Posted by Carrot on March 27, 2011 | No Comments
Sebastian Vettel won the Australian Grand Prix in commanding fashion, never under threat at any point after the first 200 yards. It’s like end of the 2010 season all over again. The story of the weekend is the continued dominance of Red Bull and Vettel, with ominous signs for the rest of the field should they manage to keep this pace up.
Out-qualifying his team mate Mark Webber by the better part of a second, Vettel was able to drive off into the distance during the race and have only the new Pirelli tyres give him concern. His pace was underlined when he breezed past Jenson Button after his first pit stop, especially given Button’s difficulty with passing Felipe Massa even with a clear performance advantage earlier in the race. Webber ended up fifth, a disappointing showing from him after Vettel demonstrated the speed in the car. Webber needs to find the same form he found in Britain in 2010 or he could become very downbeat and ‘pull a Massa’.
McLaren managed to come back from the brink. The car they used in winter testing was radical to the point that it didn’t work and broke itself, the interim spec. machine they ran this weekend will give them hope of catching Red Bull at some point this season. Lewis Hamilton was stunning in qualifying, managing to split the Red Bulls and hold on during the race with a broken floor to take the second step of the podium. Button was less fortunate, losing places off the start line and a deserved penalty after cutting a corner ended his chances of picking up anything other than leftover points.
Surprising everyone today was Vitaly Petrov who finished third to take his first F1 podium. All those that threw around the ‘pay driver’ epitaph (myself included) have been firmly rebuked by the young Russian. There’s no doubt that the new Renault has some serious pace and Petrov was able to use the car and hold his nerve to record his best ever finish. In contrast his much more experienced team mate Nick Heidfeld, who everyone expected to take over Robert Kubica’s mantle of team leader, was all at sea this weekend, dropping out in the first part of qualifying and ultimately finishing twelfth.
Ferrari and their fans must be in shock after the lack of form the Scuderia has shown this weekend. In pre-season testing they were tipped as the second fastest package after Red Bull and expected to challenge the reigning champions throughout the season. It was not meant to be, particularly as ever Fernando Alonso couldn’t chase down and pass a Renault in the final laps. Felipe Massa just seems to be marking time until his inevitable ousting from that red cockpit, it’s hard to believe that the man that pushed the 2008 championship to the last lap of the year is driving the car at the moment. Massa’s fundamental lack of performance must be giving Ferrari bosses cause for concern. The Italian team will be glad of the two week break between now and Malaysia, they have a lot of work that needs to be done.
People who got up early this morning may be expecting me to talk about Sauber now, I am going to, but they no longer officially finished seventh and eighth, post-race scrutineering found their cars to be in breach of the aerodynamics rules and both cars have been disqualified. This is a shame because it was a good result for the team, particularly if you consider how bad it was going for the 12 months ago. Although the pace was good during the race, Kamui Kobayashi, the greatest overtaker of last year seemed disinterested today. Every time someone came alongside him he seemed to give up without a fight. The disqualification aside, it was an excellent result for rookie Sergio Perez in his first race. Perez managed the incredible feat of only making a single pit stop throughout the race, making the new Pirelli tyres last for longer than anyone thought they could while maintaining good pace. Not even Jenson Button, our normal benchmark for drivers that are easy on their tyres, could manage this.
Coming home with a net eighth was Sebastien Buemi in the Toro Rosso. With rumour that his seat was in danger, this is a great result for him. Toro Rosso have upped their game after their performance last year when they could barely keep ahead of the new teams, this new car has some real pace compared to last year’s and if they can keep up the development then Toro Rosso could firmly establish themselves in the midfield. Team mate Jaime Alguersuari came home eleventh, just missing out on the final points.
Rounding out the top ten were the Force India team with Adrian Sutil ninth and Paul di Resta tenth. It’ll be nice for the team to have scored with both drivers at the opening race, but their pace on track will leave them disappointed. They couldn’t really race the Saubers or the Williams today and they’ll need a clear development program to avoid slipping back fast in the standings.
Elsewhere Team Lotus had a disappointing weekend. Although they are clearly the fastest of the new team this year, over a half a second clear of Virgin Racing, they’re still the best part of two seconds off the rest of the field. Apparently the problem was due to lack of heat in the tyres, the car isn’t generating enough heat and therefore grip to allow them to go faster. Williams had a poor weekend, although the car has genuine potential, Rubens Barrichello’s third error of the weekend ended his race and reliability took out Pastor Maldonado. Mercedes GP’s time in F1 seems to be a continual downhill slump, taking over the championship winning Brawn GP, they ended up a distant fourth in their first year, and if this weekend is anything to go on then they’ve slipped even further down. Qualifying in seventh and eleventh puts them in the mix with Renault, Sauber and Toro Rosso. Hispania failed to even qualify after only recording 4 laps in practice. With money already tight and no sponsor wanting to be on a car that never makes it to a race I find myself having doubts that team will even make it back to Europe, let alone to the end of the season.
This race was a poor showing for the FIA’s newest overtaking idea the DRS (Drag Reduction System) or moveable rear wing. There’s a great benefit in qualifying, as well as great hazard as Sutil proved, but nothing it did seemed to definitively encourage overtaking. I think I saw two passes in the whole race using it, and those would have been achieved anyway at turn three due to the performance differences between the two cars. I have to agree with Niki Lauda here, it’s looking like a daft idea, and if it carries on like this it’ll be gone by next year. KERS seems to be the better of the two systems that are in use, mainly because it can be used anywhere and by a defending driver as well.
Regardless, the Red Bulls were that fast without using KERS, which has got to be a scary prospect for the rest of the field. I did wonder why the onboard graphic showed a full battery though when in 2009 the battery was crossed out if the system wasn’t installed on a car. Technical misdirection by Red Bull or just a default graphic? It’ll be interesting to find out in the future races. However with the pace of that Red Bull they could take the KERS, the DRS and the engine out and it’d still outclass everything thing else in the field. With Vettel seemingly on form, their performance advantage and no reliability problems yet, this season could see Vettel and Red Bull dominating in the same way that Michael Schumacher and Ferrari did in 2002.
Finally there’s the incident with Race Control and McLaren. It’d be unwise for Martin Whitmarsh to lie on television so I’m inclined to believe him when he says that Race Control said they’d get back to the team with advice about the Button/Massa overtake. They didn’t and Button received (correctly) a penalty for overtaking while outside the boundaries of the racetrack. The problem is that Race Control are supposed to be an impartial FIA group and what they did today was effectively pick and choose which teams to give assistance to. We know that Race Control has given advice to teams in the past, so why didn’t they today? It’s not like the race was hectic and they had to deploy a safety car and marshals to an accident, the race was running smoothly and this FIA group (we’re told) blatantly lied to a competitor which resulted in a penalty for that team. This needs to be looked at by the FIA, either Race Control needs to be mandated to assist all teams equally (their attention on race safety notwithstanding) or not advise any team at any point. Picking and choosing which teams get the benefit of official advice makes the FIA a partisan body, which is definitely a bad move for the sport.
Two weeks now until Malaysia, this season has a lot more to show us before we can get a definite read, see you there.