There are a whole lot of people like me who eagerly wait the exhilarating season of Formula 1. This 2012 season is very special. Not only is it going to be the longest, with the US Grand Prix making its debut, but it is also a season featuring six World Champions for the very first time as Kimi Raikkonen makes in comeback in Lotus F1 Racing. Michael Schumacher (7), Fernando Alonso (2), Sebastian Vettel (2), Kimi Raikkonen (1), Lewis Hamilton (1) and Jenson Button (1) between them have 14 World Championships. Not only is it great marketing for the sport but also great viewership, hoping they all have competitive cars at some point in the season.
The year’s season kicks off with the Australian Grand Prix held at Albert Park, Melbourne. Though a street circuit with the Albert Park roads used 9-10 months by the public, it is very much like a racing circuit. Fortunes fluctuated during Friday and Saturday Practice with Jenson Button of McLaren, Michael Schumacher of Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton of McLaren taking top spots in first, second and third practices. Both Mercedes powered cars topped practice and looked like race winning cars.
Saturday qualifying started off with great disappointment for Raikkonen who ran wide just slightly and missed the chequered flag to set time in Q1. The Ferraris appeared to struggle during the pre-season testing and were the next set of casualties in Q2. Filipe Massa’s wrestle with his car and F1 racing in general continued as he ended with a disappointing 16th. Fernando Alonso erred on the first corner and could not set a reasonable time, yet out qualified his team mate with 12th position at the end of Q2.
The first few races can throw in some surprises and Q3 saw Pastor Maldonado of Williams, Nico Hulkenburg of Sahara Force India and Daniel Ricciardo of Toro Rosso as surprise entries. McLaren and Mercedes showed clear domination with the Red Bulls looking slightly pale. However, one Romain Grosjean of Lotus, making a comeback in F1, spoilt the party with a superb third place finish. Hamilton took pole, followed by teammate Button.
Sunday afternoon saw an action packed race with a great start by Button taking lead in the first corner. The first corner dramas saw a tragic exit for Hulkenburg while Grosjean’s dream run stalled early with a broken steering on lap 2. Both Ferraris made a great start to stomp into the top 10, with Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg running up to forth. With Raikkonen at the back of the field, there were fireworks guaranteed and he did not disappoint. 2011 World Champion Sebastian Vettel followed up by a good move on Rosberg and started catching up with Schumacher. The seven-time World Champion who was looking good had a bitter end with a mechanical failure after not being able to select a gear.
Kamui Kobayashi of Sauber is one who never holds back to pull off some very impressive overtaking moves especially with the car he has, and does them quite cleanly, provided enough action in the midfield battle. Raikkonen too pulled off some fantastic moves; probably the best being on Kobayashi who intern was then trying a move on Massa. Massa eventually retired and one of the commentators echoed my feelings – he just hasn’t been the driver we’ve known after his accident in Hungary 2009.
Just around the second round of pitstops, Petrov’s Caterham broke down and bought in the safety car, which helped Vettel leapfrog Hamilton. The top five then stayed as in until the race end but once again the midfield battle wasn’t something to miss. Maldonado who drove a brilliant race to be up into sixth made a rookie mistake on a kerb to crash out on the last lap with Rosberg seeming to loose drive towards the end. Kobayashi and Raikkonen made the most of the situation to finish sixth and seventh, with less than a second separating the last five finishers. The last lap had enough action to warrant at least half a dozen separate replays.
When the five red lights went out, it was Hamilton, but the man to take the chequered flag was his teammate Button. Here’s a bit of trivia, the last five drivers to win the first race of the season have gone on to be World Champions. Statistically, it’s a good time to bet!