March 18, 2012
*LIGHTS OUT: Once the mandatory flag-carrier flyby took place, and at an altitude that shows that Qantas has more sense than Etihad Airways, all attention was focused on those five little lights that would signal not only the start of the race, but the start of the longest season in F1 history. Right away, it became obvious that some things will never change: we had a Mark Webber Lousy Start© that saw him drop all the way to the mid-field. Up at the front, Jenson Button outdragged his pole-sitting teammate Lewis Hamilton into the first turn, and Lettuce Grosjean winds up getting shuffled back to sixth. Into the first turn, it looked for a moment that the Thundering Herd would get through in one piece, until Bruno Senna's Williams got tipped into a spin... and worse.
Surprisingly, neither Daniel Ricciardo's Toro Rosso nor Senna's car suffered any major damage in this incident, and both were able to continue after stopping for a new nose (Ricciardo) and new tires (Senna). On Lap 2, the races of both Nico Hulkenberg and Lettuce come to an end in separate incidents.
*BREATHE DEEP: Up at the front of the field, we were seeing a repeat of 2011, just with a different name at the top. Jenson Button, taking advantage of the lack of traffic in front of him, simply began to run away from the rest of the pack. It wasn't to the same degree as Seb Vettel's 2011 dominance, but by Lap 7 the McLaren driver had a four second lead on his teammate, and nine seconds on the Mercedes of Slappy Schumacher. Meanwhile, Vettel was finding that the RB8's handling was nothing more than ordinary, running off the grass and bringing him into a short scrum with Nico Rosberg and Ferrari's HWMNBN. Slappy, on the other hand, discovered that his Silver Arrow was... fragile. He drove through a gravel trap on Lap 11... and his gearbox stopped working. This is hardly uncommon; the transmissions of a F1 car are more finely crafted than any high-end watch. While they're built to stand up to the stresses of running during a normal race, the odd shock can sometimes cause them to either try to chose two gears at once (bad) or basically forget how to function at all (also bad). While he got back to the pits, the seven-time Champion's day was finished. More importantly, Seb Vettel moved into third and immediately began tracking down Lewis Hamilton.
*FIRST PITS: As the cars began to filter into pit lane for the first tire changes of the season, it became clear that the teams had put a lot of practice into their mechanical ballet. If anything, the tire changes are even faster than in 2011. For example, the F1U! official notebook of the race records that Felipe Massa came in on Lap 12, and as the crew reached for a pen and began writing, Ferrari changed his tires and got him going again. We missed his stop entirely. There are rumors that the Mercedes team have been able to change a car's tires in less than two seconds in practice. Astounding. By the time the pit rotations were done, Jenson Button had solidified his lead massively, opening an 11 second gap to his teammate. His teammate, however, only had one second in hand over the reigning Driver's Champion, and it didn't look like Vettel was going to be going away anytime soon.
*HARD LUCK SAFETY CAR: That's how it stayed until the next round of pitstops approached around Lap 34. On Lap 36, McLaren gambled on their mechanics, bringing both their men in for their tire change at the same time. The gamble seemed to work; as Button pulled out of the pit box, Hamilton, some 10 seconds behind, pulled in. What the team didn't count on was the Lotus Caterham of The Red Menace coming to a halt on the front straight just past the start/finish line. For The Menace, this turned out to be a stroke of good fortune, as reportedly his steering column completely failed and he had a nice empty stretch of road to bring his car to a stop with. Almost immediately, the yellow flag was thrown, and moments later the Safety Car rolled out. Taking advantage of this, Red Bull brought in Vettel, who had taken the lead while the McLarens were pitting. When he rejoined the field, he was in second place, having jumped Hamilton in the chaos. After the race, neither Vettel or Hamilton were willing to say what exactly would have happened if the Safety Car hadn't come out, if Vettel would have caught the McLaren, or having caught it, passed it. In any case, when the Safety Car came in on Lap 42, the lineup was Button, Vettel, Hamilton, Webber and HWMNBN, who was hanging on grimly in his recalcitrant Ferrari.
