The season opener in Melbourne was always going to be exciting. It was going to tell us a huge amount about the hopefuls for the championship this year, and the everyone behind them. What’s more, races in Melbourne have been historically exciting and so everything was set up for great weekend. It certainly didn’t disappoint either.
The race weekend started with a surprisingly eventful set of Free Practice sessions. Friday saw Mclaren top the leaderboards on practice times, and Vettel take an uncharacteristic foray into the world of off-roading. It showed much of what we had learned from the pre-season tests in Jerez- the ‘big 3′ of Red Bull, Mclaren and Ferrari were all still with it, and Mercedes, Lotus and Williams seemed much stronger.
Saturday saw an absolutely amazing qualifying session. I wondered if it was worth it as I woke up at 5:45 am to watch it all live- by God it was. All last year Q1 was simple, Q2 a little less straightforward and Q3 exciting. 2012 has started off with a bang, however, and all three qualifying session kept me on the edge of my seat.
Q1 saw Massa get through by the skin of his teeth, and a surprise in Raikkonen not managing to get through to Q2. He was placed 18th on the grid. Q2 was just as surprising, with Alonso spinning out and beaching his car, putting him out of the session and placing 12th after a fairly slow first lap. Massa, however, had two clean laps yet only managed 16th place- last in Q2. Both Ferraris were already out, and by 2011′s standards the session should only have just warmed up. Williams showed their new found strength too, with Pastor Maldonado getting through to Q3.
Q3 saw Hamilton produce an absolute blinder of a lap in his Mclaren, closely followed by Jenson Button- a marked change from the slow start Mclaren had last season. Even more amazing was the fact Romain Grosjean placed in 3rd overall, showcasing the Lotus‘ and it’s driver’s speed. Schumacher even placed 4th. All that means that Red Bull only got up to 5th and 6th place for Webber and Vettel respectively. Looks like Vettel won’t own the number 1 spot this year.
Grid Positions (after penalties):
- Di Resta
The Australian Grand Prix was as good as expected. Button immediately underlined his title challenge with a great start overtaking Hamilton on the first bend. Alonso also looked good, making a lot of places up at the start. There was also a bit of a disaster for Webber, Ricciardo and Senna after a coming-together that left Force India‘s Niko Hulkenburg out of the race. Grosjean suffered too a lap later, retiring after a suspension break after coming together with Maldonado.
Overall there were 10 retirements including Schumacher and Massa. Maldonado had the drive of his career, looking to finish in 6th place; the disappointment must have been huge, however, after he crashed out on the last lap. A great show of speed by the Venezuelan and his Williams car.
Button was the star of the day however, storming ahead from the very start of the race and staying there untroubled until the end of the race. Hamilton also looked to come second, but after a safety car gave Vettel a helping hand he could only manage third. His disappointment was clear in the post-race Mclaren celebrations, but a podium finish should’ve left him at least a little bit happy. I’m quickly coming to dislike Hamilton- his off track disposition seems erratic and emotional, and his driving last season reflected that. Button however is my favourite of the F1 pack, and this win has only confirmed it. He really is a great driver and personality, and after this win and last years performance he is definately a big contender for the title.
Elsewhere, Red Bull did well to show that they had race pace despite the poor qualifying performance. Vettel showed he can race by climbing the pack up to second place; it seems pretty obvious he can survive when he’s not in front. Webber also gained a few places and got up to 4th place.
Further down, Raikkonen showed why we love him by climbing all the way from 17th to 7th. He did it in style too- one overtake in particular will most likely feature in all those end of season montages. If it dosen’t I can only be happy, as it’d mean the 2012 season was absolutely fantastic.
Mercedes fell lower down too, with one retirement and an overall poor performance from Rosberg, eventually finishing in 12th place. The manufacturer looked as if they would compete with Ferrari and Red Bull, but instead failed to pick up any points.
- Di Resta
- Maldonado (crash, 57 laps)
- Glock (lapped)
- Pic (lapped)
- Senna (retired, 52 laps)
- Massa (retired, 46 laps)
- Kovaleinen (retired, 38 laps)
- Pertov (retired, 34 laps)
- Schumacher (retired, 10 laps)
- Grosjean (crash, 1 lap)
- Hulkenburg (retired, 0 laps)
So what have we learnt?
This race weekend has been massive. A great qualifying session and an even better race (on what, let’s face it, is a bit of a mediocre track) has once again produced a brilliantly exciting grand prix in Melbourne. We saw a load of retirements, a couple of big hits, and a lot of great drives. Although it’s difficult to make predictions on a single race, it looks like we’re in for a much more competitive season. Ferrari will no doubt only get better, and I can see Lotus and Mercedes picking up the odd podium finish this year. It would be great to see some more wins for Raikkonen and Schumacher- even if we did despise the German’s domination in years gone by.
The weekend has also confirmed my speculations that Massa is terrible. Last season he unperformed massively, and to be honest it was a surprise he got asked back by the Italians. I don’t rate him at all, and I think if this carries on he’ll be replaced halfway through the season. That said, who would fill his seat? Could we see a return of Kubica later this year? I doubt it, but one can hope.
Overall, I’m hopeful for Button. His methodical style suits me perfectly, and it’s a joy to watch him in the wet. It’s also a victory for beauty this weekend as Mclaren‘s is the only pretty car on the grid. Hopefully this season will be far from a lock out however. It’d be great to see Button, Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso and maybe even Webber all in the fight to win. It’s all too early to tell really though. In 2 months time I could be telling you how the season looks to be a foregone conclusion after the dreaded finger of Vettel appears on TV screens everywhere once again.