2011 Australian GP – Race Analysis

Sebastian Vettel made a perfect start to his title defense, winning the Australian GP after dominating the entire weekend. The reigning world champion blitzed his rivals in qualifying and then carried that form into the race as well. With Mark Webber struggling to match his team mate, and Ferrari well off the leading pace, it was the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton that carried the fight to the German driver. But Vettel made a good start off the line, charged into the lead, and that was that. He was barely troubled in the race, and when the McLaren’s floor suffered damage in an off-track excursion in the last stint, Sebastian just cruised home with over 20 seconds to spare. Although Hamilton closed in on the Red Bull during the first stint, one suspects that Sebastian could’ve gone faster, but was controlling the pace.

Much noise has been made about Red Bull not running the KERS – and rather than a reliability issue, as we all assumed, Christian Horner confirmed that they didn’t use it because they were able to tweak the gear ratios to provide a faster laptime without the KERS than with it. So Red Bull weren’t really compromised this weekend, they did stretch their legs, but by any yardstick, their pace is phenomenal. And with huge improvements in reliability over the winter, it remains to be seen if the other teams can turn things around fast enough to stay in the championship fight. Lets face it, Red Bull won both championships last year with a fast but unreliable car. If they have the fastest and most reliable car this time around, then the rest of the field may as well go home and play poker every weekend.

Surprisingly, there were no major incidents at the start – we usually get a chaotic first lap every year. But there was a bit of contact, as Schumacher got a rear puncture and damaged suspension, and Alguersuari needed a new front wing on lap 1. Schumacher had a forgettable race, as the car became almost undrivable after sustaining damage, and eventually he retired, to conserve the engine and gearbox and also for safety reasons. Rosberg was unfortunate to be taken out by an over-optimistic manoeuvre from Rubens Barrichello, who then subsequently retired with a transmission failure. A bad day for Mercedes GP, who also displayed disappointing pace compared to their testing form.

Ferrari were equally lagging, and Alonso was forced to run wide at the start by Button, which dropped him down to 10th. His race was much like last year’s as he recovered quite well to fourth place, holding off Mark Webber’s Red Bull. However, he was right behind Vitaly Petrov at the end – and he therefore could’ve finished on the podium in hindsight. Massa was brilliant at the start – slotting in ahead of Button and fending off the faster McLaren for more than 10 laps, until Jensen lost his patience and used the escape road at the end of the back straight to move past the Ferrari. With Alonso getting past Massa as well, McLaren were in a dilemma – giving the place back to Massa would mean letting Alonso past as well, but a drive through penalty would drop him behind both anyway. But before he could decide, Ferrari pitted both cars – effectively handing a penalty to Button who could not give the place back. Button atleast got his revenge, overtaking Massa in the closing stages.

Vitaly Petrov’s superlative pace throughout the weekend was the real surprise to the paddock however. He made it into Q3 easily, while his team mate Heidfeld was knocked out in Q1, and then lined up 6th on the grid. He made a superb start, moving up to fourth, and snatched the podium when Webber dropped away. It was deja vu for the Ferrari fans when he resisted Alonso’s attempt to close him down in the last few laps. Even his team were pleasantly surprised to see his confidence and maturity. His drive was one of the two best this evening in Melbourne and he is the first Russian ever to stand on the F1 podium.

The other driver in question – Sergio Perez notched up a stunning 7th position on debut, driving a one-stop race while those around him went for 3 pitstops. At one point, he was hunting down Button’s McLaren and then Massa’s Ferrari. There were no signs of rookie errors or nerves – he drove much like Kamui drove last year – confidently and with the composure of an experienced campaigner. It makes it all the more unfortunate that the Sauber cars have been excluded from the results owing to a minor technical infringement. The team plan to appeal the decision and hopefully the young drivers’ efforts will not be wasted.

The exclusion of the Saubers meant Massa and Buemi gained two places and both Force Indias finished in the points. Paul di Resta did well to match his more experienced team mate Adrian Sutil and – as of now – scored a point on his debut. The other debutants, Pastor Maldonado and Jerome d’Ambrosio were at the tail end of the field throughout the weekend, and while the Williams man retired, the Virgin driver brought his car home in 14th place. As far as the midfield is concerned, all the teams – Williams, Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso – look evenly matched, but Sauber and Toro Rosso seem to be slightly ahead at the moment. Of the new teams, Lotus exhibited much improved race pace, and if they can sort out reliability, they will be able to leave Virgin and HRT well behind. Atleast Virgin were able to race in Australia – and get a 14th place finish. HRT could not make it within the 107% rule, and with the team struggling to get two cars ready to hit the track, the future looks bleak for the Spanish squad.

In Australia, we realised a number of things. One, the Pirellis are a lot more durable than we thought, though the cooler temperatures in Melbourne could have played a part in that. We can expect to see 2 or 3 pitstop strategies in a normal race. Two, Red Bull-McLaren-Ferrari-Renault-Mercedes seems to be the pecking order right now. Three, KERS and DRS haven’t really made the impact predicted – there were maybe three overtakes using the DRS. But I think it’s perfect – a much slower car can be overtaken, as Massa demonstrated with Buemi, but an equal car will need driver skill to make it stick, as Button found out. That’s the way it should be, making sure a slower car doesn’t ruin the race for a title contender and an equal car cannot overtake so easily.

As the teams head to Malaysia, questions will remain – did we see the actual pace of all the cars? Will the swelteringly hot Sepang favour Ferrari and Mercedes? And most importantly, is there a chance of stopping Red Bull and Vettel from retaining their titles this year? We will know more in two weeks’ time – ciao until then.


2 Responses to “2011 Australian GP – Race Analysis”

  1. Force India still has those points!
    I was astonished by the Red Bull pace but Malaysian GP will show the true picture,if it doesn’t rain

    • Theoretically, yes, Malaysia should show the true pace of each car, but I suspect rain will turn the form book upside down this weekend. 🙂

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