The curtain-opener to the 2011 Formula One World Championship finally got underway early this morning. The testing, speculation and hype was put to one side as the Class of 2011 went head to head in Melbourne’s Albert Park.
Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel dominated the race throughout, and took the win from McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, the surprise package of the day being Lotus Renault’s Vitaly Petrov, who commendably finished in third place.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day though was Christian Horner’s revelation that neither of the Red Bull’s had been running KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) for the entire weekend. “We felt Kers was a potential risk, and we made a decision not to run it. It didn’t look like we needed it.” And he was right, Vettel had built a lead of 2.6 seconds over Hamilton by the end of the first lap, and Hamilton WAS running KERS.
Hamilton was able to match Vettel’s pace for a period however, the McLaren driver was also better on his tyres than Vettel, who was heard on the radio to be complaining of a loss of grip on several occasions. Both drivers ran two-stop strategies in a race where the hype was that as many as four stops could be expected from the front-runners.
Lotus-Renault’s Vitaly Petrov had an astounding start to the race, he was the beneficiary of Jenson Button in the other McLaren hanging out Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso into turn one at the start of the lap. Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber, driving in his home Grand Prix, had managed to maintain third off the grid, but he was first to blink and change tyres, Petrov then moved into third and maintained that to the finish.
“I’m very happy to be alongside Sebastian and Lewis on the podium, but from first practice the car has looked very strong, we focused on the race, and the team did everything perfectly,” said Petrov.
With the race developing, Jenson Button was having a battle of his very own with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. He was heard over the radio asking “How’s he getting away from me?”, despite Button using the new DRS (Drag Reduction System). But the nightmares did not end there, in trying to pass Massa, Button had used a run-off area and was adjudged to have gained an advantage, a move that was penalised by a drive-through penalty.
After emerging from the pit-lane in twelfth, Button drove well and managed to bring his MP4-26 home in sixth. The McLaren team will be happy that the hard work they had put in back at the MTC in Woking has paid off. It was abundantly clear that the MP4-26 was not all that had been expected of it, testing showed it was way off the pace, but the updates they bought to Melbourne, a new floor and exhaust system, seemed to have done the trick.
There were losers in the race too. Michael Schumacher suffered a puncture at the start, and was eventually retired from the race as a precaution. His teammate Nico Rosberg had a coming together with Rubens Barrichello, for which Barrichello was punished with a drive through penalty. Unfortunately for Rosberg, it proved fatal and neither Mercedes finished. For me, Barrichello had a terrible weekend, spinning out of control during Qualifying, and driving terribly during the race, to me, someone who has driven in 307 Grands Prix, should know better.
Sauber were the other talking point of the day. Having only made one stop throughout the race, Sergio Perez managed to raise a few eyebrows. However, it was shortlived. Scrutineering highlighted some technical infringements with both Sauber cars, unfortunately they were stripped of seventh and eighth places, which promoted Felipe Massa into seventh, Adrian Sutil in to eighth, Sebastian Buemi into ninth and debutant Paul di Resta into tenth and a final points paying position.
With Perez and Kobayashi disqualified, Timo Glock not classified, Barichello, Rossberg, Kovalainen, Schumacher and Maldonado made up the long list of retirees from todays race. Next stop Sepang in Malaysia.