Monday, 19 March 2012

Button wins exciting 2012 opener

It was a real mix of surprise and excitement in Melbourne as some unexpected faces got themselves high up the grid on Saturday to set up a fascinating Sunday. Jenson Button got his season off to the best possible start in a race full of talking points...

Button edges McLaren duel: Having played second fiddle to Red Bull in numerous qualifying sessions for the past two seasons, McLaren found themselves with the quickest car on Saturday and Lewis Hamilton edged Jenson Button for pole. However it was the 2009 world champion who got the better traction on the dirty side of the grid. Changing up to 2nd gear too early made it closer than it should have been but Button had the inside line to take the lead. Button surged away on the opening lap and would do the same later on at the safety car restart in a controlled and precise drive to victory. Hamilton's race centred around the two pitstop phases. On lap 16 he wanted to pit but Button had already picked that lap to make his stop and the two cars were too close to come in on the same lap. Hamilton was two seconds slower on lap 16 and on his in lap he lost another second to his team mate. He then came out behind Sergio Perez which cost him a further four seconds. Mark Webber said over the winter that the small details like getting the first pitstop before your team mate were crucial to success and this example at McLaren showed how true that can be

Lap 15: Button - 3.500 - Hamilton - 7.782 - Vettel
Lap 22: Button - 11.416 - Hamilton - 1.326 - Vettel

Red Bull recover but Mercedes finish pointless: You know Red Bull have been dominant in recent times when fifth and sixth is deemed a poor qualifying result. Mark Webber had no KERS in Q3 whilst Sebastian Vettel lacked experience on low fuel after a trip to the gravel trap in final practice. Both men drove excellent races though. Vettel made a good start and then superbly overtook Nico Rosberg on the outside of turn 9. After Michael Schumacher retired he got onto Hamilton's tail after his struggles around the first pitstops as discussed above. Then we had the safety car just after Hamilton stopped for a second time. Vettel was able to pit under the safety car. Both cars would have needed to stick to the delta time until the final corner but then Vettel was able to make a normal pitstop. So that helped Vettel as it stopped Hamilton from making use of his fresh tyres and it did seem like the German still had some pace on his current tyres as he did not react to Button pitting like he did at the end of the first stint. He may also have been more aggressive in staying as close as possible to the delta time without exceeding it. Meanwhile Webber survived first corner contact to recover to fourth and his pace was strong, similar to his team mate's and pressuring Hamilton to the chequered flag. A good sign for him

Mercedes seem to be building to a result throughout the weekend but it turned out to be a missed opportunity. Michael Schumacher ran a solid third early on though his focus was more on defending from Vettel than attacking Hamilton. A gearbox issue ended his chances of a podium. The team believe the German may have contributed to the problem with too much locking of the rears whilst downshifting. Nico Rosberg was suffering with tyre degradation, particularly on the left rear. He found himself seventh in the closing stages behind the one stopping Sergio Perez. The pair would collide at turn 11, giving the Mercedes a puncture. Unfortunately there is no clear footage of the incident yet. What we do know is that both of them think it is the other person at fault for the contact! Perez also accused Rosberg of failing to slow down under yellow flags a few corners earlier and said his last lap move was crazy. Rosberg really should have picked up some good points this weekend, not a good performance from him. The 'F-Duct' on the car wasn't much use in the race as it is only activated when using the DRS but it had a clear benefit in qualifying as the following data shows:

Ricciardo 287.2 - 303.0 - 308.3 - 308.6
Schumacher 287.1 - 306.9 - 308.8 - 313.4
Vergne 286.1 - 303.3 - 306.6 - 309.2
Grosjean 286.0 - 300.2 - 309.0 - 310.2
Button 286.0 - 299.8 - 308.1 - 310.7
Rosberg 285.9 - 302.8 - 310.1 - 313.2
Hamilton 284.1 - 300.9 - 307.7 - 314.0
Senna 283.9 - 299.5 - 305.5 - 308.0
Vettel 283.8 - 298.0 - 303.1 - 303.7
Maldonado 283.4 - 299.2 - 305.9 - 308.1

The figures are the speed recorded at the end of each sector and then in the speed trap. All these points are when the car is accelerating in seventh gear so when drag is at its highest point. The Mercedes is able to run higher gear ratios to be one of the fastest in the speed trap and yet is able to maintain high speed as it accelerates by dumping more drag than other cars. This makes them more competitive in qualifying trim and they could be even more of a threat in Malaysia next week which has three long 'full throttle' sections

Spicy midfield battle ends in last lap mayhem: "The field looks closer this year" is often a cliche rolled out before the beginning of the season by broadcasters and journalists looking to build the year ahead up. However it really did look that way pre-season and the weekend proved it as several teams fought it out for some important points. It was heartache at Williams as Pastor Maldonado crashed out on the final lap. Both car and driver have speed. The FW34 looked very impressive through the high speed chicane but Maldonado needs to cut the errors out if he wants to build on the potential that is there. It was a dreadful weekend for Ferrari as they failed to make Q3 on Saturday. Fernando Alonso drove another incredible race to underline his world class status as a racing driver but Felipe Massa struggled with the balance of the car and high rear tyre wear. Even Rob Smedley sounded downbeat as the Ferrari ran near the back before retiring after a collision with Bruno Senna. One positive for Ferrari was their pitstops - their five trips into the pitlane were the five fastest times of all the teams

