in the wall heavily on the final lap. Unlucky.
So Jenson Button took a well-deserved victory after a fantastic drive, but the action wasn’t over yet- a five-way battle for the last few points resulted in Ricciardo taking his first F1 points in 9th, and Paul di Resta (who had a very quiet race) snatching 10th fromVergne. Mercedes had a disappointing race in the end, after showing such promise yesterday, as did Caterham. Sauber were quietly impressive, with both drivers in the points and challenging the top teams.
Evidently Ferrari are in a bit of a pickle, although Alonso drove pretty brilliantly to take that car up to P5. Red Bull were not as dominant as previously, but it’ll be a much closer fight between them and McLaren this year, which is what I’m sure a lot of us want to see. It’s way too early in the season to be making predictions, but the statistics are currently looking in Button’s favour, as the winner at Albert Park has very often gone on to win the Championship.
Oh and Lewis, please stop sulking. You got P3. It’s hardly the end of the world…