*RESTART HO!: If there's one thing we learned in 2011, it's that there was nobody better during restarts than Seb Vettel. When Berndt Maylander shut off the lights on the Mercedes SLS, Vettel got a wonderful jump, making it impossible for Lewis Hamilton, who is possibly the worst restarter in the world, to make any threatening move. However, Jenson Button's restart wasn't shabby, and he immediately began to open up a gap on the Red Bull. In one lap, he opened up a 2.5 second lead, and it looked like a win was locked up... as long as nothing went wrong.
*SPOKE TOO SOON: On Lap 48, Felipe Massa and Bruno Senna were dicing for position, and by dicing, we mean "attempting to shiv each other." When both dodged by Daniel Ricciardo, Senna tried to go around the outside of the Ferrari... who kept drifting farther and farther outside. The inevitable inevitably occurred.
The two cars managed to get locked into each other for a good two hundred yards, maybe. Massa's Ferrari, a massive circular scrape gouged into his right sidepod, retired shortly after making it to the pit lane. Senna's Williams, however, has shown that it is made of sterner stuff than pretty much any car on the grid, and at least half the cars on the road today. First it got bounced into the air on Lap 1, now this, and it still continued on. The F1U! team held it's collective breath, waiting for a Safety Car to be called out for debris, which would again throw the last few laps into a cocked hat. It never happened.
*FINALLY: On Lap 55 of 58, it started to look like we'd have a rather exciting finish. Both Red Bulls were closing in on both McLarens: Vettel on Button, Webber on Hamilton. Button's lead over Vettel had dropped to two seconds, and Webber was in DRS range of Hamilton. It later came out that both of the Glare With Wheels were short on fuel, though at this point the team told Button that he was good to finish the race. By Lap 56, he had tacked another second onto his lead. Hamilton and Webber, on the other hand, stayed close all the way to the end, just unable to get close enough to make the DRS advantage work. In the end, it was Button, Vettel, Hamilton, Webber and HWMNBN. Alas, The Williams That Wouldn't Die retired on Lap 56, presumably of exhaustion.
The mad scramble that arose for the final three points-paying positions between four cars was just icing on the cake of a wonderful first race of the season.
*DRIVER OF THE RACE: One would think that Jenson Button would win this with his clear victory today. One would be wrong. The Ferrari F2012 is an ill-tempered beast. It's not fast enough nor is it nimble enough. It has no grip. It chews through its tires in a ridiculously short amount of time. There's no way it should be able to contend for anything other than midpack honors. But there sits HWMNBN in 5th, a good 15 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor. All day, he kept his Lame Horse in the mix where a poorly-turned wheel or unforseen technical glitch or two would have put him on the podium. Gotta respect that, particularly when his teammate could never even get into the top 10 all race.
*TEAM OF THE RACE: McLaren. In preseason testing, they looked the class of the field. In the first race of the season, they proved it. Only an unlucky break with the safety car cost them a 1-2 finish. While they don't seem to be as dominant as Red Bull were last year, they do indeed appear to be the best... but it's close enough that it should prove to be an exciting dominance.
*MOVE OF THE RACE: On Lap 25, Gandalf Kobayashi was busy being a thorn in the side of HWMNBN. He was just fast enough to threaten, but maybe not quite fast enough to pass, the Ferrari. Around halfway through the lap, he made a try on the outside to the outside of a turn, heedless of the lurking Renault Lotus of Mumbles Raikkonen behind.
This attempt failed when HWMNBN pushed him far outside, forcing Gandalf to either brake or end up in the kittylitter. He touched the brakes.
His momentary loss of headway gave former World Champion Raikkonen all the impetus he needed. He lunged for the opening left to the right of the Sauber and kept the power on.
Even though he could have been forced outside by Gandalf, much like what happened with the Ferrari, the difference was that Mumbles had the racing line. An opportunistic move from a driver called "Iceman" by his peers for the cold-blooded way he drives... welcome back, and here's your MotR!
*MOOOOOO-OOOVE OF THE RACE: On the final lap of the race, Pastor Maldonado had a chance to take 5th away from HWMNBN. The two had been fighting madly, with the superior driving skills of the Ferrari driver looking like they would be enough to keep the Venezuelan behind. The Williams driver looked to be getting ready for one last desperate lunge, though, when he got a little too much of the outside of a turn. The result of this unforced error?
