Australian Grand Prix 2012 – A Promising Prelude

Under the scorching heat of the Australian sun, 22 talented Formula 1 drivers sat in their cars lined up in pairs on the starting grid, bodies tensed, mind focussed, hands poised on the steering wheels at the ready. As everyone – be it the drivers, the teams, the fans – held their breaths in anticipation, one by one, the 5 red lights right above the starting  line illuminated, and the sound of 22 revved up engines resonated as the Australian Grand Prix, the first of 20 races in the 2012, signalled its beginning.

The start of a race, as always, never fails to send bursts of adrenaline coursing through our systems. Though Lewis Hamilton attained pole position during yesterday’s qualifying session, his position was rapidly snatched away by teammate Jenson Button, who had already started breaking away from the rest of the pack after turn 1. Other good starts include those of Fernando Alonso (12th to 8th), Felipe Massa (16th to 10th), Nico Rosberg (7th to 4th) and Kimi Raikkonen (17th to 12th), who succesfully grasped the opportunity to overtake the cars in front of them. However, not everyone started off on a positive note, as Romain Grosjean, wowing crowds with his P3 achievement during his qualifying debut, slid to 6th, and Webber unfortunately found himself sandwiched between 2 cars further down the middle of the pack, and bumping both his front wheels. Bruno Senna in his Williams lost control of his car and spun off in the middle of the track, getting in the way of Daniel Ricciardo and inflicting some damage to his own car.

We had all expected and hoped for a nice, clean finish for Romain Grosjean, but sadly, his qualifying euphoria was short-lived. Making contact with Pastor Maldonado, he was pushed off onto the gravel and encountered steering damage, and was forced to retire 2 laps into the race. A bitter disappointment for the young Frenchman and for the Lotus team, but we can be sure that Grosjean will pick up again in next week’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

6 laps into the race, after swiftly overtaking Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel was faced with the challenge of finding the opportune moment to claim track position from his idol and fellow compatriot, Michael Schumacher, who has proved that his defence mechanisms are still intact, as seen from last season. A swerve caused Vettel to run onto the grass and lose ground, but a mistake by Schumacher in lap 11 due to a gearbox problem resulted in him running off wide and eventually retiring from the race.

A perpetual battle existed between Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen and Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi, who often found themselves in many skirmishes involving Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado in lap 10 for 9th place, and with Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo for 6th place right before the finish line. Raikkonen and Kobayashi generally maintained the same pace, and were constantly fighting for track position, with many back and forth overtaking manoevres taking place between them. Kobayashi remained aggressive and unrelenting as he squeezed his way around the other contenders, and came in an impressive 6th at the end of the race, a significant improvement from last year. Kimi Raikkonen, otherwise known as the ‘Iceman’ and the 2007 world champion, made a spectacular comeback after yesterday’s disappointing qualifying session, as he managed to surpass many of the midfielding cars and compete for a position in the top 10 after starting from 17th. Despite his absence from F1 for the past 2 years, his skill and previous seasons’ worth of experience was evident as he stormed his way to the front. Although unfamiliar with the numerous changes introduced to the sport (his blatant confusion at the signalling of blue flags was admittedly rather amusing!), he promptly adjusted to the new conditions and pulled through in the end, finishing in 7th place after battling it out with Kobayashi, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo.

Home favourite Mark Webber was trapped behind Nico Rosberg some time throughout the middle leg of the race, as he tried to weave his way past the Mercedes in vain until Rosberg decided to dive into the pits for a fresh set of tyres. With a newer, more competitive car, Rosberg has definitely shown that he has refined his skills as a driver and is set to pose a threat to the front-running teams, similar to Michael Schumacher.

But the race just got more and more exciting, and when Petrov’s halt near the start-finish line resulted in the deployment of the safety car, eyebrows rose. At this point, Jenson Button had just emerged from the pit lane after his second pit stop, which gave Sebastian Vettel, then race leader, a 19-second advantage. Vettel, who had only made one pit stop thus far, made the right call by heading into the pit lane for a quick tyre change before Button could regain the lost time. Fortunately for Vettel, he emerged from the pit lane just before Lewis Hamilton and fell in line behind Jenson Button as the safety car took the lead around the circuit. As the safety car returned to the pit lane in lap 42, Button effected his well thought out strategy and surged past the start-finish line to create a comfortable enough gap between himself and Vettel, successfully maintaining it until the end of the race.

It wasn’t such a smooth ride for others, as Bruno Senna punctured his left front tyre after coming into close proximity with Felipe Massa’s Ferrari, where they were both momentarily forced off the track. Though Senna was fortunate enough to continue the race after a quick tyre change and once-over, Massa wasn’t quite as lucky as he was forced to retire from the race after returning to the pits.

For many of the mid-fielding cars, the battle for a position in the top 10 persisted all the way to the chequered flag. Mark Webber’s encroaching RB8 added immense pressure on Lewis Hamilton, who blocked and defended Webber all the way to the finish line. An admirable effort  from both drivers, neither of whom were showing any sign of backing down, but in the end, there was only room for 1 third-place finisher, and that was attained by Lewis Hamilton.

The tussle between 5th-place Fernando Alonso and the Williams of Pastor Maldonado right behind him left Alonso unscathed, but Maldonado’s Williams in an unsightly mess. Losing control of the car, Maldonado spun and his nose collided with the barrier, dislodging one of his front tyres. A pity and a shame, as Maldonado’s unfortunate incident occurred during the final lap of the race, and his hopes of achieving championship points in the first race of the season were destroyed in that split second.

