After the more-surprising-than-expected qualifying session of the first race of the season, the starting grid looked curious since the front row lacked Christian Horner’s bulls. The front row was locked by the McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton (P1) & Jenson Button (P2), while the 2nd row had surprises in the form of Lotus’ Romain Grosjean & the seven time World Champion Michael Schumacher. The Red Bulls were as far as third row while the first Ferrari, that of Alonso, was on P12.
But the qualifying was just the tip of the iceberg, the bigger spectacle was the definitely the race. At the end of 58 laps, Jenson Button was the first to cross the finish line followed by the reigning World Champion Sebastain Vettel, while the last step of the podium was secured by Button’s team mate Lewis Hamilton.
Though there’s going to be in-season testing as well as other developments through the course of the season, but at the end of the first race everyone got an idea about the cars, drivers’ form and the amount of work that needs to be done to achieve their targets.
Here are the findings from the first race.
McLaren: McLaren made a perfect start to their 2012 campaign with a front row qualifying and double podium finish at the Albert Park. McLaren also proved all the critics wrong, and showed that one doesn’t need a platypus-nosed car to go fast; a fact that 10 other teams refuted at the start of the 2012 season. In fact, their MP4-27 is not just the best looking car on the grid but it’s also the fastest.
Jenson Button: Looking at Button’s success percentage in Melbourne, it won’t be surprising if they rename the circuit to Button Park. This was Jenson Button’s 3rd victory at Albert Park, in last 4 instances. This guy definitely looks like one of the two contenders whom I’d put my money on.
Lewis Hamilton: Though he finished the race in 3rd, he would be kicking himself, given the fact that he had qualified on P1. This guy sure has talent but he lacks the finesse that some other drivers have. Though he has one of the fastest car on the grid, in my opinion he would end the season as 4th or 5th fastest.
Prediction for the season: McLaren will lift the Constructor’s Trophy. Jenson Button is one of the 2 guys who has a fighting chance for the Driver’s Championship. Lewis Hamilton on the other hand will finish 4th or 5th fastest.
Red Bull Racing: After the Brazilian GP last year, while all the other teams were working hard to build a car for the 2012 season, Red Bull engineer were busy holidaying. Or sleeping. Either of the two. Red Bull seems to have taken a step backwards with RB8. The car is no match for McLaren & if you look at the numbers from qualifying and pre-season testing, even Mercedes is faster than RBR.
Sebastian Vettel: Though Abbey isn’t really up to the mark, Vettel still managed to finish in 2nd position, living up to his World Champion reputation.
Mark Webber: He had a reasonable weekend where he qualified in P5 and crossed the finish line in 4th place.
Prediction: RB8 is not looking too good this time around and I’m expecting RBR to finish 2nd, at best, possibly 3rd. Christian Horner will require to fuel this time on Red Bulls (that shouldn’t be difficult) and put some extra hours if he wants to repeat last year’s success. Sebastian Vettel will be the third or fourth best driver this season, while Mark Webber will happily continue being the second driver in the team. He might also end up being Red Bull Racing’s Massa by the end of the season.
Ferrari: At the end of pre-season testing, Ferrari admitted that they’re not very confident of the car, and the race just proved their case.
Fernando Alonso: Despite qualifying in 12th place owing to his mistake in Q2 which saw him land in gravel trap, he brought his car home in a credible 5th position. He is delivering to his potential, now it’s up to Ferrari to deliver him a car that can challenge for the podium.
Felipe Massa: This man is under all kinds of pressure and that is being reflected in his driving. In qualifying, he barely managed to get through to Q2 and despite Alonso’s mistake, Massa still qualified 4 places below him. Though he made up place in the initial part of the race, bad luck continued to haunt him as he had to retire owing to extensive car damage after a racing incident with Bruno Senna.
Prediction: Constructor’s Championship is a distant dream and it seems Ferrari will need to fight really hard just to hold on to their last year’s no. 3 position. Despite F2012 lacking the race pace, I believe Alonso is one of the two guys (other one being Button, as earlier stated) who has the potential to steal the World Champion crown from Vettel. However, his teammate Massa lies at the other end of the spectrum, who will fight for his survival in the team and he’ll be lucky if he doesn’t get replaced before the Brazilian GP.
Mercedes: Mercedes have some good as well as bad news. Good news is that they certainly have the race pace and can easily out qualify Red Bull. While the bad news is that they’ll need to work on reliability of the car. Mercedes was definitely the biggest disappointment on Sunday, given their qualifying status.
Michael Schumacher: After qualifying in 4th, everyone expected Schumacher to finish on podium but the faulty gearbox made him retire. This means that the “Old Schumi” is back and he has a car to match his potential; now if only Ross Brawn can make this car reliable too.
Nico Rosberg: Unlike his teammate, Nico did manage to finish the race but without any points. Pretty ordinary performance from him and the team.
Prediction: Mercedes looks like the only team that can match McLarens pace and they should end the season pretty close at the top. Probably in second place. Michael Schumacher will rake in few wins and he may have a big say in deciding the World Champion. Nico won’t be able to outclass Schumi this time around but he will continue to be one of the best middle-pack drivers, notching up a podium or two along the way.
