02:30PM: Welcome all to Round 2 of the 2010 Formula 1 World Championship season, being held right here in my homeland of Australia! Normally, I’d be hoping to bring you the highlights of this great festival of motorsport right from the venue of Albert Park itself. Alas, it was my father-in-law’s 60th birthday last night, and I’ve been heavily involved in the organisation of his surprise party. For those of you interested, the night went off with barely a hitch and a great time was had by the birthday boy in question! You may only turn 60 once, but the Australian Grand Prix comes around every year!
02:35PM: Our resident IndyCar correspondent, Matt Lennon, is joining me at my place for a few beers and a BBQ in the lead-up to this afternoon’s Grand Prix. We’re both delighted that Mark Webber is on the front row, that rain is possibly forecast to spice things up, and that this race will surely be more exciting than last fortnight’s season-opening Bahrain GP.
02:45PM: Twitter feeds from the ground reveal it’s been drizzling since the early afternoon, with more rain and gusty winds forecast later. Should the cars have to face these conditions, they’ll have to contend with slippery white lines, crosswinds and highly likely chance of a safety car. Tyre choice will also be critical as neither the wets or intermediates are expected to last long on heavy tanks of fuel. If you want excitement in Melbourne, we can pretty much guarantee you’ll get it.
03:15PM: It’s the two Red Bull boys on the front row after a dominant display in qualifying. However some question marks remain: Vettel started from pole in Bahrain but dropped to fourth with a spark plug problem. Bahrain winner Fernando Alonso is ready to pounce from third and has McLaren’s Jenson Button alongside him in fourth. It’s an all-Mercedes third row, with Nico Rosberg out-qualifying Mercedes team-mate Michael Schumacher again. McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, following his little run-in with the local long arm of the law on Friday, had a lacklustre qualifying and will start down in 11th.
03:30PM: Being the dinky-di patriots that we are, we’re both thrilled that Mark Webber has planted his car on the front row and given himself the best possible shot at victory on home soil. Team-mate Vettel, however, didn’t take kindly to Mark snatching his maiden career win on his own turf last year and will be doing everything he can to spoil the party.
However, as much as Mark is well-supported and has always qualified supremely well here, Albert Park has been something of a bogey circuit for the Aussie in his eight previous visits to the circuit as a F1 pilot. His best finishes here have been a pair of fifth places, one earned on debut in the Minardi in 2002! For pretty much the other races, he has either been involved in first-lap scrapes or he’s retired when in a decent position.
Out other concern is that Mark is prone to doses of ‘red mist’, particularly when the cards don’t fall his way. He certainly has a reputation of being very vigorous in defending his position – I would verge on calling it unsportsmanlike at times – and has been involved in a few bingles when trying to recover his position.
Starting from the dirty side of the track, he will be vulnerable to both Vettel and Alonso on the run into the first corner. Vettel himself is not known for his rapidity off the line, and the odds of Mark repeating his 2009 race with another first-corner shunt are (we hate to admit it) likely.
03:50PM: Who is going to take the top honours today? Will Vettel claim his first win of 2010; will Webber delight the Melbourne crowd with a win on home soil; will Alonso make it two wins from two starts in 2010, or will the winner come from somewhere else?
An interesting fact about Albert Park is that just two drivers have succeeded in winning the Grand Prix more than once since the Melbourne circuit took over hosting duties from Adelaide at the start of the 1996 season. Michael Schumacher has won here four times (2000, 2001, 2002, 2004) and David Coulthard won here twice (1997, 2003).
04:30PM: The pit lane opens and the cars are starting to file their way onto the grid. That is, however, with the exception of the two Virgin Cosworths, which look like they will be confined to the garages for a little while yet. Are they quickly installing a larger fuel tank?
04:45PM: The siren sounding the closure of the pit lane is announced. Neither Virgin Cosworth has made it onto the grid in time while further work is being carried out on Lucas di Grassi and Timo Glock’s respective VR-01 cars. Should they be race-ready before 5pm, they will have to start from the pit lane.
04:55PM: Trulli’s problem appears to be a hydraulics issue with his Cosworth engine, and he doesn’t look like he’s going to make the race start. Bad luck!
05:00PM: The field sets off for its parade lap. All drivers are on intermediate tyres. The first couple of corners don’t look too bad, but an onboard shot from Jenson Button’s McLaren quickly reveals that the back half of the track is very wet.
Lap 1: The grid scrabbles for grip off the line on the wet track, and Vettel eases away from the pack as Webber is swallowed up starting from the dirty side of the track.
