2012 Australian Grand Prix: Jenson Button Draws First Blood

After the closely contested qualifying session of the 2012 Australian Grand Prix (Read post: 2012 Australian Grand Prix Qualifying Report) the race was expected to be exciting with most fans not knowing what to expect! Would the Mclarens trot to victory or would it be a Schumacher win with Grosjean being the dark horse? Also, would Red Bull Racing emerge faster in race pace and what about the ailing Ferraris?

(Read 2012 Australian Grand Prix Race Results)

So here are some thoughts, observations from the 2012 Australian Grand Prix:

–          I had expected Jenson Button to win and he did so quite comfortably. He drew first blood on-track and in the Mclaren garages after he got the jump over Hamilton during the start itself. In my earlier posts and various comments on Facebook, I had mentioned that tyre management would be key in the race and this is exactly where Button’s talent is unmatchable, especially by Hamilton.

–          Button, who leads the 2012 Drivers’ World Championship table, has won 3 out of the last 4 Australian Grand Prixs and scored his 13th career win overall in Melbourne. It was also for the first time since the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that Sebastian Vettel didn’t lead the Drivers’ Championship table!

Jenson Button Wins 2012 Australian Grand Prix (Courtesy: Mclaren)

–          Vettel was lucky to get the jump over Hamilton during the brief Safety Car period in the race. His second place was an improvement after a disastrous qualifying session yesterday. Mark Webber, the Aussie hero, finished 4th and behind Hamilton, his best finish in his home race.

–          If the biggest disappointment on Saturday was Ferrari, the biggest disappointment on Sunday was the Mercedes AMG team. Schumacher retired from the race due to a gearbox failure, whereas Rosberg lost out on a points finish after a puncture leading scrap on the last lap of the race. Mercedes will be strong this season but needs to get their reliability gremlins out of the way! A podium was possibly in sight for Schumacher.

–          The other disappointments on Sunday were rookies Grosjean and Hulkenberg. These two young drivers performed brilliantly in qualifying, however, they were punted out on separate incidents in the race. Hulkenberg was the victim of a first corner incident and this was the second time his Australian GP ended in less than a lap! Grosjean on the other hand had a tangle with Maldonado that saw his right rear suspension arm break on contact. I was surprised that Maldonado wasn’t investigated for this incident.

–          Speaking of Maldonado, he drove one of his best races yet that should help him shed off his ‘pay driver’ image. His drive indicated that 2012 could be the year of resurgence for the WilliamsF1 team. Maldonado was in the points much of the race, however, a last lap error while chasing Alonso for 5th saw Maldonado crash and end his race in the barriers. Had Maldonado finished 6th, he would have scored 8 points, 3 points more than Williams’ entire points haul last season! A case of missed opportunity?

–          On the other hand, Sahara Force India driver Paul di Resta made the most of the opportunity that came his way on the last corner of the last lap. He used his KERS boost to much effect to beat Toro Rosso’s Vergne to the finish line by a tenth of a second!

–          Infact, P6 to P10 (Kobayashi, Raikkonen, Perez, Ricciardo and di Resta) were separated by only 3 seconds at the finishing line. What will still have you in awe is that four drivers, Perez, Ricciardo, di Resta and Vergne (in 10th) crossed the line within 4 tenths of a second!

–          I had predicted a strong mid-field fight between Sauber, Sahara Force India, Toro Rosso and Williams. In Australia, it was Sauber that came out on top by scoring a double points finish. The Swiss based team lies third in the World Constructors’ Championship with 12 points!

–          Sauber’s Perez (finished 8th) was the only driver in the top 10 on a one pitstop strategy which also saw him lose positions on the last lap (from P6 to P8) of the race due to lack of grip. Perez and Sauber have used this strategy to their benefit last season as well.

–          Daniel Ricciardo, who finished just about two tenths ahead of di Resta, was the only driver in the top 10 on a three pit stop strategy. The Australian driver scored his first Championship points and on his debut with Toro Rosso. Ricciardo and Webber in the top 10 meant that for the first time in history two Australian drivers finished in the points!

–          Raikkonen, who was confused with the waving blue flags, drove a consistent race to finish P7 from P18! The Iceman started the last lap 10 and finished 7th! The biggest disappointment of the race was Ferrari’s Felipe Massa who had to retire after a collision with fellow Brazilian Bruno Senna.

–          Alonso’s 5th indicated that the F2012 didn’t lack race pace. The next few races will be a challenge for Ferrari and it will be good to see how they bounce back from this position. The saving grace for Ferrari was that their 5 pitstops (2 for Alonso, 3 for Massa) were the fastest of the race! If only there were points for the fastest pitstop!

–          From the newcomer teams, Caterham suffered multiple mechanical retirements from the race, registering their worst start to a Formula1 season. Kovalainen suffered from a KERS problem, non-functional DRS and a steering issue! The Malaysian-owned Formula1 team is ahead of the other two newcomer teams Marussia and HRT, but way behind the last of the mid-field team. I wonder if they will be able to change that this season!

–          Marussia, the team that built and ran their car only over the Australian GP weekend, managed to bring birthday boy Timo Glock’s car home in 14th place. This was the team’s best race finish yet and is currently 10th in the Constructors’ Championship! However, the team has miles to go before they compete and beat Caterham on-track.

–          HRT, their disqualification from the race was much expected, I will be penning my thoughts on this issue in the coming week.

Statistics indicate that 7 out of 10 drivers who have won the opening round of the season have gone to win the Drivers’ Championship title that year. Would this mean that we will see Button pick up his second crown this year? The 2012 Formula1 season is 9 months long and it would be too early to predict! The 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix is only 5 days away and I would bet on a Mclaren – Red Bull fight for victory!

RJ Rishi Kapoor and I recorded our observations and predictions for the 2012 Australian Grand Prix in the Australian Grand Prix Podcast. Hear the podcast to know if and how accurate we were with our predictions!

In my earlier post, I had asked if 2012 will be Adrian Newey vs Ross Brawn. Going by Mclaren’s performance in the Australian Grand Prix, they will face fierce competition from Paddy Lowe and Neal Oatley!

The excitement for the new season is already high, do also read the positive developments in Indian Motorsport on my blog. While the i1 Super Series has been cancelled, we have Toyota launching the Toyota Etios Motor Racing Championship for Indian motorsport fans. And if you prefer some technical Formula1 content, do read ‘Did the FIA react correctly to the ride height system episode‘?

Kunal Shah is an FIA-accredited Formula 1 journalist who has been reporting on Formula 1 for nearly two decades. He worked with the Force India Formula 1 Team for 6 seasons in Marketing, Sponsorship and Commercial roles. As a former single-seater racer, he was responsible for Force India's grassroots talent program, One from a Billion Hunt. Presently, he co-writes a regular Formula 1 column for Firstpost, speaks on Inside Line F1 Podcast & Pits to Podium and produces broadcast/OTT content for NENT Group (Viasport & Viaplay).

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