Ah, but I love this time of year. The daffodils and crocuses are blooming, bees are starting to buzz, and from Melbourne via our telly-boxes we hear the unmistakable, ear-splitting squeal of extremely high performance cars! :) I love the smell of F1 in the morning! (2am to be exact – that’s the time that the live broadcast of the race started.) Yes, I’m a bit of a petrolhead – but only really for F1.
And what a start to what promises to be a very interesting season! Firstly, there’s no Michael Schumacher. This was the first race since 1991 with no Schumacher. (Sadly, he came on in the ad breaks – he’s advertsing FIAT vans now. Oh, how the mighty have fallen, huh?) Secondly, Dual World Champion, Fernando Alonso is no longer driving for Renault. Long-time rival Kimi Raikonnen is no longer driving for McLaren. A few changes to the line up and paddock this year:-
- Alonso is with McLaren, along with GP2 winner and young hot-shot, British Lewis Hamilton – who is 22yo and a bit of a legend already since McLaren got interested in him and started grooming him at age 12 when he was driving go-karts.
- Raikonnen is now with Ferrari, taking Schumacher’s vacant seat in the red number 1 car. Massa is also driving for Ferrari and, I think, maybe a little pissed off that Raikonnen’s getting all the attention.
- Aussie Mark Webber has left Williams and has joined the oldest driver in the field David Coulthard (possibly past it? Should retire?) in the Red Bull team.
- New boy Heikki Kovaleinen takes the empty seat in the Renault team.
- New-ish Boy Alexander Wurz joins Nico Rosberg in the Williams team, taking Webber’s seat.
- Villneuve has gone, Montoya has gone, and the driver from India with the really long name starting with a K has gone (Kulthakainan?).
- There’s a new team – the Dutch owned and therefore bright orange coloured Spyker team.
- Michelin Tyres are out of F1 – no team is running on Michelin Tyres anymore. Bridgestone is the only tyre on the circut – and I wonder how much the monopoly cost them.
Qualifying format, however, was unchanged from last year. For the first time in 3 years they kept hold of a qualifying format for more than one season. And it was quite an interesting qualifying session.
Massa in Ferrari had gearbox problems and had to change an engine, making him last on the grid. British driver Antony Davidson (who was a test driver for Honda last year) has taken the reins of his own Super Aguri and actually qualified 11th – ahead of many more experienced drivers in faster cars! Takuma Sato, the other Super Aguri, actually placed 10th on the grid, I think for the first time ever! (Super Aguri are the F1 arm of Suzuki Racing). New boy, Lewis Hamilton, was only 2/10ths of a second behind Alonso! And the BMW’s seemed to have some pace this season, as Nick Heidfeld placed 3rd between the McLaren’s on the grid, and Kubica placed 5th. Qualifying seemed wide open with a Ferrari out of the top ten, a Renault out of the top ten, and a Super Aguri in!
So for his first ever F1, Lewis Hamilton was on grid row 2, starting 4th. Brilliant effort from the youngster who seems to have a bright bright future, and can only learn from being teamed with Alonso.
Top 10 grid positions as follows:
1 – Raikonnen – Ferrari
2 – Alonso – McLaren
3 – Heidfeld – BMW Sauber
4 – Hamilton – McLaren
5 – Kubica – BMW Sauber
6 – Fisichella – Renault
7 – Webber – Red Bull
8- Trulli – Toyota
9 – Ralf Schumacher – Toyota
10 – Sato – Super Aguri
(photo from itv-f1.com)
A very interesting race ensued – and although the Ferrari of Raikonnen leapt ahead for a very speedy 15 second lead within about 10-15 laps, young Hamilton got the jump on Alonso off the grid and was leading the world champ for most of the race! Webber dropped from 7th to 15 after his pit stop, and we didn’t see it over here, so I’m not sure why. Jenson Button was in the new Honda Earthcar , so called because it has no sponsor logos, just a picture of the Earth. It’s funny, an F1 car which pumps out enormous amounts of CO2 and an F1 team which has a ridiculous amount of people flying all over the world every week trying to prove their greener than the other guys. Amusing really. :) Anyway, Jenson was having a terrible time with his car, which apparently has a ‘critical aerodynamic fault’ and was holding everyone up, including his team mate, Barrichello. But the pressure is off Jensen to be the new UK star now that Hamilton has arrived.
First out of the race was Christijan Albers in a Spyker, who lost it under braking going into turn 1 and skid straight into the kitty litter. Then American driver Scott Speed had a slow leak in his front tyre, and decided to pull out rather than risk car damage. Kubica in the BMW had to drop out of 4th place with gearbox problems, and the race got really exciting when Coulthard decided to pull a move on Wurz in the Williams which didn’t work and left the Red Bull car flying over the bonnet of the Williams – within inches of Wurz’s head! Ralf Schumacher managed to make 8th place, and take the last of the points, despite a pneumatic problem that saw him slow significantly.
Webber had a nasty moment when he spun his Red Bull on the entrance to the pit lane late in the race – and the pits became the proof that experience triumphs over youth, as Hamilton was out-pitted by Alonso. Hamilton had been providing lap times within a 10th of a second of Alonso all race, they were almost perfectly matched for pace – which is a staggering achievement for the new boy. But Alonso proved his worth with experience by pitting later than the youngster, and those few laps with a lightweight fuel tank were enough for him to steal 2nd. Raikkonen, who scampered away early in his Ferrari and consistently set ‘fastest lap’ times, was hardly seen all race – only really when he had the privilage of thoroughly humiliating Massa by lapping him. Raikonnen also set the fastest speed for the race – 307.57 km/h round the Melbourne half-street circuit.
The race was won by Raikonnen, who really wasn’t challenged by anyone. Alonso 2 and Hamilton took 3. Webber finished 13th, and Jenson Button, so recently the hope of british motorsport, finished in a dismal 15th.
Ferrari (again) seem to have a performance advantage over their rivals, but there may be a reliability issue, what with Massa’s gearbox problems in qualifying and the fact that Raikkonnen slowed down on the last dozen laps – but I think he knew he had the thing won and was trying to save his engine. (Engines still have to go through two races before being changed, just like last year). Yet McLaren can’t be discounted. They don’t seem to have Ferrari’s pace (yet!) but with both cars on the podium this could prove a promising year for McLaren, who didn’t win a race last year and must be a bit anxious. Renault were disappointing, Fisichella finishing 5th and Kovaleinen put in an error-strewn, almost dangerous performance to finish 10th.
All in all a very watchable race under perfect Australian skies. The F1 party now moves to Malaysia for the race on 8 April.