Yellow flags. There seems to be two runners in the gravel at Turn 6: Sébastien Buemi’s Toro Rosso and Nico Hülkenberg’s Williams. The shot pans out and there’s also a Sauber buried in the tyre barrier: it’s Kamui Kobayashi.
Lap 2: The running order is Vettel from Massa, followed by Webber, Kubica, Rosberg and Button. After Button, it’s Hamilton, Sutil, Barrichello, Petrov and Pedro de la Rosa.
Lap 3: Safety car still out. Replay show the cause of the Turn 6 crash: Kobayashi’s Sauber appears to lose its front wing on the approach to the corner, and he’s pitched into the inside wall. Completely out of control as he approaches the corner, he literally sideswipes Hülkenberg and Buemi as they’re on the apex and it’s a heavy crash.
Lap 5: Vettel instantly begins to pull clear of the chasing pack. Kubica is swarming all over Webber, who doesn’t appear to have the same grip as his team-mate. At the back of the field, the recovering Schumacher is trying to get past Lucas di Grassi, with the young Brazilian not giving an inch!
Lap 6: Hamilton passes Button at Turn 3 and is now 6th. This could be crucial when the track dries out, as team strategy will typically see the lead driver given the advantage by being allowed to pit first.
Button responds straight away by pitting – is he going in for a tantrum? He emerges with dry tyres and we think it’s perhaps a little early for them. Or is he taking a massive gamble that could pay off later?
Lap 7: Almost to prove out theory, Button slides off at Turn 3 and runs through the gravel before rejoining. Good bye tyre temperatures… This is not looking good!
Lap 8: We’re eating our words almost straight away: Button sets fastest sector times and dry tyres look like the go. Massa, Rosberg, both Renaults, Schumacher, Alonso, Barrichello and Hamilton all come in at the end of the lap.
Curiously, both Red Bulls have stayed out. This could cost them valuable track position if they pit too late! Vettel leads Webber by one second. Button sets the fastest lap of 1:39.126, two seconds quicker than Vettel.
Lap 9: Vettel pits and now Webber assumes the lead from Sutil. This is a disaster, as he is going to lose valuable track position and I reckon he’ll emerge behind Nico Rosberg by pitting too late!
Button is flying and has set another fastest lap – 1:37.701. He is in third.
Lap 10: Petrov is out of the race after spinning into the Turn 3 the gravel. Webber comes in for dry tyres.
Lap 11: Webber just can’t turn a trick as he slides wide at Turn 1, and rejoined, as we predicted, behind Rosberg and Massa. Vettel leads Button by one second, then it is Kubica, Rosberg and then Massa – the Brazilian had a long stop with pit lane traffic and lost valuable places.
Lap 12: Hamilton is instructed to attack Webber, whose tyres are not yet up to temperature. Sutil retires. Vettel sets the fastest lap of 1:32.439.
Lap 13: Vettel stretches his lead to 2.4 seconds after a fastest lap of 1:31.856. The recovering Alonso is now in 9th place.
Lap 16: Massa is passed by both Webber and Hamilton into Turn 1. The Australian’s exit from the corner is compromised and Hamilton draws alongside on the outside for the approach to Turn 3. Refusing to give in, Webber brakes too late into the corner on the still-damp portion of the track, and runs Lewis wide; this allows Massa to pass them both!
Lap 20: The track is continuing to dry. Hamilton is closing on Massa for another attack at 5th place.
Lap 21: Massa has a scruffy exit at Turn 16 and will be easy meat for Hamilton along the main straight.
Lap 22: And so it passes, Hamilton takes Massa on the inside at Turn One but seems to clip Massa as he jinked out to pass the Brazilian. Has he damaged his front wing?
Lap 26: Vettel is out! He’s beached in the gravel at Turn 13 and we haven’t seen the lead-up as yet. Has he another moment like he did in Friday practice?
Hamilton produces a great pass of Nico Rosberg around the outside into the Turn 11-12 sweeps; Rosberg attempts to counter-punch, but the yellow flags for Vettel’s retirement means he has to hold off.
Lap 28: Webber passes Massa at Turn 3 to take 5th. Button now leads with a gap to Kubica of 3.7 seconds. Hamilton is 3rd with Rosberg 4th.
Lap 29: Button starts to push and extends his lead to Kubica to over 5 seconds with a fastest lap of 1:31.003.
Lap 30: Di Grassi retires. Kubica’s 2nd place is now under threat from Hamilton.
Lap 31: We hear that Vettel was complaining of a wheel vibration before his retirement.
Lap 32: Kubica is now holding Hamilton up, and the Briton has a look under braking into Turn 1.
Vettel tells he team he suspects it was a brake failure that tipped him into the gravel, and the onboard replays appear to support that.
