Australian GP analysis: "Welcome to 2009"

By on Sunday, March 18, 2012

Jenson Button had breakfast with his father, John, in Melbourne and admitted to feeling nervous. But it was an excited nervous. Two hours of racing later and the nerves of the Button clan lifted as the 2009 world champion crossed the line to record a memorable victory in the opening round of the 2012 season. “Welcome to 2009”, Button crackled over the radio. We shall see…

At the start, Hamilton bogged down which allowed Button to steal the lead down into Turn 1. Mark Webber’s conservative approach saw him squeezed between Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg. The Toro Rosso driver recovered but tipped Bruno Senna into a spin, while Jean Eric Vergne took to the gravel to avoid the melee.

Both Ferrari drivers fought through the field on the opening lap, with Fernando Alonso up to 8th and Felipe Massa a few positions back in 10th. Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg passed Romain Grosjean, who suffered a gearbox problem at the start and retired on the second lap after being hit by Pastor Maldonado.

A Safety Car on Lap 39 enabled Vettel to jump Hamilton and from there the order at the front remained static. A final lap traffic jam meant that seven or eight cars battled for sixth, with the position eventually going to Kamui Kobayashi. Returnee Kimi Raikkonen was seventh.

Results

Pos Driver Team Time
 1.  Button        McLaren-Mercedes           1h34:09.565
 2.  Vettel        Red Bull-Renault           +     2.139
 3.  Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes           +     4.075
 4.  Webber        Red Bull-Renault           +     4.547
 5.  Alonso        Ferrari                    +    21.565
 6.  Kobayashi     Sauber-Ferrari             +    36.766
 7.  Raikkonen     Lotus-Renault              +    38.014
 8.  Perez         Sauber-Ferrari             +    39.458
 9.  Ricciardo     Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +    39.556
10.  Di Resta      Force India-Mercedes       +    39.737
11.  Vergne        Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +    39.848
12.  Rosberg       Mercedes                   +    57.642
13.  Maldonado     Williams-Renault           +     1 lap
14.  Glock         Marussia-Cosworth          +     1 lap
15.  Pic           Marussia-Cosworth          +    2 laps
16.  Senna         Williams-Renault           +    4 laps

Fastest lap: Button, 1:29.187

Not classified/retirements: Driver Team On lap
Massa         Ferrari                      47 - Damage
Kovalainen    Caterham-Renault             42 - Retired
Petrov        Caterham-Renault             37 - Steering
Schumacher    Mercedes                     11 - Gearbox
Grosjean      Lotus-Renault                2 - Damage
Hulkenberg    Force India-Mercedes         1 - Damage
Karthikeyan   HRT-Cosworth                 DNQ
De la Rosa    HRT-Cosworth                 DNQ

Team and driver analysis

It’s clear from the first race that McLaren and Red Bull will fight for the title. But behind them, six or seven teams could lay claim to being the third best team. It’s an incredibly close battle that will ebb and flow all season. Nevertheless, Melbourne is a notioriously sketchy place to judge the order of the cars. Yes, if you do well here you should be set up for the season. But in 2009 BMW was strong here and floundered the whole season, while Williams last year had good pace in Melbourne and then struggled. How costly could those 8 points lost be for Williams come Brazil…?

McLaren

‘Welcome to 2009’ were the words spoken by Jenson Button over the team radio as he won the race and such a statement will provide encouragement for his McLaren team. Not only did he stamp his authority over his team mate by taking the lead into Turn 1, but he then extended his advantage before maintaining a sensible and unbeatable pace. The car did everything Button asked of it, while pit-stops were also seamless. For Hamilton, it was a more disappointing day. The Brit bogged down at the start but lacked the pace to catch Button. He was unfortunate to drop to third behind the safety car but from then on he was defending from Webber rather than attacking Vettel. Short answers in the press conference, as well as a gloomy face, suggests Hamilton is not happy with the way his weekend has gone. Hamilton was faster through the speed trap than Button, although his heavier tyre wear suggests he was running with less wing on the car.

Jenson Button: 10/10 | Lewis Hamilton: 7/10

Red Bull

There were long faces at Red Bull when Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel qualified only fifth and sixth but, as predicted, their race pace was far stronger. Vettel made a good start and a stunning pass on Nico Rosberg ensured he was up to fourth place. However, all weekend long he was struggling with the RB8 and he went off while chasing Michael Schumacher. Mark Webber too looked unsure of the handling of their new car. This suggests that neither driver has the confidence that the RB8 will do exactly what it is asked, something they became accustomed to in the RB6 and RB7. Just how much has the loss of the blown diffuser, an integral part of previous machines, cost them? Qualifying pace won’t be as strong as previous seasons but Australia wasn’t representative after Vettel’s mistake and Webber’s KERS issues. Vettel lucked into second place courtesy of the timing of the Safety Car period although he kept Hamilton at bay to prove that there was pace too. Webber’s best home finish left him satisfied, particularly as he dropped down to ninth after a conservative approach to Turn 1 left him with damage to the front of the car. Straight line speed should also be of concern particularly as potential rivals in qualifying – McLaren and Mercedes – will both be quick on the straights.

