The 2012 season may have ended with a bang, but I must admit, I didn’t really think this season would be special. It almost felt like I was asking for too much. So, Sunday morning, I sent up a quick prayer for peace, patience and happiness – as I geared up for a race day with The Finger pointed straight at me. But I didn’t count for two men who set the track on fire. It was guts and glory, baby, through and through.
It began with the rain. Now, I never complain of rain on race weekends. Because Mother Nature strikes, and then all the F1 cards lie scattered, hither thither. It’s the best thing ever. So, Qualifying Saturday got postponed to Sunday (not that that would have ever happened in F1’s golden era of yore). Then during Qualifying, The Finger and his Aussie teammate grabbed the 1st and 2nd position, with Lew-Lew going for a 3rd in his spanking-new Mercedes. It did seem like good ole’ Hamilton’s decision to ditch McLaren was a smart one. Well, the rain didn’t really come back, except for a smattering here and there.
And so the lights went red for the first time this year and set off a race that was anything but ordinary. I clapped my hands, tweeted like a woman possessed, screamed and yelled in joy, and made a nuisance of myself in general. But you can’t really blame me now, can you?
The Oz King: Kimi Räikkönen
I shouldn’t really have to say anything other than this. But I must. It was an impeccable, stunning drive; it was a race to perfection. The Ice Man was cool, calm, collected and after downing a little champagne, even spoke at length on the podium. He was on a two-pit strategy and gave us brilliant battles along the way, especially with Hamilton; their face-off was immense. But he soon put the Silver Arrows in their place. He later said, “We’ve had a quick car all weekend and there were no issues with it either, so we could just focus on trying different things and getting the setup how we wanted. I had a good feeling that we would be ok with the tyres after practice and the team got the strategy perfect…You can’t start the season much better than winning the first race and of course we hope we can be fighting at the front of the Championship, but there’s a long way to go still and we need to keep pushing hard all the way.”
The Prancing Horse was off to a flying start and it looked like the Ferraris would reign in Vettel’s Red Bull. The first lap had Felipe Massa at 2nd with Fernando Alonso in the 3rd. At one point, Massa desperately radioed asking for help and direction. The track ahead is clear, he was told, do what you can. But it became obvious that Alonso was still king in the team. An early pit stop saw Alonso move past his Brazilian teammate to take 2nd position. Massa grabbed 4th, scoring crucial points for the race. But, one thing’s for sure. Alonso better watch out. Massa, it seems, is back in form and ready to rock n’ roll.
Bullying The Bull
It soon became obvious that the Lotus and Ferrari were the fastest on track. The race started with Mark Webber sliding woefully down the grid into absolute oblivion, until very end that is. Vettel meanwhile spent the better part of the race trying to get past the Ice Man and his Ferrari rivals. It looked like the Bull was not up to the mark – at least at the Australian circuit. The Finger had no option, but to save face with a measly 3rd. He did spend a lot of time on the podium looking at his trophy – almost as if he couldn’t believe his eyes. I, for one, heaved a sigh of relief. Maybe, just maybe, Red Bull finally has some serious competition this season. Fingers and toes crossed.
The Prodigal Son Returns
After much hoo-ing and haa-ing, Force India announced the return of Adrian Sutil. What would happen, I wondered. Will the man be able to keep up with the pack? Or was there a spark? It was perhaps a quirk of fate that saw Sutil lead the race, not once, but twice. Force India was following a two-stop strategy with Sutil on mediums at the beginning. He went from 12th to leading the pack, maintaining a phenomenal pace and staying ahead of the stalwarts – Vettel, Alonso and Massa. Everyone was surprised, including the marshals who kept waving the blue flag at him. It was a great performance from a man whose F1 career many believed had come to an end in 2011. But a late switch to supersoft tyres proved to be the worst decision ever. He slipped to 5th, his tyres losing traction, until former BFF Hamilton and a desperate Webber passed him. He ended the race at 7th with teammate Paul di Resta at 8th. It was a great performance by the German and an equally great one by a team that didn’t have much to show last season.
Missing in Action: McLaren and Williams
Like WHAT? I was so busy watching all the action up front that I didn’t have get to angst over Jenson Button and Sergio Perez’s misfortunes. I nearly sniggered at Valtteri Bottas and Pastor Maldonado. I am still pretty peeved at the way the team treated Bruno Senna. Bygones. Though I must admit to a ‘gentle laugh’ when Maldonado spun off into the gravel trap and spent a little time spinning his wheels trying to get out. Button and Perez ended at 9 and 11 positions, while Bottas ended the race at 14.
Tyred or Not
In a press release, Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery said, “We took the deliberately bold decision to come here with the supersoft tyre in order to spice up the action. We believe that this worked very well, with a variety of different two and three stop strategies, just as we expected and seven different leaders. Kimi Raikkonen and Lotus understood the tyres perfectly, making, making a two-stop strategy work when many of their rivals couldn’t. It was a true masterclass in tyre management. Although they were often in different places on the track, Raikkonen and Lotus were effectively racing Ferrari and Alonso throughout the second half of the race, who were on a three-stop ‘sprint’ strategy. Seeing how those different approaches played out at the end was the intriguing part of the strategy, which led to a spectacular finish and three very deserving world champions on the podium. It’s also worth pointing out that Raikkonen drove the fastest lap of the race on lap 56: the penultimate lap, on medium tyres that were 22 laps old.”
We now look forward to Sepang – a circuit that has always proved exciting. Just take a look at the 2012 race! But heed the Ice Man’s words. This is just the beginning. The race to the Championship has begun and it is likely that things will heat up even more. So don’t lay your bets just as yet.
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