Interestingly, the second phase of pit stops starts: Webber comes into the pits for fresh soft tyres. With the refuelling ban now in place, this is really going to rely on the majority of the field following suit in order for this to work, as he stands to lose valuable track position.
Lap 33: Rosberg comes in for fresh tyres. Button leads by 9.2 seconds from Kubica.
Lap 34: Button sets the fastest time of 1:30.201 and appears to be making his older tyres work for him. unable to find a way past Kubica, Hamilton pits for fresh tyres.
Lap 35: Contrastingly, Webber’s fresh tyres are doing the job and he lowers the benchmark with a lap of 1:29.806. He is in 6th place.
Lap 36: Hamilton runs wide at Turn 13, and Webber out drags him under acceleration but can’t hold the position exiting Turn 14 as Hamilton takes back 5th.
Lap 37: Fastest lap from Lewis, but he’s over 20 seconds down on 4th-placed Fernando Alonso, who is riding shotgun behind Massa’s oversteering Ferrari.
Lap 42: The leading quartet of Button, Kubica, Massa and Alonso look set to complete the race without a pit stop. With track position being everything, it will be up to the chasing pack of Hamilton, Webber and Rosberg to mow them down in the closing stages.
Lap 48: Hamilton is now right behind Alonso and we’re looking set for a thrilling climax to the race.
Lap 50: Alonso is told by his radio how close Hamilton is to him, the Spaniard replies: "I do not want to know!". Great quote!
Lap 51: Hamilton can’t find a way past Alonso and is being affected by the turbulence coming off the Ferrari. He has a bigger problem, as Webber is now right behind him and ambitious to recover from what has been a disappointing race for the local boy.
Lap 52: Further down the field, Schumacher’s rotten race is being stymied by Jaime Alguersuari, with the Spaniard making his Toro Rosso very wide in his bid to fend 11th place from the driver who is twice his age. Good stuff!
Lap 53: Hamilton is now complaining that his tyres are starting to go, but there’s little he can do.
Lap 55: Schumacher finally passes Alguersuari for 11th at the second-last corner. Hamilton now has another whinge, and complains that his second pit stop should never have happened. A rather pointless conversation, as Martin Brundle noted in his commentary.
Lap 56: Webber and Hamilton collide at Turn 13! We saw this coming! Hamilton tried to pass Alonso into Turn 13, backed out and it seems that Webber completely fluffed his braking and rams the back of the McLaren. Both scrabble out of the gravel trap; Hamilton appears to have sustained no damage, but Webber pits for a new front wing. A wretched race for the Aussie, who has completely overdriven in his efforts to stage a recovery drive.
Lap 58: BUTTON WINS!
Button coasts to a comfortable victory. A great drive from the Briton, whose ability to nurse his tyres in the difficult conditions was key to his success. Admittedly, he was lucky he didn’t sustain any damage when he punted Alonso into the lap 1 spin and he was also helped by Vettel’s retirement, but he still drove incredibly well.
Hats off to Kubica, who drove a stellar race in the conditions, which certainly helped to equalise the deficiencies of the R30 relative to the other frontrunners.
Footage from the last lap shows Michael Schumacher and Jaime Alguersuari scrambling past Pedro de la Rosa’s Sauber, who meekly surrendered 10th place to the German at Turn 3. One point for his efforts is scant reward, and it would be interesting to think how his race could have panned out were it not for his first-lap bingle.
Kudos to Heikki Kovalainen and Karun Chandhok, with the Indian rookie bringing his HRT home for the first time. A great result when you consider that the most consecutive laps he managed during the entire weekend was the sum total of 9! Great result!
Debrief: Anthems, podium celebrations and press conferences done, Matt and I have enjoyed another great Australian Grand Prix.
We’re expecting a bit of a fall-out at McLaren, and Lewis Hamilton is sure to throw the toys out of the pram if he feels that his two-stop strategy disadvantaged him. Button simply drove the better race and called the strategy better.
A good points haul to Ferrari, who never quite had the pace-setting car this weekend, but kept it consistent. Another podium for Massa is exactly what he needs and he will be boosted psychologically on what has very much been a bogey-track for the likeable Brazilian.
Mark Webber had a shocker. As we sadly feared (but hoped wouldn’t happen), the red mist descended when the cards started to fall against him and he clear over-drove when he should have taken a more measured and calculating approach. Red Bull was again found wanting with their strategy calls, and pitting both Vettel and Webber later than the other front runners was a mistake. Another mechanical failure for Sebastian does not bode well for the team that clearly has the fastest car. To finish first, you first have to finish!
The Malaysian GP is in a weekend’s time and we’re already looking forward to it!
[Images via GP Update]