What a thriller as F1 delivers in Australia
Martin Brundle reviews the 2013 curtain-raiser in Melbourne, ponders Saturday's qualifying frustration, and shares McLaren's confusion...
By Martin Brundle
Last Updated: 18/03/13 4:02pm
I don't feel good when the action gets stopped as it did for qualifying on Saturday. That's very easy for me to say, of course, because the risk doesn't sit on my shoulders if a driver, marshal, or spectator is injured, and I hasten to add that when I went out onto a very wet track at Le Mans last year I was scared.
However, all the F1 track and car safety criteria are extremely well designed and implemented, and we are talking about some of the finest drivers in the world. They have to drive according to the conditions and there is no doubt that they have raced in worse circumstances when visibility also becomes more of an issue. The white lines and poor drainage of a street circuit were an issue but it's no different at Monaco for example.
The flip side is the potential to spear off at high speed with aquaplaning and also that, with a race next weekend in Malaysia and it being so early in the season with regard to spare parts, the teams didn't need to be losing too many front wings or chassis.
But we disappointed a lot of fans both at the track and watching on TV, many of whom feel that the best drivers in the world should be able to handle such challenges.
The drivers certainly delivered on race day though. Seven of the 21 starters led the race at some stage and we had ten lead changes. As expected it was all about tyres and the washed 'green' circuit and a mere 20 degree Celsius track temperature compounded the issue. The top ten had very much taken the shine of their super-soft Pirellis in qualifying and were of course obliged to start the race on them. I fully expected everyone from 11th backwards to start on medium compound tyres but only a few did, not least Adrian Sutil.
It was a great shame that Nico Hulkenberg's Sauber had a fuel issue and couldn't start because this would have been their kind of race. I wonder how Nico felt while spectating as Sutil led twice in the car he vacated.
Once again if Mark Webber didn't have bad luck he would have no luck at all. His car had telemetry glitches such that his clutch was not tuned for a good start, and then had KERS issues for 20 laps. A front jack problem meant a slightly tardy stop and so he was well out of position but eventually salvaged a sixth. An elusive Australian GP podium still denies him.
One of the stories of the race was the missing pace of the Red Bulls because Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus were unquestionably faster and kinder on their tyres. This was apparent a few laps in when Sebastian Vettel was being hunted down by the in-form Ferrari peddlars of Massa and Alonso.
Massa looked on it from Friday morning and with a better judgement on tyre stops could easily have been on the podium. It was his team-mate Alonso who made the rights calls on track and in the pit-lane in order to be the only man who could trouble the two-stopping Lotus of Kimi. But even the relentless Spaniard was no match for the Iceman as he reeled off a couple of stonking laps in the closing stages just to demonstrate how easy it had all been.
The Mercedes of Hamilton and Rosberg didn't deliver on their apparent potential from practice and qualifying, wet or dry. Rosberg's fourth retirement in seven races didn't help and Lewis got half a step out when changing to a three stopper during the race. The car does look good, though, even if tyre usage may still be an Achilles heel.
Romain Grosjean was curiously anonymous in the other Lotus; hopefully they will find something amiss with the car, and I'm also told that his upgraded parts were fitted later into the event and so possibly he hadn't hit the sweet spot.
The McLaren performance confuses me, and it seems I'm not alone on that one. They looked so good at the first winter test but it transpires that this was a lower fuel confidence-boosting run. With key personnel and sponsors departing it's difficult times at the mighty team, but history tells us that they have the resource to sort it out. The question is, how quickly? I've never seen JB so despondent on the grid.
Many ask me if I'm nervous doing the podium interviews in front of hundreds of millions of people. I hadn't really thought about it, so I probably will be now! It's an absolute pleasure and privilege to be up there with three great champions who are all happy and mostly chatty after a good day at the office.
Sweaty Malaysia, we're inbound.