Button 'op' top of action-packed race down under Once again Lady Luck abandoned Sebastian Vettel, this time a faulty wheel nut decided the outcome of the race, and ended the aspirations of the 22- year old German Red Bull driver, who ended up in...
Button 'op' top of action-packed race down under
Once again Lady Luck abandoned Sebastian Vettel, this time a faulty wheel nut decided the outcome of the race, and ended the aspirations of the 22- year old German Red Bull driver, who ended up in the gravel trap at Turn 13 after he hit the brakes on lap 26 of the Australian Grand Prix. Vettel was in command of the race from the moment the lights turned to green, and without this unfortunate incident, he surely would have won the race. Vettel's Australian team mate Mark Webber had a very eventful race and wasn't happy about the outcome of his race either, but said he at least had tried to make the best of it: "I went down fighting, I wasn't happy with sixth place and wanted to get a podium, but in the end it was a tough day for the team."
Of course Vettel was bitterly disappointed to see another 25 points disappear at the horizon. He initially thought it was a brake disc failure but the team's technicians determined that the problem was a loose wheel nut, which had damaged the wheel mounting. A frustrated Vettel about his race: "It's a shame as I think we had the race in total control at every stage, even though the conditions were difficult. It's nobody's fault, we're working hard to get on top the reliability issues and we hope to have a solid race and see the chequered flag in Malaysia." Which means he and his team are aware of the fact that the fastest car on the grid is worth nothing if it doesn't finish the race.
Just ten minutes before the start the rain came down, and worried drivers, team bosses and mechanics were seen frantically running around on the start grid and discussing the change of strategy that came along with the rain. The weather radar revealed the rain wouldn't last longer than 15 minutes, so what to do? All teams decided to play it safe and started on the Bridgestone intermediates.
At the start Felipe Massa took second place from Webber, but at the first corner team mate Fernando Alonso didn't give Jenson Button, who was on the inside of the corner, enough room, the pair collided and Alonso hit Michael Schumacher's Mercedes before he ended up facing the circuit in the wrong way. He had to wait until the whole field had passed him before he could point his Ferrari in the right direction again. Schumacher's front wing was damaged and he had to pit to replace it.
Also on the first lap, Kamui Kobayashi lost his front wing just before Turn 6, which got stuck under his front wheels, and after plowing through the grass, he crossed the track and collected the Williams of Nico H?lkenberg and the Toro Rosso of Sebastien Buemi, before he and his BMW-Sauber, minus a few wheels and parts, ended in the barriers. All three drivers were able to walk away unscathed from this spectacular accident which also prompted the safety car to come onto the track.
Kobayashi, who lost his front wing for the third time this weekend, about his accident: "It looks as if I touched a curb or another car in Turn 3. I had no worries about the front wing, but a few corners later it went off and got stuck under the car. At first I had no idea what had happened. I had no control anymore."
On lap four the safety car turned off the track and the race was restarted, with Alonso and Schumacher now in last position. The rain had stopped and Button was losing positions, he was passed by his team mate Lewis Hamilton and fell back to seventh position. Button took a gamble and came in for slick tyres on lap six. After he changed to the slick tyres, he went off the track, but was able to work his way out of the gravel. Although Button at that moment thought he made the wrong call, his decision turned out to be the key to his win in Melbourne.
When Button had finished two laps on his slicks, the other teams realized he was much quicker and also decided to change to slicks. During lap 9 and 10 the pit lane was buzzing with activity when almost the complete field stopped for slicks, and on lap 11 the race order was: Vettel, Button, Kubica, Rosberg, Massa, Webber, Hamilton, Barrichello, De la Rosa and Alonso, who had by then taken tenth position.
But the conditions on the track remained a little tricky and much to the delight of the fans the race developed into an overtaking fiesta. On lap 16 Webber attacked Massa, but braked too late and was passed by Hamilton who was just waiting for such a mistake, and Massa got in front of him again as well. Instead of moving up one place, he lost two positions. Many drivers made the same mistake as Webber when they tried to overtake, and lost the position they just gained. On lap 22 Barrichello, De la Rosa, Liuzzi and Alguersuari were the 'best of the rest'.
After Vettel was eliminated on lap 26, Button found himself in first position, followed by Kubica, Hamilton, Rosberg, Massa, Webber and Alonso. By then teams faced another tough decision, pit for fresh tyres or carry on and nurse the tyres and hopefully make it to the finish. On lap 34 McLaren decided to call Hamilton into the pits for fresh tyres. Rosberg and Webber already made the switch and were considerably quicker, and McLaren thought Hamilton would be much quicker as well.
Although he lost two places during his pit stop, Hamilton immediately was the fasted man on the circuit with his new tyres, and was at least 1 second faster -- and in some cases even 2.5 seconds -- than the rest. He came closer and closer to Alonso who was in fourth place. All four drivers in front of Hamilton had decided not to stop for new tyres, and had to be careful not to overheat them. Button had no worries about his tyres at all, his smooth driving style kept his tyres in shape, and he was even pulling away from Kubica who was in second position.
With still nine laps to go, the order was now Button, Kubica, Massa, Alonso, Hamilton and Webber. Hamilton radioed to his team his tyres were 'going off' when he was tailgating the Ferrari of Alonso and also questioned the decision his team made: "Whose call was it to bring me in? Freaking stupid idea!" Meanwhile, Webber was still behind Hamilton and when Hamilton decided to attack Alonso on lap 56, Alonso defended his position and kept the McLaren at the outside line of the corner, surprising Webber who was too close behind Hamilton when he braked for the corner. Webber smashed his Red Bull into the back of the McLaren, and both went off the track at Turn 13. Hamilton was able to resume the race in sixth position, but Webber's front wing was badly damaged and he had to limp back to the pits to replace it, and rejoined the race in ninth position. Button was unmoved by the mayhem behind him and went on to win his first race for McLaren. Kubica and Massa crossed the line in second and third position, for the complete race result see the link at the bottom of this page.
