Australian Grand Prix: The Winners, The Losers

Jenson Button

Jenson Button in his office

Mar.18 (James Rossi) We take a look at the winners and the losers in the aftermath of the Australian Grand Prix weekend at Albert Park in Melbourne. The season opener was packed with drama, intrigue and racing of the highest order with numerous talking points.

The Winners

Jenson Button

Third time on the top step of the Melbourne podium for Jenson Button

Third time on the top step of the Melbourne podium for Jenson Button

To some this is no real surprise. Button, perhaps unexpectedly for others, was in scintillating form on Sunday. After his team mate’s pole position, many had commented that the natural pecking order was about to be established within McLaren. However, the 2009 world champion simply drove away from everybody. Lewis Hamilton’s post-race body language and press conference demeanour was telling; he didn’t expect Button to control the race with such ease. The authority with which Button also pulled away after the safety car restart will also strike a chord with those hoping to achieve glory this year. This is a mature driver at the peak of his career, in what looks like a championship winning car.

After a resurgent 2011, the Frome-born driver is beginning to lay his roots firmly within the McLaren hierarchy. Even though only one race has passed, this could be a very comfortable year both on and off-track for Jenson Button.

Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel in parc ferme with the McLaren boys after the race

Sebastian Vettel in parc ferme with the McLaren boys after the race

Whilst it may seem easy to stick the top performers into the ‘winners’ section, the reigning world champion deserves to be labelled as such. Despite two world championships in dominant machinery, questions had remained over Vettel’s ability to take the fight to a faster package. The young German answered them.; getting a good start, passing Rosberg into Turn 9 in an awesome manoeuvre and keeping pace with the McLarens. Despite the lucky timing of the safety car, which enabled him to leapfrog Lewis Hamilton, the champion of the last two years delivered a result which would have seemed somewhat unlikely after qualifying.

Yes, Sebastian Vettel can race. And yes, Sebastian Vettel can perform admirably in a car that isn’t a second clear of the field. We now have a situation reminiscent of the ‘98/’99 seasons. Can Vettel do what Schumacher couldn’t and topple what appears to be a fundamentally faster McLaren at its peak?

Fernando Alonso

Roll out the usual script. Underperforming Ferrari. Alonso drags it round to finish in a position that it has no right being in. Rinse and repeat. The Spaniard once again shows why he is considered by many to be the best all-round driver in F1.

Williams

Bruno Senna (BRA) Williams Renault FW34. Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday 18 March 2012.

Bruno Senna in the Williams FW34

Last season was a sad sight for fans of the Grove outfit. After the worst championship performance in their history, the departure of Patrick Head, and the diminishing role of founder Frank Williams, it was to be expected that they would fare no better.

Yet, after Sunday’s race, things are suddenly looking up for the Williams team. A car with inherent pace that seems to look after its tyres as well as any could propel the team up the constructor’s table to a more respectable position. The only sticking point could be the relative inexperience of Messrs. Maldonado and Senna. The nephew of Ayrton was unlucky in his first lap collision, and Maldonado drove well until he dropped it, at the very end of the race.

It remains to be seen how quickly both drivers can start to utilise the potential of this new Williams and deliver results consistently. After noting the fortunes of the two young racers, one must ask how well a quick and mature Rubens Barrichello would have fared. Nevertheless, expect a much improved showing from them this year.

The Losers

Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton

It’s difficult to place a man who secured pole position and finished on the podium in the loser’s section for this Grand Prix. Yet something seems amiss with Hamilton. His one lap pace is as searing as ever, yet during the race his pace was simply not on the level of Button’s. He clearly missed a trick at the start, and perhaps the 58 laps would have panned out differently if he had held his lead. He would have avoided Sergio Perez after the first stop and would have had first call on pit strategy, but such is the way of Grand Prix racing.

His dejection was clear to see after the race. He has to be very careful not to let his emotions show, as the more mature and experienced Button has already laid down a psychological marker for the season ahead, and would lap up any show of impatience or negativity from his younger team mate. Expect a quietly determined Hamilton this weekend in Malaysia. Hamilton fans at least will be hoping for such an attitude from their hero.

Felipe Massa

Roll out the usual script: Underperforming Ferrari. Massa struggles, gets comprehensively beaten by his team mate and faces (more) calls to be removed from the Maranello squad. Rinse and repeat.

Pirelli

Last year saw unparalleled racing action. This was in part due to the return of the KERS system and in part to the introduction of DRS. A new tyre manufacturer also played its part by providing rubber that degraded quickly and unexpectedly, which gave the drivers a massive challenge and the engineers a massive headache.

For 2012, there has been a shift towards softer rubber amongst all the compounds. Strangely though, the degradation has been lessened and we were somewhat deprived of the unexpected and sudden “cliff” of a tyre losing its grip. Although the race was interesting from a tactical point of view, it lacked the thrilling aspect of drivers having to contend with absolutely no grip, without warning.

If this trend is to continue throughout 2012, we’d better hope that the teams remain glued to each other pace-wise, otherwise predictability will start to settle in.