The Toro Rosso drivers had a few adventures around Albert Park but showed good speed. Daniel Ricciardo impressed me in chasing down the back of the train of cars fighting for points at the end and managing to move through to grab two points on the line. The Australian became the 319th driver in F1 history to record a points finish. Jean-Eric Vergne will have been annoyed i'm sure to get pipped to tenth by Paul di Resta but it was still a positive opening to his F1 career. Force India didn't have great pace which will concern them (Although they struggled in Melbourne last year before showing better form) but good work from the pitwall to encourage Di Resta to keep pushing 5 laps from the end despite having dropped back. The cars in front were starting to hold each other up and he caught them on the final lap before some smart thinking from the Scot in saving some KERS for the final corner allowed him to push past Vergne to grab a point

It was an up and down weekend at Lotus. Romain Grosjean was a sensational third on Saturday but Kimi Raikkonen was the shock victim of Q1. The Finn had been delayed in starting his final run and crossed the line to start a flying lap with 1:26 on the clock. A mistake at turn 12 saw him back off and prepare for another attempt but there wasn't enough time left. In the race it all went wrong for Grosjean. He hit the limiter at the start which dropped him to sixth and then contact with Maldonado put him out. I'm 50/50 on that incident, Maldonado did go too deep and i can understand why Grosjean tried to hang it out on the outside as the Williams had made the lunge very late into the corner giving him little time to line up the switchback. He should have just gave it up earlier but that's easy to say with hindsight. Racing incident in my opinion but Grosjean is entitled to feel unfortunate. Raikkonen said he wanted to return to F1 for some wheel to wheel racing and he certainly got plenty of it as he got involved in various tussles. A good drive to seventh for him but afterwards he and his engineer were both in agreement that this was not really what was expected so it seems Lotus have their eyes set on taking on challenging the front running teams. The 2007 world champion also provoked some laughter by getting upset with receiving blue flags but it turned out he was rightly confused as a glitch in the system meant various drivers including race winner Button were getting blue flag warnings on their steering wheel

I touched on Perez and his race earlier. The only other thing to add is that he suffered front wing damage at the start and wanted to change to a new one at his first scheduled pitstop but his engineer decided it was better just to adjust the angle and keep the pitstop shorter. Kobayashi also had to cope with damage in the form of a rear wing end plate. He made some good passes and after a busy first stint in traffic produced very consistent lap times.

At the back...: HRT struggled for reliability after no testing and failed to get inside the 107% mark with either car. In theory Malaysia will be even more challenging for a poor car but if they can get their DRS fixed and get more running in practice they should be able to make the gains to at least get to race next Sunday. Caterham didn't get close to making Q2 and then had more problems in the race. Heikki Kovalainen had no KERS in the race and also managed to pick up a five place grid penalty for Sepang shortly before retiring. You can see why the Finn got the penalty (Overtaking Vettel and Button before SC Line 1) at 12:10 in this video. Vitaly Petrov was unhappy with the balance of his car. The Russian said he was getting oversteer on his opening stint with the prime tyres before suffering with understeer when he changed to the options. Marussia had good reliability despite no testing and Timo Glock finished whilst Charles Pic had to stop near the end as the car was overheating. Glock said he had pushed the car hard over the kerbs to give it a full workout but the German, who turned 30 on race day, was also in some pain after a long brake pedal meant he was over stretching his leg in order to slow the car down.

BBC v Sky becomes a reality: For UK F1 fans this was a new era as live coverage of all the sessions was not available on free-to-air TV. I don't want to analyse the coverage too much as it is still early days for Sky. I enjoyed what they did but there was room for improvement. That's to be expected though, they need to be given time to develop and gel. My one big disappointment was the severe lack of post race analysis, the hour of coverage after the race was limp and faded away with little substance. Meanwhile the BBC did an excellent job of covering the main incidents after their highlights programme, something which had been lacking at times in 2011 from them. However they did not show a forum afterwards despite promising to do so for non-live races and something which presenter Jake Humphrey had made a big deal of on numerous occasions on Twitter. Sky got an average of 874,000 for the race itself with a peak of 1.02m. BBC got an average of 2.73m with a peak of 3.28m. Overall a combined loss of about 1 million viewers from previous years but we'll have to see how things unfold when the European races come around. A great feature on Sky interactive was the new pitlane channel from FOM. There was lots of radio transmissions played throughout the race and it provided some excellent insight. You can listen to what was played out on this video

Now attention turns to Malaysia. Heat, humidity and the potential for heavy rain can make this Grand Prix a big challenge. Pirelli will bring the medium and hard tyres for this weekend, a conservative choice after last years high tyre wear in Sepang. Quite a different circuit to Melbourne so it will be interesting to see if we get any changes in form. It should be another great weekend of F1 and it is only 4 days away

Images courtesy of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Formula One Team and Sahara Force India Formula One Team


  1. Do you manage to see the new Sky Sports F1 channel

  2. Yes i did. Been fine so far, needs time to gel and develop. One thing i think they have been a bit weak at so far is the post race analysis. Early days though