Sunday, 27 March 2011

Australian GP Report: Like we've never been away

There you have it. First race of a new formula, all sorts of changes and associated language of the apocalypse used in predicting their effect. And Seb runs away with it in a fashion that we've become accustomed, just as he spent most of the latter part of last season doing.

Seb was in a class of one, at least from qualifying onwards, at Melbourne. Not even his similarly equipped team mate, Mark Webber, was on the same plane. He has, dare I say it, a Senna-esque ability to claim pole, blast into the lead at the first corner and then dominate a race from the front. The result of a Vettel victory was never in doubt, at least from the first stops onwards. His rivals will now go back to base for some serious head-scratching before the next race in two weeks time.

Lewis was mighty as usual in keeping Vettel at least honest in second place, and given their pre-season form he'll be mighty pleased with his run to second. He also had damage to his floor from about half-distance, but managed to nurse the thing home.

Arguably the driver of the day though was Vitaly Petrov. He completed the podium, making good on the promise the Renaults showed in testing, and Petrov stepping up magnificently in Kubica's injury-enforced absence. He showed good consistent pace, keeping his tyres in good shape (like Vettel and Hamilton, he stopped only twice), and made no mistake I saw despite being under pressure most of the way. Fernando Alonso chased him down in the final stages, but ran out of laps and had to settle for fourth. Fernando will probably see the result as something of a save, the Ferraris seemed seriously off it this weekend for the large part, against their pre-season optimism. Further, Fernando was bumped down to ninth at the first corner, and used a three-stop strategy (as did Webber in fifth) which didn't really work. We'll see where he and the Ferrari are in the scheme of things in Malaysia - they can't afford many more weekends like this one.

The other big story of the race was Sergio Perez. Not only did he finish a highly impressive seventh on his debut, he did it by stopping only once to change tyres. Given the talk of four or more stops per competitor per race being required this season the Pirellis have been a revelation in Melbourne and Perez's run will give the whole field food for thought strategy-wise. It makes you wonder the extent that the F1 fraternity have talked themselves into having tyre problems this year. Still, Melbourne's quite easy on tyres for various reasons so we'll see how they go in future races - Malaysia will give the Pirellis more of a workout.

The other big reg change for this year is the Drag Reduction System (DRS). There is of course some potential tweaking to be done, but we did see a few overtakes into turn one that we wouldn't have seen without DRS in all probability - which is exactly what it was meant to do. As I've said, my view is that if the system creates some overtaking without, just as importantly, creating silly overtaking-fests where there are passes and re-passes every lap, then I'll be OK with DRS. On today's evidence they get a qualified thumbs up from me.

Then there's KERS, which didn't make an outward difference to the racing, though it transpires the Red Bulls didn't use KERS at all (Adrian Newey has always been a sceptic of it). It's worth reflecting that in 2009 the teams without KERS were the most competitive - if that's the case again this year then the KERS regulations and restrictions will have to be re-assessed.

And last word to Mercedes, who were slightly underwhelming having, apparently, made a strong step in the final pre-season test. Indeed, neither made the finish, both due to the consequences of contact. Apparently it was Merc's first double retirement in F1 since 1955! Thanks to Peter Windsor for pointing this fact out!


UPDATE 2000: Turns out both Saubers have been disqualified from the Australian Grand Prix results, due to being in breach of rear wing regulations. They intend to appeal. The disqualifications led to a re-jigging of the results, given Perez and Kobayashi finished seventh and eighth on the track. Massa is promoted to seventh, and Paul di Resta scores points on his F1 debut for coming tenth.

You can therefore scratch (for now) what I said above about Perez finishing seventh, but not what I said about him playing a blinder.

Revised Australian GP results

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