Coming at you from the temporarily sunny Sunset neighborhood in SF for the second round of the 2010 F1 season at the Australian Grand Prix! Today’s street circuit race is set up around Albert Lake Park, just outside of Melbourne, and is one of my favorites on the F1 calendar. The circuit, despite its temporary setup, has a challenging layout that showcases all the extraordinary performance capabilities of a modern F1 car. The drivers generally agree that the circuit is relatively fast and easy to drive, but also the driveability of the track improves as the weekend progresses, so everyone expects that by race day the action on the grid will be competitive and entertaining. I particularly like turns 11 and 12 on the track, as the drivers take their cars through a drawn out left-right chicane at over 150 mph. Enjoy this onboard pole position lap by G.O.A.T. Schumi back in 2004.
The question is can he do it again, only this time in a Mercedes?
Before the qualifying session on Saturday, the media was focused on the rumor mill in the paddocks, and today’s hot topic is that some of the teams, McLaren in particular, have been making a big fuss over accusations that Red Bull is utilizing a ride-height adjustment system that lowers the car during qualifying, and then raises the car to a normal ride height for the race. It’s purely speculation at this point, but it merits mentioning, as the teams are in unanimous agreement that the RB6 is the fastest car on the grid.
I don’t feel like glossing over Q1 and Q2 of qualifying, let’s fast forward to Q3 to the cars that stand a chance of winning, to be frankly honest. I must mention, however, Lewis Hamilton’s continued bad fortune at Albert Park. After last year’s “Liegate” scandal, Lewis showed up this week stating he learned a great deal from last year’s ignominy. But in revealing fashion, Hamilton was pulled over and his car was impounded Friday night by Melbourne police for driving extremely aggressively, including a burnout on a main road packed with bars. According to the police report, Hamilton expressed concern over the potential damage the incident would have on his reputation. Hamilton’s persona is eerily similar to Tiger Woods’ in some respects: He’s a precocious talent, but he’s also somewhat disingenuous and at times very transparent about his highly manufactured image. Hamilton fancies himself a distinguished Englishman, but really he’s just a extremely competitive and arrogant race car driver, albeit a very fast one. So to see him not even make Q3 was karmic justice, as he was likely not entirely focused on the task at hand. Hamilton is a former world champion, but it’s clear that he still has a few things to learn as a person.
Hometown driver Mark Webber looks intent on claiming his first pole position of the year and his first at his home race. He just set fastest lap at the beginning of Q3, and teammate Sebastian Vettel stands the best chance to oust the Aussie from P1.
Vettel takes it! He just set an absolutely blistering lap, nipping his teammate’s time by 12/100ths of a second. Webber is well liked and respected by his peers, but he simply is not as fast as his younger and more exuberant German teammate. Vettel is the prohibitive favorite to win the Drivers championship this year, and his second straight pole position was another small step towards that reality. At only 22 years of age, Vettel owns a slew of F1 records, mostly for youngest driver to achieve a certain feat, and if he wins the Drivers championship this year, he will surpass Lewis Hamilton as the youngest world champion in F1 history. Time to fast forward to the race start.
It’s ten minutes before the race start, and a slight drizzle is starting to come down on the track. Unlike all the other sissy motorsports that don’t race in the rain, F1 drivers view driving in the wet as the ultimate challenge. Some of the top drivers on the grid, particularly Schumi and Fernando Alonso, are masters in the rain and some of their greatest performances were on wet circuits. Schumi, who qualified 7th, is probably praying in his cockpit for the weather gods to unleash their wrath, so that he can unleash his. It’s drizzling, but not pouring, so the drivers will likely switch to intermediate tires, and not the full wet weather tires. The race, before it’s even started, just got a lot more interesting.
Turn up the volume for the start of the Australian GP! Vettel and Webber get away somewhat tentatively, and Webber drops one spot as Massa, who had a great start, passes both Alonso and Webber to slot into 2nd. Alonso’s start goes from bad to worse, as he gets pinched between Lewis Hamilton and Schumi, and gets spun 180 degrees out on the track. Alonso is now in last place, and Schumi damaged his front wing as a result of the contact. Samurai Kamui Kobayashi’s’ front wing literally flies off his car, and as result he plows into the side of Nico Hulkenberg, bringing out the safety car. Wow, what a start to the race, maybe this F1 stuff isn’t so boring after all.
