Australian Grand Prix, Melbourne

by whyilovesport

Firstly, I want to confess that I am by no means a Formula 1 expert. I am quite new to the sport, in fact, this is just my 2nd year following it closely, so please excuse errors with accuracy and will even appreciate it if you let me know any mistakes I make, be it grammatically, structurally or Formula 1-related .  I am always open to feedback, positively or negatively.

So, Formula 1 is back! And that brings an air of anticipation and a buzz of excitement among revheads and sport fans alike. It all started today in none other than beautiful Melbourne City, my home town and the sporting capital of Australia. This Australian GP is probably the second biggest international sporting event Melbourne hosts, after the Australian Open tennis. Melbourne always generates sporting interest; some other events to fill in the calendar include the AFL Grand Final, the Spring Racing Carnival through October, the Australian Masters golf and Boxing Day Test Match.

To the race itself, and it was dominated by a former winner here at Albert Park, Jenson Button. Yes, ‘dominated’ is the word, because he led from start to finish, relatively untroubled. Well, maybe not right from the start. He started second to pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton in the front row of the grid, but Button passed Hamilton in the very first corner of the race, and never looked back thereafter. We’re only 1 race in, but he stands proudly at the summit of the drivers’ championship, sitting on a cool 25 points.

I said Button was a former winner here; in fact this is his third Australian Grand Prix victory in four years now with previous wins in ’09 and ’10. Add Lewis Hamilton’s win back in ‘08 and you can say the British boys, now into a third year as McLaren teammates, have won 4 of the last 5 Australian GPs.

The one possible speed-bump that might have hindered Button from sailing to victory was the deployment of the safety car on lap 36 of 58. It was around this time that most cars were making their second round of pit stops. Vitaly Petrov, Malaysian-owned Caterham (formerly Team Lotus), was stranded with power steering problems. This initiated the safety car and cost Hamilton. The safety car levelled out the field somewhat, allowing Sebastian Vettel into second to maybe have a sniff of the lead but Button showed no sign of letting up, as he increased his lead, lap after lap, before cruising to victory.

So Button, from Vettel and Hamilton is how the podium looked like. What about the rest? Well, Mark Webber, who started just ahead of Vettel in 5th had a bit of a stuff-up at the start, again! He had a recurring issue that haunted him all for all of last year and cost him valuable spots; it could have been a much better year as he was brilliant in qualifying. He at least finished on a high note, winning the last race of the year in Brazil.

On this occasion, it wasn’t entirely his fault. He slipped from 5th to 9th right at the start but reported damage. Two cars, one being Bruno Senna, came around him and sandwiched him. Webber was lucky there wasn’t more damage. He raced well thereafter and finished 4th. He still hasn’t made the podium in front of his home fans but 4th place beats his previous best of 5th (achieved on 3 occasions).

For the other Aussie, Daniel Ricciardo, it was a big day. It was his debut race after finding a permanent spot on Red Bull’s B-team Torro Rosso. Behind the façade of the race, there are numerous subplots to further whet our appetites, especially the inter-team battles. Also on debut was Ricciardo’s French teammate Jean-Éric Vergne, who at 21 was the youngest driver on the grid. Daniel Ricciardo won that mini-battle, finishing 9th and earned his first points (2) of his career. Vergne just missed out on points, finishing 11th. The fact that Ricciardo started inside the top 10 shows how good he was in qualifying and how fast his car can be, so promising signs.

Only 14 of the 22 starting drivers completed the 58 laps, that means a whopping 8 retirements. The most crushing was probably for Romain Grosjean, who surprised everyone in qualifying, starting 3rd. He was struck from behind by Pastor Maldonado on the second lap and broke too late, which dismembered Grosjean’s front right suspension.

F1 legend and 7-time drivers’ champion Michael Schumacher also had to retire, after 11 laps, with gearbox failure. The German is now into his 3rd year of his comeback, and is yet to make a podium even once in his Mercedes.

Felipe Massa was forced to retire as well. His teammate Fernando Alonso finished 5th and did restore some pride for Ferrari. The Italian manufacturers even admitted before the weekend that they were not prepared too well for the season, much to Alonso’s frustration.  So finishing 5th is probably a great reflection of how good a racer the Spaniard is.

Kimi Raikonen, formerly at Ferrari, was making his return to Formula 1 in a Lotus (formerly named Renault) alongside Romain Grosjean. The Finnish, nicknamed Ice Man, had spent the last 2 years in hiatus….or hibernation. No, actually he was competing in World Rally Championship for 2 years. Anyway, he fared poorly in qualifying compared to his teammate, but raced well and finished a respectable 7th.

So an entertaining race to kick off a new season. Only one race in, but Button gets on the board first for his 13th race win of his career. Melbourne is just the first leg of a long season though, a 20-race season, the most races in a season to date. That was meant to actually happen last year but civil unrest meant the cancellation of the Bahrain GP. There might be even more races looking forward. Don’t quote me, but I believe I read Bernie Eccelstone idealising a 24-race season in the near future.

The Formula 1 hub is Europe, which hosts 8 of the races; 3 are in the Americas, 2 in the Middle East and Melbourne’s Australian GP is one of 7 in the Asia-Pacific region.

Not much of a turn-around for all concerned, since the next stop is next weekend at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia.

Look out for my blog on that race about this time next week. Over and out.