Boring is not a word to which I would ascribe the Formula 1 Qantas Australian Grand Prix. There was racing, on-track overtaking, dicing, and lots of action.
JENSON BUTTON/McLaren, who started fourth, took over the lead when Pole Sitter SEBASTIAN VETTEL/Red Bull Racing drove straight off in Turn Three on Lap 26 and was beached. Button never looked back and his Margin Of Victory was 12.034 seconds ahead of ROBERT KUBICA/Renault in his first-ever finish at AGP. Vettel said later “It breaks my balls not to get the win.”
Third was FELIPE MASSA/Ferrari, followed by teammate and points leader FERNANDO ALONSO, and NICO ROSBERG/McLaren – the first driver to have two pit stops. Rosberg’s crew seemed to be the fastest in pit lane, with the young lad’s last stop a mere 4.3 seconds.
The crowd was large and enthusiastic – estimated at 108,500, with overall at 305,000. Both figures exceed 2009 which were 105,000 for Sunday and 286,900 for the weekend. The temperatures ranged from 70 F/21C to 79 F/26 C.
Kubica did a brilliant job keeping the two Ferrari’s and Mercedes behind him. In their determination to pass and succeed, there was a misstep two laps from the finish. LEWIS HAMILTON/McLaren, running sixth, tried and failed to pass Alonso, and they got in each other’s way. Aussie MARK WEBBER/Red Bull Racing hit Hamilton and went into the gravel. But he powered out and pitted for a new nose. Webber finished ninth, in the points, but just. However, every time he was behind, he charged ahead, pealing off fast laps and on Lap 47 his best time of 1:28.358 held for the race. About his finish, he said he “went down fighting” and he apologized for hitting Hamilton.
MICHAEL SCHUMACHER/Mercedes made it into the points, finishing tenth – even after three pit stops. He finally got past JAIME ALGUERSUARI/Scuderia Toro Rosso after a long time of not getting by. STR said that its young driver learned “an interesting lesson” from Schumacher about maintaining concentration.
Rain started just before the National Anthem, and the race was declared ‘wet’ which meant the teams didn’t have to run both of the dry tire compounds. But the shower was not long-lasting, and Button’s strategy of an early switch from intermediates to soft slicks paid off. “We couldn’t have had a better strategy.” He had but the one stop, as did the next three finishers. The Intermediate-soft combination was the preferred choice by most.
Button survived a first-lap, first corner contact on the wet track, hitting a slow-off-the-block Alonso, who hit Schumacher, while Hamilton took an evasive ride on the grassy side.
If KAMUI KOBAYASHI/BMW Sauber didn’t have bad luck, he wouldn’t have any at all. He suffered his third front wing problem of the weekend. This time it was much more disastrous – on the opening lap. The wing was lost in a contact at the start, and Kobayashi crashed the wall big time at Turn Six, and rebounded on track, taking out SEBASTIEN BUEMI/Scuderia Toro Rosso and NICO HULKENBURG/Williams. Parts went flying everywhere and the Safety Car came out. The new Electronic Flag System of brilliantly flashing light panels got a workout. Nothing has been reported on the condition of any of the drivers.
Only 14 drivers finished the race, and of those, KURAN CHANDHOK/HRT was last, five laps down – but the only Rookie in the race of the seven in the field of 24 to complete the race. He started twenty-second, gaining eight positions – the most of any driver in the race. Having Rookies comprise one third of the field helped raise the count of blue flags furled during the 58-lap race.
JARNO TRULLI/Lotus never even started after suffering hydraulic problems. VITALY PETROV/Renault spun off into the Turn Three gravel, and those who didn’t have an accident had mechanical failures.
Alonso now has 37 Driver’s points, four ahead of his Ferrari teammate. Button is close behind with 31. Hamilton has 23 for fourth, and Rosberg is fifth with 20.
Ferrari continues to lead the Constructor’s Championship with 70 points ahead of McLaren – 54. Mercedes is a distant third with 29. This and the results are all provisional. We all know from experience last year that it’s not official until FIA says it’s official.
Round Three is next weekend (Easter) in Malaysia.