Monday, 29 March 2010

Ferrari continue their strong start to the season while Jenson Button wins the Australian Grand Prix

As the downpours gradually began over the skies in Melbourne late on Sunday afternoon, the FIA declared a wet race allowing the teams to start the race with wet weather tyres. While the rain only lasted for about ten to fifteen minutes, and it was only wet enough for the teams to use intermediate tyres and not the extreme wets, it ensured that the temporary Albert Park circuit provided a classic race to make up for the dull season opener at Bahrain couple of weeks back. Amid all the chaos of a big incident in the first lap, that saw Kobayashi, Hulkenburg and Buemi all retire, and the consequent safety car, reigning World Champion Jenson Button made a brilliant strategic call that allowed him to go on and win the race.

The Qualifying on Saturday did not throw up too many surprises, as Red Bull locked out the front row on the grid with Sebastian Vettel on pole for the second time in a row, and his team-mate Mark Webber alongside him. Ferrari's Fernando Alonso qualified 3rd, ahead of Jenson Button. The other Ferrari driver Felipe Massa had been struggling with tyre temperatures all weekend, and because of that the Brazilian was a bit behind his team mate in terms of pace and qualified 5th on the grid. At MercedesGP, Nico Rosberg once again out-qualified his seven times World Champion team mate. McLaren's Lewis Hamilton failed to get into the final part of Qualifying, and as a result had to settle for 11th on the starting grid. It had been a dismal weekend for the Briton because Friday night, while leaving the track after the 2nd Free Practice session, he was caught by the local police doing burnouts on a public road. His Mercedes C63 AMG was consequently impounded by the police and he was reprimanded for "driving in an over-exuberant manner".

The start of the race had a lot of incidents. The two Red Bulls got away cleanly, but behind them, Fernando Alonso had a bad start due to having lots of wheelspin and a lack of traction from his grid box. Alonso's team mate Massa took full advantage of that as he swept past both Alonso and Button to get into 3rd. Behind him, coming into turn 1, Schumacher, Alonso and Button all went wheel to wheel with Alonso in the middle and slightly ahead of the other two. Button, who was on the inside line, hit Alonso as the Ferrari turned in for the corner. That hit caused Alonso to spin out, and the Spaniard was only able to get going again when all the cars had gone past him. Schumacher's Mercedes also suffered from the incident as the German needed to make an immediate pit stop to change his front wing. Alonso's car, meanwhile, was intact and the Spaniard then began his charge from the back of the field.

By the time it had stopped raining and the track was beginning to dry, Jenson Button was the first man to come in to the pits and change his tyres to the dry weather super-soft slicks. This was a crucial move, because all the other front runners did not start pitting until the next lap. By then, Button's tyres were already up to temperature, and as all his rivals pitted one by one, the Briton took the race lead and cruised to the finish line from there. It was later discovered that McLaren were not planning to bring in Button for another lap, but it was Button who made the call to pit one lap earlier and what a brilliant decision that turned out to be!

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, on a charge since his first corner incident on the opening lap, was blasting through the field after putting on the super-soft slick tyres. By the time the race has gone past the half-way mark, Alonso was already up in 4th just behind team mate Felipe Massa. Although Massa was slightly off Alonso's pace, as he had been all weekend, Alonso decided not to attack Massa as the Spaniard's tyres were already starting to degrade too much. Instead, both the Ferraris settled into a nice rhythm as they looked to nurse their tyres and go all the way to the Chequered Flag without stopping again. That was exactly the same strategy used by Renault's Robert Kubica, who was up in 2nd and race leader Jenson Button.

Michael Schumacher, after his early pit stop due to the first lap incident, was struggling to make his way through the mid-field. He spent 36 laps behind Jaime Alguersuari's Toro Rosso, trying to overtake, as the Mercedes struggled for downforce when closely following another car. He then pitted for a fresh set of option tyres, and started lighting up the time sheets as the difference in pace with the front-runners who were on old worn out tyres was very apparent. That prompted McLaren to pit Lewis Hamilton for a new set of tyres as well, as Hamilton had already destroyed his rear tyres by then. McLaren was confident that the pace advantage given by the new tyres would allow Hamilton to challenge for a podium. Red Bull's Mark Webber, who had fallen quite a few places down the order by then due to going off the track a couple of times, was just behind Hamilton at this stage and the Australian decided to pit as well.

Following the pit stops, Webber and Hamilton made good use of their new tyres and were lapping well over a second quicker than the front-runners. With just over 10 laps to go, Hamilton up in 5th place, was starting to attack Alonso. But some clever defending from the double World Champion, and the fact that Hamilton's McLaren was struggling to follow Alonso's Ferrari closely because of a lack of downforce created from the wake turbulence of the car in front, meant that the Briton could not get past. Two laps before the Chequered Flag, Hamilton made one final move on Alonso by outbraking him on the outside on the final corner. Close behind was Webber, and the local hero was keen to take advantage of that and try to pass both Alonso and Hamilton as the two fought out in front of him. However, being just behind Hamilton's tale, Webber's Red Bull was having the same problems of a lack of a downforce when following the car in front too closely. So when Hamilton made that move on Alonso, Webber tried to dive down the inside of Hamilton but instead he went straight on and into the gravel trap as the loss of downforce meant he had far less braking power than normal, taking out Hamilton with him. Webber than needed yet another pit stop for a new front wing and eventually finished a lowly 9th. Hamilton did recover, but only managed to limp home in 6th.

Meanwhile the reigning World Champion Jenson Button recorded his first Grand Prix victory for Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes as he took the Chequered Flag in Melbourne for the second year running. Robert Kubica got his first podium finish for Renault as he came in 2nd. The Ferrari duo of Massa and Alonso finished 3rd and 4th respectively, meaning a brilliant team result for the Maranello outfit. The Scuderia now sits on top of the Constructors' table with 70 points, McLaren-Mercedes second with 54 and MercedesGP third with 29 points. Fernando Alonso leads the Drivers' World Championship with 37 points, ahead of team-mate Felipe Massa with 33 points and the current World Champion in third with 31 points.

In both the races so far this season, Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel started the race on pole and looked on course to win if it were not for reliability problems. In Bahrain, a spark-plug failure caused a loss of power from Vettel's Renault engine and the German only finished 4th after leading most of the race. Here in Australia, he was well in the lead again when a loose wheel nut broke into his front left-wheel brake disc and caused a failure, because of which Vettel went off the track half-way through the race and was forced to retire. Reliablity problems was what cost Vettel and Red Bull the World Championship last season, and it will be interesting to see if the same gremlins are there for them this season as well.

The next round of the World Championship takes us to the Sepang circuit near Kuala Lumpur for the Malaysian Grand Prix next weekend. Last year's race here was red-flagged and abandoned half way through due to torrential downpours. The weather forecast for this year's race is not looking too promising as well. But we can certainly hope to see the race last the full distance this time. 1st Free Practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix starts 2:55am UK live on the BBC Red Button service or the BBC Sport website. Until then, drive safely!

1 comment:

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