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.