Sunday 17 March 2013

Australian GP Report: Red Bull dominance put on ice

'In Hollywood, no one knows anything.' This was said famously by screenwriter William Goldman in the opening line of his memoirs. I don't know if Goldman is a fan of F1 (in fact, I doubt that he is), but the sentiment could just as aptly apply to that activity too. And we had the latest demonstration of it today.

Kimi Raikkonen was a surprise victor
Credit: Alex Comerford / CC
We never seem to learn however, despite the regular reminders. We have a tendency to declare outcomes set at an early stage with considerable confidence, not just for the here and now but for the foreseeable future. And it was the same again during the opening weekend of the 2013 season: the Red Bulls, and in particular Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull, dominated practice, and managed to lock out the front row of the starting grid despite the unwelcome (for them) variable of a wet but drying track. Many as a result foresaw not only a routine Vettel race win but also a season of Vettel dominance, akin to 2011. The latter part may yet still happen, but it didn't happen today.

Third place, and a rather distant one at that, was the best that Seb could do. And it was not a result that reflected ill-luck or wild cards such as a untimely safety car or a rain shower. It was simply the case that he didn't have the legs of Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus or Fernando Alonso's Ferrari. And, crucially, he didn't have the Lotus E21's mastery of the dark arts of the Pirelli tyres either. The E21 appears to have inherited the E20's magic touch, and from seventh on the grid Kimi kept up with the leaders early on and then smoothly moved into control of the race by stopping one time fewer than the others at the sharp end. It was a control he rarely looked like relinquishing, able to keep his laptimes low as those on fresher tyres chased and, sometimes, squabbled. And as if to underline his command, he set the fastest lap with two tours remaining. It was a drive from Kimi a lot like his persona: undramatic, undemonstrative, clipped, but with a potency that cannot be mistaken.

And is this the dawning of an ice age? If last year is any sort of guide then the Lotus should be even better when the temperatures pick up from today's chill, and the corners get a bit longer than Albert Park's short and sharp offerings. Sepang in Malaysia in a week's time provides both of these, and thus should be very interesting. Furthermore, 'Iceman' Kimi looks near the top of his formidable game.

It was an encouraging weekend for Alonso
Credit: Alex Comerford / CC
Alonso is another who will be well satisfied with his day's work. Second place, beating Vettel and showing good race pace (indeed, he was only beaten on strategy) is plenty to be going on with, and of course is a world away from his predicament of 12 months ago. For a time he looked on the point of hunting Kimi down for the win, but some uncooperative traffic allowed Kimi to make a decisive break.

Those at Red Bull, unusually, are the ones with a relatively large degree of head scratching to do. Its lack of race day pace seemed to baffle the team as much as anyone else. Christian Horner attributed it to the peculiarly low ambient temperatures; we should find out next week how much credence that theory has. And as for Mark Webber, it was the same old story, especially for him in his home round. A poor start was followed by a frustrating day in traffic. Sixth place was his meagre reward.

For Mercedes, precisely how well you think it did depends very much on what you're comparing it to. Many of the expectations in advance had it in the ballpark of the Lotus and Ferrari (some had it even higher), and in qualifying it made good on this with Lewis Hamilton claiming third on the grid with Nico Rosberg sixth (indeed Nico had the legs of everyone when it rained in qualifying). And yet at the end of it all today Lewis finished fifth, some 45 seconds shy of Raikkonen, while Rosberg dropped out with mechanical problems. Of course, things still look a bit more promising for Mercedes than they have done in a while. But on race day at least the extreme end of the positive results predicted look slightly out of reach for now.

Things were tough for Button and McLaren
Credit: Alex Comerford / CC
And for McLaren things were indeed as bad as they had looked in practice. Neither Button nor Perez achieved more than footnote status during the weekend, though Jenson did at least salvage a couple of points. Glum faces around the team's garage were far greater in number. It's way too early to write the Woking squad off for the year, Ferrari last year showed as much, as has McLaren itself in the past. But all in the team must feel a little like those about to start out on an Antarctic expedition.

Interloper services, seen so commonly last year, were today provided by Force India. Indeed, for much of the way comeback kid Adrian Sutil ran in the company of Vettel and the Ferraris rather like one who had been doing so habitually for some time. He was aided in so doing by not starting on the gumball supersofts, but in the absence of rain it meant the flip side of having to run on them later, at which point he was helpless in sinking back to seventh by the end.

But more broadly all seems well in the F1 camp. The close and unpredictable 2012 looks for now that it will be retained this year after all. And whatever the case, perhaps we'll all be more minded to count to ten before declaring with confidence what we think is going to happen next.

No comments:

Post a Comment