Sunday 18 March 2012

Australian GP Report: Jenson on the Button

Sorry Jenson. I really didn't think you'd do it. Not in the dry. Not with your rejuvenated team mate ahead of you on the front row of the grid. Not with the passing of the aggressive exhaust blown diffuser, thus not planting the rear of the car like before. But you did indeed do it. And mighty impressive it was too.

Jenson Button won in impressive style
Credit: / CC
Jenson Button dominated the Australian Grand Prix, from 'flag to flag' as they say, to win in stellar style. He got the better start to take the lead from pole man Lewis Hamilton into turn one, and then he simply checked out into a emphatic lead, which he held. Even with a late race safety car letting his rivals back onto his gearbox, Jenson never looked anything other than completely in control of proceedings. It was a drive anyone on the grid would have counted as among their best, and make no mistake about it, this is the start of a championship charge.

And in winning Jenson plain beat his mighty team mate in a straight fight. OK, Lewis was fed into traffic after his first pit stop, and lost a place to Sebastian Vettel in a safety car period, but there can be no qualification to the fact that Jenson was fairly and squarely the better of the two today.

After a qualification session wherein the competitive order of 2011 was given a severe shake-up, the old order reasserted itself on race day in Melbourne. Reports of the death of the Red Bull have been greatly exaggerated. They looked much more convincing today than yesterday, looking very close, if maybe not quite on, the McLaren's pace. Sebastian Vettel moved smoothly up the order and was monstering Lewis Hamilton for second by mid-race, before taking the place when the cards of a safety car deployment fell his way. Mark Webber was also impressive, showing as good pace as anyone out there when in clear air (the Red Bull is still not the car to have in traffic it seems), and eventually coming in close behind in fourth place. Webber, by the looks of things, will give his team mate a bit more to think about this year.

Both Red Bulls showed up well in the race
Credit: Alex Comerford / CC
And while the Ferrari still looked evil, Fernando Alonso put it on its tippy-toes and claimed a fine, and unlikely, fifth place. That Felipe Massa spent most of the race outside the top ten and being overtaken by the midfield runners (he eventually dropped out after a clash with Bruno Senna) is perhaps a more reliable guide to where the F2012 is currently at.

As for F1's arrivistes, they had a mixed time of it. The performance of the Mercedes was painfully like the same old same old. Schumacher retired from third place early and Rosberg sank down the order throughout, to the point that he was just another midfielder by the latter part of the race. A puncture sustained on the last lap after contact with Sergio Perez meant that 12th was his meagre reward. This is a year that Mercedes simply have to get it right; it's a long season of course but the evidence of today is that in 2012 they'll again flatter to deceive (and talk of their cars being protested, not coincidentally, has receded).

And Romain Grosjean didn't last long. He undid a lot of his good work from yesterday with a poor start, and was out after a lap and a half when he tagged Pastor Maldonado's Williams who was undertaking a strong-arm overtake, thus breaking the Lotus's steering arm. Still, the other Lotus occupant Kimi Raikkonen showed that he's lost little of his racer's edge after two years out, coming up from seventeenth on the grid to finish seventh.

It looks like Williams will have a better season
Credit: Alex Comerford / CC
Maldonado meanwhile had a diverting race, for good and bad reasons. He was one of the fastest packages out there, and after an early race off did well to move onto Alonso's tail late on, and showing every intention of taking his place from him. However, on the last lap he tried too hard it seems, and smashed the car up against a wall. Still, it was an encouraging day for Williams, and a world away from their 2011 struggles. And if Maldonado can cut out the too-frequent errors he looks well-placed to take advantage of his machine.

And Sauber made good on their promising pre-season: both finished in the points (Kamui Kobayahsi in P6 and Sergio Perez in P8) Perez employing a one-stop strategy, just like last year.

But the main thing on everyone's mind as they journey from Australia to Malaysia for next week's round is how to get on terms with the McLaren, and especially how to get on terms with Jenson Button.


  1. Michael Hogan (SuperAudi59)18 March 2012 at 18:20

    Nice blog my friend. A few comments from me:
    Vettel lucked out for 2nd though I think definitely third was in the cards.
    Maldonado ran into Grosean, the rear stepped out at the wrong time time.
    Schmui was unlucky with his mechanical, so "same old, same old" is a little harsh.
    I think Alonso would have finished 4th but the SC period cooled off his tyres and he couldn't get them heated again.
    As good as Button was, Hamilton's lack of pace was perplexing. Maybe something in his setup gave him good speed on low fuel and not on heavy. He was very slow off the line at lights out.

    Anyway, let's see what Malaysia brings.... Cheers mate

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thanks very much as always for your thoughts Michael, as well as for your kind words.

    Vettel did benefit from the timing of the safety car in leapfrogging Hamilton, but he was close to Hamilton anyway so may have leapfrogged him regardless (we'll never know for certain of course).

    I saw the Maldonado/Grosjean clash as a racing incident. Maldonado was rather strong arm, and a little clumsy, but I thought Grosjean could have yielded a bit sooner. That he didn't meant he was conspicuously putting his car into a position to be hit.

    On Mercedes, yes Schumi retired early, but even his pace while he was running seemed not nearly as strong as most had anticipated for the Mercedes. We've been waiting a long time for Mercedes to get it right, and on today's evidence we're getting another false dawn from them. Its still early days of course though.