A hard head-first impact with the barriers and a throwing away of the best finish for a Williams in three years. While we can't fault him for trying, we can hand Pastor Maldodo a Moo. Good jorb!
SELECTED DRIVERS QUOTES:
"No wonder Vettel had a good year last season... that whole 'get out in front' thing makes a race pretty easy!" - Jenson Button
"I am not out of this. Fear my lurking." - Seb Vettel
"I'm thrilled with third." - Lewis Hamilton (note: he didn't look happy at all in the interview room)
"There's one positive out of this... I beat the other Australian in the field." - Mark Webber
"I am sorry for Maldonado, because it is a real shame to finish a race like that. Heh heh heh." - HWMNBN (note: mostly a real quote)
"I was losing pieces of my rear wing all race. On one hand, it affected my downforce. On the other, at least the car was lighter." - Gandalf Kobayashi
"mrmrndblmml mrmmrmrmbbmmrlbl mrmmb mrmbmbmbmbllmrbrl mrmmrrrmmm." - Kimi Raikkonen (on a personal note, we here at F1U! are thrilled to have Mumbles back. He makes our job easy.)
"After changing my gearbox, I started last. To finish eighth after that? That's not so bad for a guy with good hair." - Sergio Perez
"I have no idea what happened in that last turn. I closed my eyes." - Daniel Ricciardo
"KERS... is there anything it can't do? It got me past Vergne at the last instant... where have you been all my life?" - Paul di Resta
"In Sneffels Joculis craterem, quem delibat umbra Scartaris, Julii intra kalendas descende, audax viator, et terrestre centrum attinges; quod feci. Arne Saknussemm." - Jules Vergne
"Britney?" - Nico Rosberg
"Ow. Oh, I'm gonna feel that one in the morning." - Pastor Maldonado
"Happy birthday to me... happy birthday to me..." - Tim O'Glockenspiel (note: 30 years old on Sunday)
"It's pronounced 'sharwl.' " - Charles ToothPic
"Good to see that Felipe's picked up where he left off." - Bruno Senna
"I think we can call it a racing incident." - Felipe Massa (note: whatever makes you feel better. Real quote)
"When The Red Menace's steering broke, my suspension was about to go, too. We might have a little problem here." - Heikki Kovaleinninninnie
"Having the steering wheel come off in your hands does not inspire confidence." - The Red Menace
"The gear selector just stopped working. These things happen." - Slappy Schumacher
"It looked like Maldodo braked too late and that ruined what could have been a great day. Thanks, Pastor." - Lettuce Grosjean
"I've now completed roughly 3/4th of a lap of Albert Park in two races. I don't like this place." - Nico Hulkenberg (please refer to 2010 for the half-lap he put in there)
"Maybe in Malaysia." - Pete Rose, Narain Kittylitter (DNQ)
Right, so we move from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur next week... see you then for the next installment of F1U!
Last year the dominating factor in the season was that the Red Bull cars were substantially better than anyone else's. Not to take anything away from Vettel, who is unquestionably one of the best drivers in the sport, but any of five or six other drivers could have won the season if they'd been driving that car.
It may be too soon to say this, but it seems as if no team has an overwhelming hardware advantage this year. If so, then it's going to be driver skill that tells the tale -- and that makes for an exciting season. It may be a lot less boring than last year.
Sure hope so.
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at March 19, 2012 12:45 AM (+rSRq)
I might be going out on a limb with Raikkonen; it sure didn't look like he had lost anything yesterday, but one race is just one race. I'd probably put Vettel fifth, but with second thru fifth covered by a couple of percentage points only.
Posted by: Wonderduck at March 19, 2012 06:39 AM (PHdMw)
Posted by: Pete at March 19, 2012 01:05 PM (5OBKC)
Posted by: vonKrag at March 19, 2012 01:56 PM (XIY2m)
Posted by: Wonderduck at March 19, 2012 06:45 PM (PHdMw)
Posted by: Wonderduck at March 19, 2012 07:06 PM (PHdMw)
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