Button steals the win, but Kubica steals the show
One man deserves our special attention: Robert Kubica. He once again proved he is a thoroughbred Formula One racer, and a fighter who simply never gives up, even if the odds are against him. The Renault isn't exactly the fasted machine on the grid this season, but Kubica made the most of it and qualified in ninth position for the race. After the start he managed to steer clear of the carnage in front of him, and at the second lap he was in fourth position. After the pit stops he was already in third position behind race winner Button.
It is extremely difficult to race for 58 laps with other drivers constantly breathing down your neck, but Kubica showed what he's made of and never made a mistake, while other drivers, including the four world champions Button, Hamilton, Alonso and Schumacher, had many problems to stay on the track in these treacherous conditions. Kubica successfully fended off the many attacks from Hamilton, Massa and Alonso, and at the same time managed to look after his tyres.
But Kubica also realized he had some luck during the race, and knows he is still in for a very tough season: "We know there is still a long way to go before we are really competitive with the fastest teams, but this is a brilliant boost for everybody in the team." Although he remains realistic himself, his extraordinary race talents makes you wonder what he could do behind the wheel of a Ferrari or a McLaren...
The fight for not being the last
Again problems with the XTrack designed hydraulics for Virgin, HRT and Lotus. Jarno Trulli (Lotus) didn't start at all due to a hydraulic leak that could not be fixed in time, and both Virgin cars were suffering from a fuel pick-up problem, The team opted to break the Parc Ferm? rules to replace the fuel pumps, so both Virgin drivers had to start from the pit lane. Not that it mattered much, because before they started they already knew they would never finish the race, because the by Nick Wirth designed Virgin car apparently doesn't hold enough fuel to finish the race.
Only Karun Chandhok (HRT) and Heikki Kovalainen (Lotus) made it to the finish, albeit several laps behind the winner. Chandhok was the last to cross the finish line, but did a fantastic job, which was a great boost for the moral of the Spanish team. De la Rosa took the honors for the BMW- Sauber team, by finishing in twelfth position.
Is Hamilton under pressure after he severed the ties with his father and manager Anthony Hamilton? This weekend Hamilton was again haunted by the 2009 lie-gate scandal, team boss Martin Whitmarsh advised him to look for a new manager, he failed to qualify for Q3, and after the race he openly criticized his team for bringing him in for a second pit stop and suggested this move cost his team a 1-2 win. He probably forgot McLaren only came into play after Vettel had retired from the race.
To add to his misery, on Saturday evening Hamilton was booked by Melbourne police for 'improper use of a vehicle', after he was caught doing smoky burnouts and 'fish-tailing' in a Mercedes road car near the Albert Park circuit. TV images showed a very unhappy Hamilton on the back seat of a police car, with a McLaren employee trying to fend off the reporters who had quickly arrived at the scene, while at the background his Mercedes, which was impounded by the police for 48 hours, was loaded on a truck. Not a pretty picture at all.
A little reminder seems in place here, these were Hamilton's exact words during a meeting of the of the FIA 'Make Roads Safe' campaign two weeks ago in London: "So the message I want to send out to drivers is: take a step back and think before you act. You could easily make a mistake and lose a friend's life or your own life. It's about being sensible and making the right decisions on the road. If you want to have fun, go to a go-kart circuit". He clearly didn't follow his own advice.
Another man under pressure is Schumacher, his race return has sofar not been very successful. After the first corner incident he was in last position, and after overtaking a few cars he got stuck behind the Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari and only managed to pass him after 13 laps. But after both made their pit stop, Schumacher was again in the same situation and couldn't overtake Algueruari until lap 53. He finished in tenth place, but remained optimistic about the pace of the Mercedes. Of course it was bad luck when he was hit by Alonso, it certainly ruined his chances, but Alguersuari must have had the day of his life when he successfully fended off Schumacher's attempts to overtake him for so many laps.
Busy weekend for the FIA
On Friday the FIA Stewards agreed to decrease the pit lane speed limit during the race and qualifying to 60 km/h instead of the usual 100 km/h. Petrov was fined 7,000 Euro for exceeding the pit lane speed limit, and the same offence cost Senna and Sutil both 1,600 Euro. On Saturday H?lkenberg was fined 1,800 Euro for exceeding the pit lane speed limit, and De la Rosa got reprimanded for impeding during the last free practice session. On Sunday Webber was reprimanded for causing a collision with Hamilton at the end of the race. The Stewards also reported that all drivers have sofar this season used one engine each, except Massa and Alonso, who used their second engine of the season.
Reactions after the race
No complaints about a lack of action this time, the race turned out to be one of the most thrilling Australian GP events of the last decades. Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost: "This was a fantastic and very interesting Formula 1 race and a lesson to those who seem to want to change the rules of the sport every five minutes." Quotes from the media: "A high-quality, helter- skelter race; the tonic Formula 1 needed after the Bahrain dirge; more action in two minutes in Melbourne than in two hours in Bahrain; the race didn't disappoint -- relegating the memories of boring F1 back to oblivion again; a dramatic Australian GP that firmly gave the lie to suggestions that F1 is boring; drama, spectacular accidents and amazing turnarounds; Australia thrills to silence F1 doubters; F1 answers critics in style."
Fernando Alonso drew his own conclusion: "Now maybe we won't talk about boring races anymore -- for one week at least." And he's right, but at least there is a chance of rain during the race in Malaysia next weekend, so who knows, the race could become a real treat again.
See also: Australian GP: Race results