Lap 6: Button decides to come into the pits for slicks, talk about a gamble! McLaren was concerned about the tire degradation of the intermediates, so this isn’t exactly surprising. This is a high risk/high reward decision, if it pays off, he could find himself in a podium position.
Lap 9: Traffic jam on the pit lane, as everyone is coming in for slicks. It looks like Button’s gamble paid off. After everyone’s pit stops, the order is now from the top: Vettel, Button, Kubica, Rosberg, Massa, Webber, Barrichello, Hamilton, De La Rosa, and Alonso filling out the top 10.
Lap 16: Webber passes Massa on Turn 1, and Hamilton capitalizes and swoops past Massa also. Hamilton gets greedy and tries to pass Webber immediately afterwards, and the two are side by side going in to Turn 3, and Webber brakes too late and goes off into the gravel, and Massa regains his original position by passing Hamilton. Boy oh boy, that was some exciting three way racing. Meanwhile, Schumi is languishing in 13th behind Jaime Alguersuari. It seems Schumi is struggling to regain his old form, and his mystique takes another slight dent.
Lap 22: Hamilton passes Massa, moving up to 5th, and right behind them is Alonso, who unwittingly gets passed by Webber. Not a great 30 seconds of racing for the Ferrari team. Cazzo.
Lap 26: Hamilton makes a great pass on Rosberg on the Turns 11 & 12 high speed chicane. The race leader is out! Vettel is on the gravel, it looks like he suffered some sort of mechanical problem. Talk about bad luck, what a waste of speed, Dieter Mateschitz must be rolling in his grave right now. It looks like Button is primed for his first win this season and as a member of McLaren, I wonder how Hamilton feels about it.
Lap 28: Webber passes Massa. Massa has not looked good all weekend, let’s hope he can manage the rest of the race and bring it home in a points winning position.
Lap 33-35: Schumi, Rosberg, and Hamilton pit for a second time. Hamilton has been constantly attacking the entire race, let’s see what he can do with fresh slicks. I don’t think he has a chance of winning now, as it’s very likely Button, whose smooth driving style is easy on the tires, will finish the race on just one stop.
Lap 45: Timo Glock is out, which means Virgin is o for 4 in having a driver finish a race this season. Compounding their problems is the recent revelation that they designed the VR-01 with a fuel tank that is not large enough to finish some of the longer races this season. Much has been made of Virgin’s pioneering decision to strictly use only CFD to design their car, but what’s the point if they make these kind of boneheaded mistakes? Talk about embarrassing…
Lap 48: Hamilton is closing in on both Ferraris, and Alonso, in response to his engineer telling him Hamilton is 3.5 seconds behind and closing, says “I don’t want to know.” The truth is even before Schumi retired the first time, Alonso took over the mantle as the man to beat in F1, and I think he’s regained his panache. I’ll say it now, I think Alonso will be World Champion once again at this season’s end.
Lap 56: Primadonna Hamilton just radioed to his team complaining why they brought him in for a 2nd stop. What a wanker.
Lap 57: Karma strikes a 2nd time on Hamilton. He tries to pass Alonso on the outside, and Webber runs into the back of Hamilton, and both go off the track.
Finish: Button wins, what a master stroke of strategy and foresight to pit first on slicks, and the fact that he lasted over fifty laps on soft tires is impressive and says a lot about both Button’s race management skills and the long term integrity of the Bridgestone tires. Kubica comes in 2nd, which is a great result for him and the Renault team. Massa rounds out the podium in 3rd, with teammate Alonso right behind in 4th, which is good result for both drivers, especially Massa.
Today’s race was a reminder how thrilling an F1 race can be, given the right combination of race conditions. Hopefully today’s grand prix silenced the critics’ grievances from the past two weeks, and we can now focus moving forward on the stuff that really matters, which is the battle for the Drivers and Constructors championships, which are starting to looking very interesting. Here’s the standings for both titles after two races:
|1 Fernando Alonso||37.0|
|2 Felipe Massa||33.0|
|3 Jenson Button||31.0|
|4 Lewis Hamilton||23.0|
|5 Nico Rosberg||20.0|
|6 Robert Kubica||18.0|
|7 Sebastian Vettel||12.0|
|8 Michael Schumacher||9.0|
|9 Vitantonio Liuzzi||8.0|
|10 Mark Webber||6.0|
|9Lotus F1 Racing||0.0|
No bye week between races this time, which means two straight weekends of F1 action. Next up is the Malaysian GP, see you in Sepang!