Sunday, March 18, 2012

Australian Grand Prix: Race Report

McLaren’s Jenson Button has won a thrilling Australian Grand Prix ahead of Sebastian Vettel and the Scuderia Ferrari has achieved its goal of finishing the first race of the season in the points, much to my great relief.

A few years ago, I would have been incredibly disappointed if Ferrari had only managed to achieve ten points at the season opening Grand Prix and would have most likely been ranting and raving about what an epic disaster it was on this very blog…my how things change. With the way that the F2012 has been performing and after yesterday’s dismal qualifying session, I am viewing Fernando Alonso’s fifth place finish today as a minor miracle.

The brilliant Spaniard, who began the race with one of his trademark position-gaining starts, managed to take his Ferrari from a lowly twelfth place on the grid and salvaged somewhat of a decent result. In fact, in his hands the Ferrari did not look bad at times, largely thanks to an inspired team decision to switch to medium tyres at the first pit stop. Alonso put in a handful of fast laps and ran as high as fourth position before tyre degradation meant that he came under pressure from the Williams of Pastor Maldonado in the later stages of the race.

In contrast to Alonso’s performance, Felipe Massa had a lacklustre race, never featuring amongst the leaders and running outside of the top ten for the majority of the day. When Bruno Senna attempted to pass his countryman on lap 48, the pair collided, ending Massa’s disastrous opening weekend.

In the aftermath of the race, the Ferrari driver blamed his woes on tyre wear, resulting from the F2012’s poor balance. After having a terrible season last year, however, Massa has used up all of his get out of jail free cards and it seems as though the writing is on the wall for him. Sauber’s Sergio Perez, who is also part of the Ferrari Driver Academy, put in a fine drive today to reach an eventual eighth place and there is no doubt in my mind that speculation will begin shortly about exactly when he will usurp Massa’s position within Ferrari.

Aside from Ferrari’s race, there were of course many other highlights from the afternoon and the following are just five of my favourite talking points from the day:

1. Kimi’s confusion. After starting his return to Formula 1 off with a disappointing eighteenth position on the grid, Kimi Raikkonen was keen to prove exactly why he is a former World Champion in the Lotus. The sometimes too relaxed Finn, who is known as the iceman, put in a solid performance to end the day in seventh position. While weaving his way through traffic, the thirty two year-old came across several blue flags which were meant to warn backmarkers to make way for the leaders. Instead of ignoring them, however, a confused Raikkonen radioed his engineer, Mark Slade frantically asking what they were there for. “Blue flags are for cars behind Kimi, they’re not for you.” Was Slade’s somewhat amused answer.

2. The safety car. Being the first race of the season, there was always bound to be at least one safety car period for the drivers to contend with. Even though the majority of the field were fairly well-behaved in the early stages of the race, the stewards were forced to call the safety car out on lap 37 when Vitaly Petrov’s Caterham ground to a stop on the start/finish straight. The timing played right into the hands of Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel as both McLarens, who were at the time running in first and second position respectively, had pitted on the previous lap. Vettel was able to use the safety car to his advantage as his rivals circulated slowly around Albert Park and emerged from the pit lane in front of Lewis Hamilton. This year the FIA have reintroduced the rule where lapped cars are allowed to unlap themselves during a safety car period. In my opinion this is a fantastic thing as it ensures a straight fight between the main contenders once the race is restarted. Critics of the rule say that it adds to the time that the safety car remains on the circuit and that overtaking backmarkers should be a part of any racing drivers skill set. What do you think about it?

3. A resurgent Williams catches an unlucky break. Poor Williams. After impressing throughout the weekend, somehow the former championship winning squad managed to leave Melbourne without a single point to their name. It looked as though Pastor Maldonado was about to finish the race in sixth position when he made a silly mistake and slammed his car quite violently into the wall. Perhaps in that moment Frank Williams lamented his decision not to keep Rubens Barrichello on for one more season. Still, Williams can gain some comfort in the knowledge that their new chassis is clearly a great deal more competitive that last year’s beast, the FW33 and surely the team’s first points of the season will come sooner rather than later.

4. Australian drivers perform on home soil. Australian natives Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo both started off their seasons with solid drives in front of their home crowd. For Webber, his fourth place finish was the highest that he has ever achieved in Australia and Ricciardo took the ninth spot to complete a dream weekend for him that saw him make the final part of qualifying for the first time in his career. No doubt there will be more to come from the young Toro Rosso driver.

5. Hamilton eats his words. Am I the only one who dislikes the way that Lewis Hamilton clearly thinks that he is a better driver than Jenson Button? Probably not. Before the season began, Hamilton was quoted as saying that he wasn’t concerned about finishing last year with fewer points than Button and implied that the result had to do with his own mistakes rather than a particularly brilliant performance from his team mate. When the Britain put his McLaren on pole position yesterday it seemed as though there may have been some truth to his words and that we were about to experience a dominant win from the former champion. Good thing that his team mate was having none of it. When Button was interviewed by Martin Brundle on the grid, he seemed calm and confident and after the lights went out in Albert Park, he carried that attitude through into the race. Button’s driving was reminiscent of the kind of form that saw him win the 2009 World Championship with Brawn GP and he proved today that his wonderful season last year was no fluke. He is certainly far too much of a gentleman to say this himself, so I will say it for him…ha ha!

Now that the inaugural weekend of the 2012 world championship is over, the teams must quickly pack everything up and make their way to Malaysia, where the Formula 1 circus will reconvene in less than one week’s time. Until then I leave you with Kimi’s conversation with Mark Slade:

**Photographs for this blog post were generously provided by Gianluca Martini.**

1 comment:

  1. Hello Danielle. Just stopping by to check out your blog and welcome you to She Writes. I've truly loved being a member for about a year now and have met so many wonderful writers and bloggers. Your blog and your life look exciting. I have some Italian heritage and have always wanted to visit Italy. But as for auto racing, I have to admit I am among the great unwashed. I had to Google "Formula 1" to see what that was. How much we learn by reading each other's blogs!