Everything was a blur as 4 cars, all within less than one second of each other, dashed across the finish, almost at the same time. With Nico Rosberg dropping to 12th place after being forced to slow down due to mechanical problems, Kobayashi moved up to 6th position and held on firmly to it all the way to the finish line, with Kimi Raikkonen hot on his (w)heels, followed by Sergio Perez, who started right at the back of the grid in 22nd, and then Daniel Ricciardo, another home favourite.

But it was a well-deserved win by Jenson Button, who stayed cool, calm and collected right from the beginning to the end of the race, cruising to victory with 3 seconds to spare. He drove with precision and accuracy, and nothing hindered his pace or his progress. With his clever tactics, paired with his expert ability at maximising tyre wear, his quest for victory was unrivalled.

What a way to kick-off the season! With a fresh start for the teams and the drivers, the new cars, the new rule changes, the new line-up, the new circuits and the new conditions could turn the tables any time. The line-up could change, the rules could change, the conditions are ever-changing… But one thing for sure will never change: the promise of a nail-biting, adrenaline-pumping, sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat Formula 1 quality race.


Australian Grand Prix 2012 Qualifying – Expect the Unexpected

A new season – a renewed chance for redemption, a fresh shot of glory, a brand-new quest for victory. With the first Formula 1 weekend of the year well underway, this statement rings true as the first qualifying session of the season took an unexpected turn of events.

After experiencing a trying and turbulent 2011 season, Lewis Hamilton seemed keen to start the 2012 season on the right foot. A flawless performance in his new McLaren, he consistently remained well on top of his game in all 3 qualifying rounds of the Australian Grand Prix, staying well away from the relegation zone. As he made his way steadily and neatly around the Albert Park Circuit, skillfully rounding the many corners and soaring down the straights, he smoothly topped the time charts in Q3, where no other driver came quite as close, to claim the first pole position of the season.

Teammate Jenson Button was not far behind, also delivering a faultless performance, but was not quite as quick as his fellow Briton. Just 15 hundredths of a second slower than Hamilton, Button clinched P2, still a tough feat considering the increased competition out on track. Overall, a superb performance by both McLarens, securing the front row of the grid for Sunday’s race – a brilliant way to kick-off the season.

A similar story for Romain Grosjean – who brought much pride and joy to the Lotus F1 Team by claiming an impressive 3rd place on the grid after fighting his way through all 3 qualifying rounds. As one of the fresh faces in F1, he initially dealt with much skepticism, but proved critics wrong as he dominated the time sheets throughout the entire session. A remarkable drive by the young Frenchman, bearing in mind that he has never driven on this circuit before, and that the Australian GP marks his debut as a permanent driver with Lotus. His elation showed no signs of being suppressed as a wide, toothy smile was plastered on his face the moment he stepped out of his car.

On the other hand, his teammate, former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, failed to make the rousing comeback as expected entering the Melbourne GP. The frustrated Finn will start in P18, unsuccessful in making the cut to advance to Q2, as a minor swerve off the track hindered his focus and caused him to lose the momentum and control of the car.

Michael Schumacher also sprang a pleasant surprise as he secured P4, ahead of the 2 Red Bulls and his teammate Nico Rosberg, who finished in P7. We already had an inkling that the 7-time world champion was out to restore his former glory when he topped the 3rd and final practice session earlier today. Nico Rosberg, although fastest in Q2, could not compete with the front-running teams in the final qualifying round, and had to settle for 7th.

The outcome of the qualifying session was not an ideal one for Red Bull Racing, as hometown hero Mark Webber will start 5th on the grid and defending champion Sebastian Vettel will start 6th. Unfortunately, Webber only had one shot in achieving his best result in Q3, but his flying lap was not enough to qualify for a higher position on the grid. Vettel admitted he had made a mistake starting his final qualifying lap, which disrupted his pace and hampered his progress.

However, the biggest disappointment is undeniably Ferrari’s unsatisfactory performance throughout the entire qualifying session. Fernando Alonso, after swivelling onto the gravel, had to retire early from Q2 as his car was towed away by the track marshals. And his irritation was made known to everyone as he waved off offered assistance from a track marshal before storming off the track. Eventually, based on the performance of the other contenders, he was placed 12th, failing to set a good enough time that the other midfielding teams would find tough to beat.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Felipe Massa’s lacklustre performance was simply appalling. Signs of a struggle were already evident when Massa barely made the cut from Q1 into Q2, narrowly missing the relegation zone. Even with his teammate out of the picture for most of Q2 with his damaged Ferrari being towed away back to the Ferrari garage, Massa failed to set a better timing and qualified 16th, which was far from ideal for the Italian team, especially after promising to deliver a more competitive car and more desirable results for the 2012 season last year.

Thus far, this leaves us with many intriguing questions that can only be answered tomorrow: Will Hamilton be able to maintain his lead over the rest, or will he be overwhelmed by the intensity of the compeition behind him? How will 2-time defending world champions Red Bull fare in the tussle of tomorrow’s race? Will Ferrari be able to step up their game, or will they be trailing behind in the cloud of dust left by their main rivals? Will Mercedes pose as a new threat to the front-running teams? What of Kimi Raikkonen – are his F1 driving skills just rusty, or will his comeback be much more of a success compared to Michael Schumacher’s? How will the rookies fare and adjust to the conditions of the impending season, which has so far promised to be full of tight competition and intense on-track battles?

A new season, a new round of races, a new twist to the sport.

March 18th 2012.
Let the race begin.