By Hannah Taylor, F1 Correspondent
- Rookies end first race with ups and downs
- Perez celebrates before Sauber has technical DQ
F1 Drivers battle under new rules in Australian season opener
In the early hours of this morning the Albert Park Circuit, played host to the fifteenth Australian Grand Prix, and opening race of the Formula One 2011 season.
As well as fighting for position with each other, and the challenge of the track with its 10 right-handers and 6 left, the drivers had the new rules, and car developments in the mix. All of these seemed to come together, and made for an exciting race for all to observe.
"I will never forget this race, that is certain.
For the first race on the Formula 1 calendar, the drivers had the opportunity to put their new gadgets to the test on their cars. There is the introduction of the Drag Reduction System (DRS), which comes in the form of a movable rear wing and assists with overtaking. However, the drivers were only permitted to activate it, between Turn 14 and Turn 16 on the start/finish line, within a one second window on the circuit. The FIA has also stated that drivers must not use it, until after the first two laps of the race.
It was not until lap 25 in the Grand Prix, that the DRS could be put into practice. Jenson Button was the man who made the most of his opportunity, and tackled the Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi using the DRS. The overtake seemed to work perfectly for the Mclaren driver, who as a result snatched seventh place at the time.
One other feature at the hands of the drivers in the cockpit, is the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS), which has reappeared after being taken away for the 2010 season. This particular element works to break energy, as a power boost and increases acceleration. The only disadvantage to KERS, is that it increases rear tyre wear. For some drivers this proved to be the case, as three visits to the pits were needed for new tyres. Although this meant drivers would have to make up their lap times again, they could incorporate the use of another rule for 2011. The FIA has stated that all drivers must use both tyre compounds during a race, otherwise they will be issued with a penalty.
Despite the possible downside to using KERS, Button opted to use it on lap eight in an attempt to catch Felipe Massa and take fifth place. Unfortunately, it appeared that Button did not have quite the boost he needed at the time, and Massa was on form breaking away from him.
As with the outcome of qualifying yesterday and in today's race, Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, managed to build a large lead away from the rest of the field, and was not thought to be using KERS to assist in the process. The German was unstoppable and went on to convert his pole position into a podium finish, which follows on from his World Championship victory at the end of last season.
As well as the seasoned drivers having to get used to the new rules and features on their cars, the newest faces in the paddock had the added pressure of an unfamiliar environment. Even though all of them brought other racing experience to the sport and F1 tests, after today's race they have now had the taste, of a fully functioning Formula One weekend.
Overall, the rookies had a positive start to their new racing career. However, it was only Pastor Maldonado that failed to finish the race. Due to suffering a transmission problem on his Williams beyond his control, the Venezuelan driver was forced to retire from the race on lap nine.
"There were some big moments going into the first two corners, but I cam through them ok. I was then getting settled into the race, everything was feeling ok in the car, I felt good and then it went. I'll now just look forward to getting back out there again in Malaysia" explained Maldonado.
The remaining three drivers all went on to cross the finish line, with Sergio Perez out performing his new rivals. The Mexican brought his Sauber back in one piece, and not only beat his team mate, Kobayashi to seventh position, but also gained six points for himself in the Drivers' Standings. From lap 20 of the race Perez maintained eighth place all the way until lap 49. On lap 40 he also set the fastest lap of the race, and recorded a time under 1m30secs.
The opportunity arose for Perez on lap 49, when he was all over the back of Felipe Massa's Ferrari. The Brazilian then had to pit for new tyres, which landed Perez seventh position until the end of the race. Miraculously, the rookie had only made one pit stop on lap 23, over the 58 laps of the race, and managed his tyres all the way to the chequered flag.
Perez was thrilled with his achievement in his Formula One debut and said, "I will never forget this race, that is certain... I am very proud of my team, the strategy worked and it was a nice surprise the tyres lasted so long. I want to thank everybody, especially in Mexico, who helped me get into Formula One."
Perez, however, will go home empty-handed due to the disqualification by the FIA Stewards after the post-race technical inspection. The stewards discovered the rear wing of the Sauber C30 was not conform the regulations. Therefore, both Perez and his Sauber teammate, Kobayashi, were stripped of their results and any points garnered were null and void.
Among the other new faces in the sport, Paul di Resta also made his mark in his Australian debut. There were in team battles between the Scotsman and his Force India team mate, Adrian Sutil, as the pair fought for position on the track. Early on in the race di Resta impressed with his performance, as he made his way from 14th to 11th position. It was from then on around lap nine that the drivers had a friendly scrap, and Sutil held off his team mate for 12th place for quite some time.
With team orders now legal in the sport it was not clear whether this had been put into action on lap 47 by the Force India team. It was reported that they had adapted their strategy, which led to the drivers swapping grid positions in the race. At that stage di Resta was ahead in 11th place, while team mate Sutil was just behind in 12th position but they soon reversed. Both drivers completed the Grand Prix in those remaining places, and unfortunately just missed out on the points.
Di Resta was fairly pleased with the way his race went, but is looking forward to the next race: "Our pace was just a little bit behind today, but hopefully by Malaysia we will be able to understand why and, when the upgrades come, perform a bit better... I am going into Malaysia to try to do a better job than I did here today, but overall I am relatively happy".
The fourth and final rookie in the field seemed to have a fairly quiet Australian debut. Nonetheless, Jerome d'Ambrosio still brought his car to the finish, and secured the last grid position, which was sixteenth place due to the six retirees.
D'Ambrosio was also positive about his first F1 race performance. "I'm really happy to have finished my first Formula One Grand Prix... I would like to thank the team for a great job all weekend. We had a very productive time and we will carry the lessons through to the next race in Malaysia and hopefully start moving forward from there," he said.
With the first race of the 2011 season under their belt, the F1 drivers will be looking ahead to their next challenge, as they travel to Sepang for the Malaysian Grand Prix in two weeks time. This will not only give the existing drivers a chance to try out their developed cars, but will also be new territory for the rookies and the new rules to work within.