High stakes poker was the name of the game at Albert Park for the opening round of the 2012 Formula 1 Championship. Many who’s luck ran out at the first corner chose to simply roll the dice again with mixed results.
Pole-sitter, Lewis Hamilton made (by his standards) a “shocking start”, which set him on the back-foot. And for some inexplicable reason was never closer to Button than around 3 seconds – a margin Jenson was able to extend to 10 when Vitaly Petrov’s stricken Caterham forced a safety car eleven laps from the end. The new rule allowing lapped cars to pass the saftey car however may require some tweaking after an excessive amount of time was burnt waiting for those cars to rejoin the rear of the pack.
This enabled Sebastian Vettel to jump Lewis in the final stages. A 2nd place for the German a welcome reward after starting sixth on the grid. Vettel then focused his attention on Button, but the Briton appears to have stepped his game up another notch and controlled the gap to Sebastian like Prost during his own early McLaren years.
Vettel’s Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber was also fortunate to challenge Hamilton in the final stages after light impact at the start with Nico Hulkenberg – forcing the Force India driver inro early retirement.. Webber’s consequent choice of a long run on the harder compound Pirelli’s was looking like a wasted strategy after being caught behind a sluggish Rosberg Mercedes. But the introduction of the safety car also brought him back within contention, as it did with his compatriot Daniel Ricciardo. All appeared lost for the West Australian after Bruno Senna’s Williams catapulted over the nose of Ricciardo’s Torro-Rosso. A forced pit stop left Ricciardo trailing dead last, but the safety car, some aggressive overtaking moves and a late fumble by Pastor Maldonado gave Daniel an opportunity to scythe down the inside of his Team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne on the final lap and a final points paying position (their inter-team rivalry definitely entering its first chapter).
Maldonado looked rock solid all day in the Williams; challenging Webber whilst he was stuck behind Rosberg and hurrying Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari in the closing stages when Alonso’s prime tyre was reaching it’s use by date. Disappointing then, that Maldonado should overcook things rather than letting Fernando pressure himself into an error. An over-correction on Pastor’s part saw his front-end grip at just the wrong moment, catapulting his Williams into the wall at turn 8 and lose some vital championship points.
Maldonado also precipitated a collision with Romain Grosjean’s Lotus at turn 12. The Venezuelan failing to give Romain a cars width on the exit of the corner (as required under the new FIA rules), ending the Lotus -driver’s race after a such a promising qualifying. Team-mate Kimi Raikonnen appeared to be relishing his battle with Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi – the pair swapping positions more times than a risqué Prince single. Raikonnen finishing a strong seventh between the Sauber’s after starting in 18th.
Despite starting a strong fourth, Schumacher was unable to capitalize on his revived qualifying speed, his race ending with gearbox gremlins. Adding to the retirements were the Brazilians of Massa and Senna after they touched at turn 3 whilst battling with Daniel Ricciardo – the collision ending both their races.
While Jenson took a commanding victory (his third on the streets of Melbourne), the near identical pace of the McLaren and Red Bull runners suggests we’re in for an almighty arm-wrestle for the championship. Roll on Malaysia