Tuesday, March 19, 2013


WOW! That's what I can say about the first race of this season in Melbourne last weekend. I mean, the Melbourne race is usually good as it is the first race, the temperatures are quite high and the track hard on the tires (due to it being half a public road and half unused track).

But this race was even more interesting as the use of the supersoft tires and the different ways each car treats its tires made for a very exciting race to watch. WOW! From an F1 PR point-of-view it was perhaps good that the opening race wasn't won by Vettel or Red Bull, because that would be a familiar story to the casual viewer who needs luring back.

Lotus blooms

To be honest, I did not expect Lotus to win....at all. Sorry Lotus fans. Congratulations to Lotus and Raikkonen, it was a masterclass of strategy, driving and car design. Raikkonen drove a measured race that balanced aggression with intelligence (he does know what he is doing after all). According to him it was "easy".
“It was quite simple; probably one of my easiest wins. You can’t start the season much better than winning the first race and of course we hope we can be fighting at the front of the Championship, but there’s a long way to go.”
Have you tried sitting in a very tight seat for 1 hour and 30 minutes or so? I sat in a simulator fibreglass seat for 20 minutes before and my ass just up and left. I couldn't feel it anymore. And that was in an air conditioned room. Easy...

I told you I knew what I was doing
The team created a car that is an evolution of the fast car they had last year while engineering into it the ability to manage the tires very well. Of course this depends on many factors such as the weather, track surface, the track (how many corners, left or right track configuration, average speed, corner cambers, etc) and many other factors but Lotus got it right last weekend. But Lotus team principal Eric Boullier gave some interesting insight into the car's performance:
“It was exactly what we planned – the strategy was agreed before the race. The car has been designed successfully to save the tyres."
Designed to save the tires? We know from last season the E20 was very gentle on its tires, actually the Lotus was always gentle on its tires from day one. We've always known that, maybe they haven't been so good at the rest of the car but overall they have gotten stronger and stronger. But that is interesting, "designed" to save the tires. You can have the most powerful engine or the most downforce but if your tires are gone with 5 laps to go, you''ll be overtaken.

The car was so good with its tires that Raikkonen could just manage his pace during the last 10 laps with a 6 to 7 seconds gap to Alonso and even set the fastest lap in the end. This means he still had tires and pace in hand. This also meant that the team could make their 2 stop strategy work when all the other top teams had to make do with a 3 stop strategy. James Allen puts it nicely:
Kimi Raikkonen and Lotus sent out a powerful message to rivals by managing a two-stop strategy to perfection and taking a thrilling victory in Melbourne, ahead of Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel. And to rub it in, Raikkonen set the fastest lap of the race at the end, showing that he had more life left in his tyres.
We will have to see how this car adapts to different tracks and different weather conditions. As Malaysia is much hotter and humid than Australia, we will see how the Lotus will adapt to that. One good thing is that the Sepang track is smoother than Albert Park so should be gentler on the tires although if it gets really hot, track temperatures can go over 50c. So I foresee Lotus using strategy again to their advantage in coming races as they know they can save the tires during the race. Strategy will win it for them. Whether they can win the world championship, that depends on many factors.

Ferrari Returns?

The Ferraris who showed promise during winter testing duly delivered. They started the race P4 and P5 (Massa 3 thousands of a second ahead of Alonso, of course this didn't last very long) and immediately got a good start taking over Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton. At one point I thought OMG, not another 2011 as Vettel stretched a 2 second lead but then the Ferraris reeled him in and kept close for most of the race. Alonso made some clever moves such as pitting early to jump Massa and Vettel.

Easy eh Kimi? Ooh, I got something for you in Malaysia
I was cheering (with a raised clenched fist) when Alonso came out of the pits in front of Vettel. Then I found myself looking at myself. It was an awkward moment, never thought it would happen. But I guess it is because we as F1 fans cannot have the same man winning the championship 3 years in a row, much less 5 or  (God forbid) 7.