Sebastian Vettel: 9/10 | Mark Webber: 7/10

Ferrari

“Give him a wheelie bin without the wheel and he would still be competitive” said Martin Brundle during Sky Sports’ coverage and that is undoubtedly true of Fernando Alonso. Both drivers infact made brilliant starts, from 12th and 16th to 8th and 10th, but from there it was Alonso who moved forwards. The Spaniard sustained pressure from Pastor Maldonado to pick up ten points, but even so you could see he was struggling with the F2012. Tyre degradation was high while traction exiting the corners was poor. Felipe Massa on the other hand just had an appallingly bad race after his good start. He languished in the lower regions of the top ten and spent much of the race battling with the Saubers and Kimi Raikkonen. A late race clash with Bruno Senna – for which he was mainly accountable – left him with a puncture that led to retirement. While Alonso shines in a poor car, Massa’s frailties are only highlighted. What will be of concern is the fact that Alonso finished 21 seconds behind race winner Button, despite the appearance of the Safety Car leading to a final stint of around eighteen laps. It’s that loss of time that will be disheartening to Ferrari, as well as the way he was being hustled by Pastor Maldonado. Furthermore, Alonso was only fifteen seconds clear of the midfield melee. At the moment, Ferrari is a one-car team and could even be considered fortunate to finish fifth. It’s going to be a long season.

Fernando Alonso: 10/10 | Felipe Massa: 2/10

Mercedes

For the second consecutive season, Mercedes leaves Australia empty handed despite so much promise. Michael Schumacher said he could ‘feel it’ after qualifying fourth and his good start saw him elevated to third. Initial race pace wasn’t that strong and Sebastian Vettel soon closed the deficit to his fellow German. A gearbox problem prevented us seeing what Schumacher could have done, so Rosberg has to be used as the benchmark. As seen in the final pre-season test, the W03 isn’t very kind to its tyres and so it proved in Melbourne. Rosberg dropped down the order as he struggled with the car and eventually came home twelfth after the last lap battles saw him lose out. Qualifying pace has undoubtedly been improved, but this will be meaningless if the race pace is poor and the tyres run out after a few laps. Hot track temperatures in Malaysia could be fun…

Michael Schumacher: 7/10 | Nico Rosberg: 6/10

Lotus

Saturday was good for Romain Grosjean; Sunday was good for Kimi Raikkonen. Had both drivers strung together a decent weekend then Lotus would have left Melbourne with a strong points haul. Nevertheless, Melbourne presented the team with a reason to be optimistic after Kimi Raikkonen finished seventh. Both drivers made a good start, although a gearbox problem kicked in on Grosjean’s car, restricting him to sixth. The Frenchman was then woefully unfortunate to break his suspension when Pastor Maldonado passed him and had to retire. Kimi Raikkonen initially failed to make sufficient progress courtesy of a DRS problem and suffered some damage courtesy of Kamui Kobayashi. However, he battled on and took advantage of the last lap chaos to finish 7th on his return to F1, collecting eight points.

Kimi Raikkonen: 8/10 | Romain Grosjean: 8/10

Force India

Tipped by many to lead the midfield, Force India perhaps endured a difficult weekend. Paul di Resta could only managed 15th in qualifying and didn’t make too much progress in the race. He scraped a point together after deploying all of his KERS exiting the final corner but lamented poor pace at the start of each stint. Nico Hulkenberg appeared to fare better, but starting ninth in Melbourne was always going to be a danger and so it proved. Two starts in Melbourne and two lap one retirements for the German. Force India seem to be well and truly in the midfield bunch.

Paul di Resta: 6/10 | Nico Hulkenberg: 6/10

Sauber

Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez may have been throwing their C31s left right and centre, but the Swiss team leaves Melbourne 3rd in the championship after sixth and eighth in Australia. Both drivers suffered minor damage in the race – Raikkonen complained of Kobayashi’s rear wing falling apart while Perez had front wing damage – yet it is regarding strategy where the team needs to sort themselves out. Sauber needs to show the strength of the car in terms of pace, not just rely on saving tyres. They ran Perez for far longer than was necessary and this was almost a costly mistake. Despite this, the C31 appears to be a good pace and sixth place has to be the target having collected ten points already.

Kamui Kobayashi: 8/10 | Sergio Perez: 8/10

Scuderia Toro Rosso

Another year middling in the midfield seems likely for STR, but both Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne impressed Down Under. Ricciardo was the victim of Turn 1 and fought back brilliantly, albeit assisted by the safety car. Vergne made a crucial mistake during the race, running wide at Turn 3 and picking up gravel on his tyres. He soon caught up with his rivals and was woefully unlucky not to claim the final point on his debut.

Daniel Ricciardo: 8/10 | Jean Eric Vergne: 6/10

Williams

For fifty seven laps and five turns, Pastor Maldonado was brilliant. He made it into Q2 with ease despite a final sector that can best be described as astonishingly ragged. He maintained his grid position and spent much of the race battling with Fernando Alonso for fifth place, an achievement that was scarcely believable. Then, with about a minute left of the race, Pastor Maldonado reverted to being Pastor Maldonado. It was a head in hands moment as the Venezuelan missed out on eight valuable championship points and littered the track with parts of the FW34. Bruno Senna had a fairly anonymous weekend in terms of pace, if not action. He was launched into the air at the start (not his fault) and retired after contact with Felipe Massa (not really his fault either). If Maldonado’s pace in Melbourne is anything to go by then Williams will be well on the road to recovery in 2012.

Pastor Maldonado: 57 laps/10 | Bruno Senna: 5/10

Caterham, Marussia, HRT

A less than satisfactory weekend as both drivers had to call it a day before the end of the race. The gap to the midfield appears not to have closed to the extent the team had hoped, while Kovalainen suffered from a lack of KERS throughout the race. Over at Marussia there’s reason for hope after Glock and Pic finished fourteenth and fifteenth having suffered from no reliability issues. Fourteenth is a just reward for Glock after a dismal 2011 as while the deficit to Caterham still exists, the weekend panned out far better than hoped. HRT will try again next weekend and probably still be woefully slow.

Heikki Kovalainen: 6/10 | Vitaly Petrov 5/10 | Timo Glock 7/10 | Charles Pic 6/10 | Pedro de La Rosa, Narain Karthikeyan - N/A


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