It has begun! The first Formula 1 race of the season is over and as far as first races of the season go, it was a good one.
During qualifying we saw a few surprises, like Lotus’ Romain Grosjean, a French driver who had previously never qualified higher than 12th place, now manage to push his Lotus to the third spot on the starting grid. Two other qualifying surprises were Pastor Maldonado (8th) and Nico Hülkenberg (9th). Good qualifying results for fairly unexperienced drivers – they both had 19 starts before Australia – in cars that weren’t too competitive last season. On the other end of the Saturday qualifying surprise scale were both Ferrari drivers, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, who qualified 12th and 16th respectively.
In the race Button got better speed off the starting line, passed Hamilton and quickly opened up a lead. Both Ferraris also had good starts together with Sauber’s Sergio Pérez, who made his way from from 22nd place to 10th. Two of the qualifying surprises, Nico Hülkenberg and Romain Grosjean, both had early race exists – Hülkenberg after a first corner melee and Grosjean on the second lap with a broken front suspension after bumping with Pastor Maldonado. Vettel had a few nice overtakes, but had problems keeping the car on the track in the beginning. He doesn’t look quite as comfortable in the 2012 Red Bull as he looked in last year’s car.
Michael Schumacher did good, but had to retire with a gearbox problem, which opened up for Vettel. Vettel was also extremely lucky when the race’ only safety car was deployed after Vitaly Petrov retired his Caterham on the start/finish straight beside the pit wall. To be completely honest, I’m not sure why it was deployed, there were at least one race last year that was finished with a retired car parked in that position. The McLaren conspiracy theorists probably have a thing or two they want to say about this, because it enabled Vettel to make a very convenient pit stop and stay where he was when the safety car was deployed; in second place. A lot of action happened on the last lap: Maldonado crashed out from sixth place after pushing too hard in pursuit of Fernando Alonso in front of him. Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes also had to retire after making contact with Sergio Pérez, who eventually finished 17th. One of my favourite drivers, Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi, finished 6th after what looked to me like one of his trademarked kamikaze overtakes on the final start/finish straight.
Jenson Button went on to win the race, his third at the Albert Park Circuit. Vettel crossed the line second, two seconds behind Button, while Hamilton held Webber off long enough to finish third. Webber crossed the line fourth, his best result at his home Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso finished 5th in a Ferrari that can only be described as sub-par compared to the top team’s machines. He once again shows that he is an awesome driver who is with the wrong team. Imagine what he could do in a Red Bull or a McLaren. There are also some young drivers who really made an impression, for some of them it was probably more luck than skill, while others will ensure that we will see tons of high quality driving in the years to come.
All in all, this season’s Australian Grand Prix was an exciting race weekend and a worthy season opener. Here are a few visual highlights from the race weekend, everything copyright Sutton Images. Yes, used without permission, but if anything this is promotion.