One race down then, so what have we learned? Well it would appear to be good news for most, but especially to those of us watching, competition all through the field is always a good thing.
Jenson Button leaves Melbourne with a smile on his face; he claimed to be more nervous than normal before the race, possibly because he realised he was sitting in the best car he’d had since the start of the 2009 season, but nervous or not, he was imperious. Button took a page from the Book of Vettel and scampered off into the distance to the tune of three seconds – well away from the danger of DRS – but was able to keep the tyres in good shape thanks to his smooth style. Hamilton is less happy, he failed to convert a superb pole into a win, he never looked capable of challenging for the win, but second looked assured until Petrov parked up in a dangerous position and the resulting safety car allowed Vettel to jump him at the stops. Hamilton will most be upset by his lack of pace against his teammate, you get the impression that the 2011 demons won’t truly have been exorcised until Lewis gets the upper hand over Jenson for a few races straight.
For the first time since the 2010 Abu Dhabi GP, Sebastian Vettel does not lead the world championship, but he’s still very much in the hunt for his hat-trick. The RB8 may not have the qualifying pace of the McLaren at this stage of the season, but in race trim, it’s still there-or-thereabouts, and with Adrian Newey in charge of development, it’s safe to assume Red Bull will be fighting back soon enough. Vettel also provided more evidence that he is indeed a racer, nailing Nico Rosberg round the outside of turn 10, and second was a good result overall. In the sister car, Webber achieved his best finish in his home race with fourth, which after a poor start was the best he could hope for, however the turn of speed he showed in the final stint will give him confidence.
Mercedes showed much promise in practice, but qualifying was a mixed bag, Schumacher managed a credible fourth, the best grid position of his second career, but Nico Rosberg’s seventh was disappointing, but an excellent start more than made up for his error. The pace wasn’t there in the race for Rosberg though, high tyre degradation not helping matters resulted in Nico being the first to pit (other than those coming in early for damage repairs), and a final lap puncture put paid to a points finish. Schumacher on the other hand was running a third when his gearbox failed heading down the main straight leading to his retirement after just ten laps.
Lotus’ weekend promised much, but delivered little. Romain Grosjean qualified an excellent third, but a poor start left him susceptible to the pack, and a stern overtaking move from Maldonado broke the Franco-Swiss driver’s right-front suspension on the first lap. Kimi Raikkonen suffered from poor feedback in his car’s steering meant the Finn lost time in practice, and a timing mistake put him out in Q1, but from 17th on the grid he finished a credible seventh. He claims to aiming for a podium in Malaysia.
Qualifying was nothing short of a disaster for Ferrari; Alonso spun off during Q2, with Massa just plain slow leaving the cars 12th and 16th on the grid. Alonso showed why he is a two-time world champion by hustling the misbehaving F2012 up to fifth place, it could have been fourth but for the mistimed pitstop, either way the Spaniard outperformed his car, which he’s done for several seasons now. Massa on the other hand wandered around the back of the midfield making little impression until a squabble with Bruno Senna leading to their mutual retirement with a handful of laps to go.
Mentioning Williams and the midfield, it looks like we’re in for one hell of a season long scrap. Pastor Maldonado was hustling Fernando Alonso when a last lap over-correction launched him into the wall, but he showed why he was the 2010 GP2 champion and that being a “pay” driver didn’t mean he was devoid of talent. The good news for Williams is, it looks like the start of the recovery for the seven-time constructors’ champions with the FW34 showing greater pace than its predecessor. The fact that positions 8-11 were covered by less than four tenths of a second indicate that scoring points on a regular basis may be tricky as multiple teams will all have the pace to claim them.
The “new” teams have failed to move forward once again. Caterham are still the quickest of the trio, but remain a second behind the rest of the pack in qualifying, and both cars failed to finish. Marussia are a further two seconds behind, but Glock was able to equal the team’s best result with a 14th placed finish, however he was the last car still running at the end of the race and finished behind Maldonado despite the Venezuelan failing to finish. The joke that is HRT (and I don’t just mean the unfortunate acronym) continues, with both cars well outside the 107% rule, and with Karthikeyan acting as nothing more than a moving chicane, the stewards were correct to prevent them from racing. Maybe they’ll make the grid in Malaysia, but if they see that as an achievement, it raises the question; why are they still bothering to try?
So onwards to Sepang we go, and hopefully another early rise will be well worth it.