After an exciting first qualifying session of 2012, the scene was set for a thrilling Australian Grand Prix. TOM WILKINSON reports on an exciting afternoon’s racing which, for the first race of the season, was surprisingly close.
After a Dramatic Qualifying session on Saturday, the race on Sunday was set to be a thriller. There were some alterations to the grid including a grid penalty for Sergio Perez with a change of gearbox after qualifying. The HRT cars were not allowed to race due to a poor performance all weekend. The grid was ready with 22 cars preparing for the first race of the 2012 season. Anticipation was building with the mixed up grid. Let’s take a quick look at the starting order.
The McLaren team locked out the front row with Lewis Hamilton on pole and Jenson Button in second. Romain Grosjean the star of Qualifying in the Lotus he starts in third with Michael Schumacher in fourth. Row three is the two Red Bulls of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel. Row four is Rosberg alongside the Williams of Maldonado. In ninth is Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo. That’s the top ten, let’s look at some of the others outside of that and we start with the first of the Ferrari’s, which is Fernando Alonso in 12th place. Ferrari had a disastrous qualifying session. Alonso beached his car at turn one in Q2 and Felipe Massa starts way down in 16th place. Paul Di Resta had a poor qualifying too, starting in only 15th. The returning Kimi Raikkonen starts only 17th after a mistake on his final run which cost him time.
That was how the cars lined up on the grid as the excitement and anticipation builds. Lights out away we go as the two McLaren’s get away almost together but its Button who leads into turn one with Hamilton second and Grosjean dropping back behind Schumacher, Rosberg and Vettel after a terrible start off the line. Alonso gets a great start up into eighth place with drama further back. Mark Webber has a poor getaway off the start bogging down, that puts him in traffic into turn one and is lucky not to have serious damage after a double whack from Hulkenberg and Vergne, the Frenchman takes to the gravel but manages to continue. Ricciardo collides with Senna sending the Williams in a spin.
Lap two the action continues with a terrific move from Vettel on Rosberg at turn nine on the outside, the race pace of the Red Bull looking great in this early stage. After that poor start from the Lotus of Grosjean, things get worse as Maldonado tries a move into turn 13. Grosjean gives room but the Williams rudely and firmly shuts the door tagging the front right wheel of the Lotus. This breaks the steering column and ends the race for the Frenchman. Nico Hulkenberg in the Force India also retires after that collision on the first lap.
The field starts to spread out but the action continues with Vettel hounding the gearbox of Schumacher. The Red Bull easily keeping up with the Mercedes, until Vettel runs wide at turn one going across the grass. The back of the car steps out on turn in and Rosberg just behind looks to make the most of the mistake, he looks at a move at turn three but can’t quite get through. Alonso now attacks Rosberg, with Webber joining this little bunch. A four way fight emerges within just five turns. Meanwhile Button pulls out a great lead of 3.15 seconds on lap six and continues to pull away, it’s all going on at Albert Park.
Felipe Massa complains in the Ferrari with rear tyres starting to let go. A rather long traffic jam begins to build behind him in ninth place, the two Sauber’s, Raikkonen and Di Resta, all on the tail of the Ferrari.
Meanwhile Vettel recovers from his earlier excursion and is once again on the back of Schumacher. They head into turn one but this time it’s the Mercedes which goes wide. Vettel moves up into third place as Schumacher goes very slowly and retires from the race with gearbox problems.
Massa is the first to pit for a new set of option tyres. That releases the queue of cars and Kimi Raikkonen in the sole remaining Lotus shows good pace in eighth place just behind Kobayashi who pits on lap 14. Raikkonen has progressed well through the field. With Vettel also not in free air he begins to catch Button and Hamilton and starts setting some blistering times. The McLaren team react and pit Button, Red Bull then react to that and pit Vettel. The Red Bull joins ahead of Alonso who pitted earlier on, the Spaniard having a great race.
Hamilton pits from the lead, but re-joins just behind Perez which is a disaster. Perez is yet to pit and looking to be on a one stop strategy, Hamilton just behind and needing to get past if he is to win this race. Vettel is just behind Hamilton too. Meanwhile Button in clean air is once again pulling away. But into turn one on lap 21 Hamilton uses the DRS to go past the Sauber and immediately starts pulling away. Vettel gets past with another superb move on the marbles just before the fast chicane of turns 11 and 12. On the next lap the Mexican drops a further two places to Alonso and Rosberg.
Felipe Massa once again finds himself with a queue of cars behind him but the ice man Kimi Raikkonen makes a cool move around the Ferrari into turn one for eighth place. Then in the second DRS zone Kobayashi makes a move up into ninth place.
Massa having an eventful race down under. The race finally begins to settle down but then on lap 37 the Caterham of Vitally Petrov pulls over on the start finish straight. It’s a difficult position to recover a car from, race director Charlie Whiting calls for the Safety Car.
On lap 42 the race re-starts with Button once again pulling away over a second in the first sector alone. Hamilton is hustling Vettel with Webber and Alonso just behind. The Sauber of Kobayashi has a damaged rear wing. Raikkonen behind complains that pieces are flying off as the rear wing end plate is flapping around.
Bruno Senna is in the wars with fellow Brazilian Felipe Massa in turn four. The two squabbling in 13th and 14th positions and coming together over the curbs. Both cars retire from the race. With eight laps to go the Williams of Maldonado shows great pace once again in sixth place. The Williams is faster than the Ferrari of Alonso ahead at this stage of the race. Paul Di Resta drops two positions in the closing laps to the two Toro Rosso cars of Vergne and Ricciardo. The catch up quickly to Raikkonen in 10th place who is having a great scrap with Kobayashi.
On the final lap of the race with so much action in the field Di Resta catches up again with the Toro Rosso’s in a five way battle to the end. But drama for Williams as Maldonado crashes heavily into the wall at turn seven. He had a great race and was a real threat to Alonso in the closing stages. But his race ends in dramatic style.
But taking the chequered is Jenson Button after a brilliant race right from the start. Vettel finishes second with Hamilton third and Webber fourth. But the drama is not yet over as Raikkonen now ahead of Perez crosses the line in seventh. Perez finishes eighth with Ricciardo, Di Resta and Vergne just tenths of a second behind in an extremely close finish.
What an epic race down under in Melbourne, Jenson Button wins in fantastic style.
The race was full of drama, excitement and some fabulous battles all the way through the field.
Formula 1 is back in business. The 2012 season is underway, it was a pleasure to watch and well worth setting my alarm for. We are back next week for the Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang. Will that race be as exciting We’ll have to wait and see, but we can already see this year is going to be incredibly close.
Join us right here next week for a preview and the full round-up once again. Follow me on Twitter @TomWilkinson89 #TWF1 where I’ll be tweeting live throughout the weekend.
Formula 1 is back.