But from what I can see from this race, Ferrari has got the car right. It is fast out of the box even though it needs to manage the tires better and the team will need to come up with better strategies. One thing that has not changed is Felipe Massa. No, not his driving. His driving has changed for the better, he is fast and determined again. Just that he pitted at the wrong time which compromised his race. I honestly thought it was a team order again but Massa himself denied this, saying Alonso made a good call.
"When you're fighting with the guy at the front and then you lose two positions, you're always disappointed. Honestly it was a little bit too early to stop. We were planning to stop maybe three or four laps after. Looking at the degradation on the tyres, it was quite high. But he took a risk and it worked."
Red Bull has lost its' pace?

Vettel and Red Bull looked unbeatable in qualifying as they have always been. Vettel had looked set to again dominate from the outset after opening up a two second lead early on, but he was quickly hauled in by a quick starting Massa and Alonso. Vettel was on a 3 stop strategy as was the Ferraris but had no real pace to match Raikkonen or Alonso. I don't remember him having too many purple sectors during the race either. It is probably the tire wear on the red Bull, which is not as good as the Lotus or even the Ferrari.

Where's my pace? Who took my pace?
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner admitted to the high wear but is not concerned. They are always like that, aren't they? Of course they can't show their true feelings. I can't say much for Martin Whitmarsh though, he had a clear worried look on his face and in his voice. Horner is of the opinion that the high tire wear was the result of cooler conditions mixed with the set-up direction the team chose, and therefore curable for future races.
"Seb got a good start, built up the lead we wanted and then it was quite clear that the car was pretty heavy on the tyre. Then when you run in a bit of traffic as well that puts more stress on to the tyre. But I think probably the conditions were a significant factor today and we were just out of the window. All things considered, third place is actually a very, very good result."
Good save Christian. But say what you may, Red Bull did not have the race pace to match its qualifying efforts and with Webber ending the race in sixth place after KERS issues contributed to another poor start, it looks to be hard for Red Bull. But as we all know, Melbourne is not really an indicator of the season ahead. So it will be very interesting to see how they'll do in Sepang.

McLaren fallen to the wayside?

I have always been a fan of McLaren. But this year they have fallen way off. Their qualifying pace was not strong and worse was they still are making wrong decisions, like putting Perez on supersofts and then when it rained harder, pitting him for more supersofts. That was mind boggling. For once, McLaren started the race like a midfield team - Button started P10 and Perez P15. If Lewis was there, they would surely have had a car in the top 5.

They did not have much pace throughout the race, was stuck in traffic battling midfielders and their tires didn't last much either. The MP-28 is a different car than the MP4-27, McLaren ditched that car for a completely new one. They have admitted that they are facing issues understanding the new car, might revert back to the one (this says a lot) and made a mistake in testing in Jerez.

Mark, you got it the other way round mate....or did we?
A team of McLaren's calibre making rudimentary mistakes? Yes I like McLaren but they've been making too many mistakes since 2009. Maybe that's why Lewis left. But this mistake defies belief. It was revealed that a suspension component had been fitted incorrectly at the first pre-season test, a mistake which gave a false impression of the MP4-28's pace. The brilliant lap-time produced by Jenson Button at Jerez was the consequence of the team bolting on a new piece of suspension the wrong way round. But for Melbourne (and probably the rest of the season) the mistake had to be rectified because it made the MP4-28 sit too low on the road.

So Melbourne told the story for McLaren. The car now fitted correctly is too slow..period. The worried look on Martin Whitmarsh's face said it all.

Mercedes looking ahead

Mercedes are an improved team this year. We can see that from their testing pace and from the results of the first race. The car is fast (though not as fast as others at this race at least), it is somewhat reliable (at least in Lewis' hands, not sure why Rosberg keeps getting the reliability problems) and not too bad on its tires (although that didn't work out for Lewis in the final stint).

