Welcome to 2012: Australian GP

The first race of any season is undoubtably the best preview to the year ahead than any testing, free practice or PR waffle; and to paraphrase last year’s champion driver it’s where ‘everyone pulls down their pants and show what they’ve got’. Eloquent perhaps not, but apt nonetheless. Until the teams are pitted against each other once the lights go out, nothing is really set in stone for the season, in fact qualifying didn’t quite reveal everything. Although it certainly highlighted the mountain some have to climb and others have apparently overcome during the Winter.

Super Seven Moments of the Australian GP weekend

1. Button pulling a Vettel

It’s an unfortunate comparison, but truthful nonetheless. Button made a Vettelian start, streaking off the line leaving the rest in the dust to play catch-up. Lap after lap the British driver pumped in the times to pull away from the chasing pack, proving that the Winter was kind to the 2011 runners up. Hamilton himself fared well, a pitstop strategy allowed Vettel past, but despite a less than impressive attitude post-race he managed to hold off Webber to the very end to ensure the full McLaren presence on the podium.

2. Riding the Lotus-coaster

It was two distinct set of fortunes on Saturday with Romain Grosjean making a shock, but very welcome, addition to the top three after qualifying. His return couldn’t have gone better, if, race day was in fact on Saturday. His presence on Sunday may have been minimal but the weekend illustrated the talents that warranted his return. Kimi Raikkonen on the other hand dropped out of qualifying in Q1, but swiftly reminded everyone exactly what made him a champion by slicing his way through the pack, but not without a little confusion over blue flags along the way. Thankfully his race engineer informed him they were for others, not him!

3. Sunnyside up at Williams

Not one heart couldn’t be swelled with hope by the performance of the William’s duo across the weekend, following a poor showing last season this one had to be a vast improvement from the off. They may not have scored a point, but it was oh so tantalisingly close with one driver on the hunt. Pastor Maldonado clearly decided to begin stripping away his ‘pay driver’ label by sticking close to the likes of Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull in the middle of the top ten. In the latter stages putting the pressure on Fernando Alonso (yes, Alonso), but an unfortunate mistake on the last lap put him head first into the wall (unhurt but naturally disappointed). But just to make sure the critics were divided, his less than graceful driving saw him bash his way through the grid.

4. Red Bull almost but not quite

It’s hardly a crisis, but following an out of character qualifying Webber (5th) and Vettel (6th) the double championship team was put under close scrutiny. Considering their form off the bat last season it wasn’t the easy pole to podium race they’re used to, instead we got the opportunity to watch both driver carve through the grid, Vettel especially proved he can deal with traffic and Webber finally did better than 5th but still missed out on a podium after a questionable start.

5. Ferrari divided

Ferrari promised to go more complex with their car design, they did and it looks like it has been disastrous. But what it has done is provided an opportunity for Fernando Alonso to demonstrate exactly why his peers consider him the ‘most complete driver on the grid’. A handful to drive, Alonso dragged the beast around Albert Park to park it in a respectable 5th, lauded by rivals and press equally. Felipe Massa however had a weekend from hell, qualifying in a distant 16th he retired with 12 laps left with accident damage, headlines are already speculating over a mid-season replacement for the Brazilian.

6. Optimism rules at HRT

Failing to qualify for the Australian GP for the second year running doesn’t bode well for the visible struggling team, seen still building the cars during practice fails to build confidence for their survival beyond the season. Nonetheless both drivers are unfailingly optimistic about Malaysia, although what they can do in a week remains to be seen, especially when the forecast is wet.

7. Points on the board

Finally there was a great collection of names in the points from fifth onwards. Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi took back the points that were taken from them last year following a technical infringement and subsequent disqualification. Raikkonen wasted no time in opening his 2012 chequing account, and the same goes for Paul Di Resta after a difficult weekend. And in front of his home crowd Daniel Ricciardo scored his first championship points, what a weekend.

Awesome-o-meter

If Australia is merely an indication as to where we’re heading things may not come easily to Red Bull as they did in 2011, but it doesn’t look like it’ll come easy to any one team. Although McLaren look mighty already, which puts them in an instantly better position than last year which saw them make last minute changes, similar to Red Bull this season. The midfield fight should be action packed with several teams making a noticeable improvement already, Williams should have been in the point and Toro Rosso along with Sauber have started strongly. Watching Maldonado chace down Alonso was highly exciting, but the Venezuelan driver must take some etiquette lessons because driving through the competition isn’t overtaking.

Ferrari look to have a fight on their hands this year to keep their head above water, but having a talented team with talented drivers will help. Once more questions surround Massa, but being compared to Alonso is always going to be tough, but before judgement is passed on the Brazilian improvements have to be made to the machine. This is not to say he is excused entirely.

So here’s to 2012!

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