Lotus: Lotus has delivered a car that’s much better than everyone expected. They are definitely the best-of-the-rest this season.
Kimi Raikkonen: Kimi’s failure to get through to Q2 and Grosjean’s P3 qualification got everyone doubting the Finn’s abilities. But the Iceman’s 7th place finish, 11 places higher his qualification, shut the critics up.
Romain Grosjean: The young man has talent but lacks experience. After a dream qualification debut with P3, he was expected to get his Lotus across the line on podium. But his race ended prematurely when Pastor Maldonado decided to take a closer look at his Lotus.
Prediction: Lotus will be often seen fighting for the podium in the races to come and they may end the season in 5th place. The Iceman will surely leave his mark on the season with a podium or two. Grosjean will come of age and as he gains more experience, he’ll stop making rookie mistakes and we’ll see him crossing the finishing line in top 5, few times during the season.
Sahara Force India: Along with his airlines, Dr. Mallya’s F1 team also seems to have taken a dip. The team that showed so much promise at Barcelona pre-testing, seemed off-color in the race.
Nico Hulkenberg: The young guy who showed lot of promised the last time he was behind the wheel of the car, seems to be having trouble getting back to the Sunday racing. After out-qualifying his team mate on Saturday, the German failed to get past the first corner. He may take a race or two to get back to his racing best.
Paul di Resta: Paul was the only high point of SFI’s Sunday as he managed to take the last point by finishing 10th.
Prediction: Force India will find it exceedingly tough to hold on to their last year’s 6th place and may even slip to 7th. Their second half of the season will be much better compared to the first half. Nico will take few races to warm up but later on he will outperform his teammate. Paul may face pressure from within the team once Nico starts performing better.
Sauber: They had a dream start to the 2012 season. P6 & P8 is something they never thought they’d achieve and probably they’re going to continue this form.
Kamui Kobayashi: This drive saw him defend his position from the former World Champion Kimi Raikkonen. The Japanese driver totally deserved his 6th place finish.
Sergio Perez: The best part about his drive was his fight with Ricciardo, di Resta & Verge for P8 on the very last lap. The four driver finished the race almost together.
Prediciton: Sauber will give Force India a run for it’s money and will probably trump them by the end of the season. Kobayashi will come of age in this season and get the recognition he deserves while Perez may replace a shaken-up Brazilian in a bigger team.
Toro Rosso: A relatively decent race for STR, where for the most part they were racing their nearest rival SFI.
Daniel Ricciardo: Nearly overtook Perez on the last lap while avoiding being overtaken by Di Resta.
Jean-Eric Vergne: Biggest loser in the battle for P7 while fighting Perez, Di Resta & team mate Ricciardo. Finished 3 tenths of a second behind Perez and just 1 tenths of a second behind 10th place Paul.
Prediction: STR will spend the whole season fighting SFI & Williams. Sauber may prove a bit too strong for them. Ricciardo will show few flashes of brilliance and will concentrate on building a reputation of finishing in top 10 while his rookie teammate Verge will look to learn as much as possible and won’t prove too much of a scare to any of the top10 drivers.
Williams: The looked strong through out the weekend and the final race result doesn’t do any justice to their pace.
Pastor Maldonado: The results show Maldonado classified as 13th place finish but when he started the last lap he was and chasing Alonso who was running in 5th place. An expensive mistake on the last lap saw his race ending in barriers. That doesn’t take away the fact that Williams and Maldonado are in super form and they’ll be back fighting for points and maybe even podiums.
Bruno Senna: His race ended prematurely owing to a racing incident with Felipe Massa. One of those rare accidents where the other driver didn’t ruthlessly drove into the back of the Massa’s car.
Prediction: Williams & Sauber are going to lead the middle-pack for most part of the season. Maldonado & Senna are more or less equally matched and their friendly competition will benefit the team as whole. Maldonado may outpace the Brazilian 60-40.
Caterham: The team looked a pale shadow of themselves and the reliability of the cars remains a big issue.
Heikki Kovalainen & Vitaly Petrov qualified just ahead of the two Marussia drivers. And their race ended due to technical issues with the car.
Prediction: Technical issues will haunt the team for most part of the season and they’ll barely managed to stay ahead of Marussia & HRT. Petrov will outpace Kovalainen by some margin.
Marussia: They secured the very last row of the grid. Only delight was that they managed to qualify for the race, unlike HRT, their nearest rival.
Timo Glock: There’s a reason why he is still suck with as a back-marker team. His biggest contribution to F1 is and will be the 2008 Brazilian GP.
Charles Pic: After qualifying 22nd and last he failed to finish his the race on his debut.
Prediction: Marussia will battle it out with HRT to avoid last place finish and will pull it off with ease. Timo will finish higher than Pic most of the times but Pic’s flashes of brilliance will make everyone realize that the rookie is more talented.
HRT: Failed to qualify for the race. Their cars weren’t good enough to post a time inside the 107% time of the leader. Heartbreak for Pedro de la Rosa & Narain Karthikeyan.
Prediction: HRT will race rest of the races. And fight Marussia to avoid last place finish but they’ll fail to do so at most times. Narain Karthikeyan will be in news for various reasons.