The Mercedes cars didn't really have a good start, especially for Lewis. He seemed to have bogged down a bit, although not as bad as Webber. Or maybe his grip was not really there at the start as Rosberg had a better start. Lewis lost 2 positions to the fast charging Ferraris at the start and then also to a cool Raikkonen. So that basically compromised his race. Still the raw pace showed by him and the steely determination to fight for positions will be good for Mercedes. As long as reliability stays good.

I'm gunning for y'all..
Lewis tried to go for a 2 stop strategy like Raikkonen but we saw that the W04 is not as kind to its tires as the E21 is. Lewis had to pit for another set after the first set of mediums were shot. Funny though that he managed to keep the supersofts on for 12 laps before that. Sometimes track evolution does strange things. Although overall he is happy with 5th and so am I. Imagine if he was still at McLaren? With the MP-28 the way it is. James Allen puts it succinctly:
Hamilton in his first race for Mercedes attempted an ambitious two-stop strategy but was forced in to a late tyre change to stop himself from dropping down the order. He lost out to both Ferraris at the start and did not quite have the pace to match the front-runners. However, it will still be a satisfying result for the Briton with his former employers much further down the order.
With the proper development, I feel that Mercedes will move up the grid as the season presses on. With proper tire management and strategies, we will see Lewis win at least one race this year. An intriguing and exciting prospect indeed. As for Rosberg, if he can get rid of the "Schumacher jinx", he might be able to finish races and score some points for the team.


How strange was that race for Sutil then? Force India started with the right strategy, Sutil started on the mediums because he was P11, the fastest of the midfield runners. He managed to stretch the tires on a very long first stint, holding back some fast cars such as Vettel and Alonso for many laps before swapping tires. Of course he needed to use the supersofts once in the race and Force India decided to it on the last stint to the finish, not knowing that the supersofts would fall to pieces and Sutil then proceeded to lose places at the end. But his mediums were still good to go, they should have pitted maybe around lap 54.

I'm back!
Sutil was a candidate for driver of the day with his return marked by leading the race twice. He would have lost his 7th place if not for team orders. Paul di Resta was coming up on him very fast and would have easily ovrtaken him if not for an order to hold station. di Resta was obviously not happy, referring to being "robbed".

As for the rest, well to be frank I didn't notice the rest. I was too engrossed by the top 5 teams that I lost track of the rest. Even McLaren was off the radar for long periods of time. Usually you can see how a team is doing in a race by the amount of time the race director focuses on them which corresponds to the amount of memory you have of them. But again as I've siad, this has been on of the more thrilling Australian GP I've seen. Thanks to Pirelli for the tire choice and construction.

Australia wasn't quite the story of the tortoise and the hare, but with Red Bull's sheer speed battered into submission by Lotus' clever cunning, it was certainly one of the most intriguing opening chapters read for many a year. Game on then, bring on Sepang!!

AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX, Melbourne, 58 laps, Dry throughout

1. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1h30m03.225s
2. Fernando Alonso Ferrari + 12.451s
3. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull + 22.346s
4. Felipe Massa Ferrari + 33.577s
5. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes + 45.561s
6. Mark Webber Red Bull + 46.800s
7. Adrian Sutil Force India + 1m05.068s
8. Paul di Resta Force India + 1m08.449s
9. Jenson Button McLaren + 1m21.630s
10. Romain Grosjean Lotus + 1m22.759s
11. Sergio Perez McLaren + 1m23.367s
12. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso + 1m23.857s
13. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber + 1 lap
14. Valtteri Bottas Williams + 1 lap
15. Jules Bianchi Marussia + 1 lap
16. Charles Pic Caterham + 2 laps
17. Max Chilton Marussia + 2 laps
18. Giedo van der Garde Caterham + 2 laps

If you enjoyed this posting, please do share it with your network so more people can enjoy it as well. Also, check out my t-shirt designs for Kimi Raikkonen fans below, click on image. This one is for Kimi winning.

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