The opening race of 2011 delivered a fascinating 58 laps rather than an all time classic but there was many discussion points afterwards. Here's my thoughts on some of the stories of the weekend...
Red Bull take KERS free approach: Sebastian Vettel delivered a stunning lap to take pole position on Saturday evening in Melbourne and followed it up with a controlled drive. It was the German's 4th win in the last 5 races. So all pretty straightforward for him but a different story for Mark Webber. He was nearly a second off in qualifying and was not quick during the race. The Australian also suffered with high tyre wear and Helmut Marko said that there may have been an issue with his chassis. The team will be looking for answers before Sepang in 2 weeks. Webber also stopped after the race and Christian Horner claimed this was due to being marginal on fuel. It may have been that some teams ran with less fuel than usual as they reckoned there would be a safety car at some stage. Red Bull, and especially Vettel, got good starts on Sunday despite no KERS after reliability worries on Friday. This could yet be an issue. Even if they lock out the front row they will be very vulnerable at some circuits off the line so the team will want to solve their issues quickly.
McLaren fast but Button makes unusual error: After a winter of problems, McLaren's radical new car produced the goods as they led the chasing pack trying to hunt down Red Bull. Lewis Hamilton took second whilst Jenson Button had an aggressive race and kept his tyres well. However his evening was compromised by a bad call. Frustrated behind Felipe Massa he was forced to cut a corner when side by side with the Brazilian. It was clear that he should give the place back but he argued he shouldn't and the pitwall didn't intervene. Jenson is one of the smartest drivers around so for him not to realise this was very surprising to see. He got a deserved drive through penalty but recovered to 6th. Very intriguing to see how close McLaren get to Red Bull in Malaysia and whether they can apply more pressure. Some wondered why Sebastien Buemi and Vettel didn't get in trouble for passing off track at turn 4. The reason for this was the drivers were told in their briefing that using the 'car park' area on the outside of the corner would be deemed ok and not be penalised.
Sergio surprises but Sauber stripped of points: I didn't know much about Sergio Perez before the weekend but had read a lot of good things about him so was looking forward to seeing what he could do. The Mexican didn't disappoint, stunning everyone with a 35 lap stint on options to finish 7th, ahead of team mate Kamui Kobayashi. The Sauber car in 2010 was kind to it's tyres and it seems to have carried this characteristic into 2011. It is one that will be very useful to the team. However a rear wing infringement meant that both cars were disqualified. A big error within the team and costly. Sauber have decent pace, 7th and 8th was more down to good strategy and the team will want to utilise their opportunities early in the season.
Mixed fortunes for Renault: It was a weekend of complete contrasts for Vitaly Petrov and Nick Heidfeld. The Russian did a good job of qualifying 6th, made an excellent start and drove a clean race to take a brilliant podium. He seems to be much more comfortable and confident after his debut season. For Heidfeld, Q1 involved an off track moment, KERS issues and traffic. He then suffered heavy sidepod damage and crawled home. He has a good record in Malaysia and will want to bounce back and show his worth in what is a competitive car.
'New' teams lose tag but fail to find speed: The new teams from 2010 enter their second season but it was all going wrong for them from Friday morning. Lotus reserve Karun Chandhok crashed 40 seconds into the opening practice session and the team struggled to get the tyres heated. Jarno Trulli claimed Pirelli have changed the tyres since testing. Virgin were 5-6 seconds off the pace and Timo Glock had his race affected by a loose wheel. I feel sorry for the German who is a good driver but the Virgin project is really puzzling me. You have to wonder whether this approach of CFD only is a bit of a fantasy and it's time to get a wind tunnel. The next months will tell a big story. Hispania barely got a lap in and failed to qualify. Vitantonio Liuzzi was 2 seconds off the 107% mark so with more running he should be able to improve but Narain Karthikeyan struggled albeit he had very little time to get up to speed. Still you would think they have more pace in the bag and they will need it just to qualify but they could yet find themselves battling with Virgin.
DRS gets mixed reviews: A lot of different opinions on the new DRS (Drag reduction system) on forums and Twitter over the weekend. I actually felt it worked ok. It added a new element to qualifying and caught out Adrian Sutil in spectacular fashion. In the race it allowed cars to get closer to others and we seen some overtaking into turn 1 but it was not a case of it being too easy. What was noticeable is that having KERS - whether to add to your DRS being open, or to defend from a DRS activated car - was very important. Malaysia will be very intriguing to see how it works with the combination of 2 long straights and 2 hairpins. I actually think that the gap you have to be within to another car should be increased to 2 seconds. This is not meant to be an overtaking gadget but rather something that makes up for the loss in turbulent air and 2 seconds behind is close enough to be affected by it. Cars wouldn't pass straight away but it would help a driver haul themselves closer to a rival and perhaps lead to a battle a few laps later.