An exciting start to the season in prospect in Melbourne

2012 Australian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

Mark Webber, Red Bull, Melbourne, 2012On 15 occasions last year we headed into a race with Sebastian Vettel on pole position and little prospect that he might be caught.

In comparison, the curtain-raiser for the 2012 season looks alive with possibilities and fascinating storylines.

Who will prevail in the battle of the McLarens? Can Red Bull move forward from row three?

What can Romain Grosjean achieve from third on the grid – and how will his team mate fare starting among the stragglers?

It promises to be a highly exciting start to the season. Here’s a look at the data from today and how the race could unfold.

Full qualifying results

Driver Car Q1 Q2 (vs Q1) Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1’26.800 1’25.626 (-1.174) 1’24.922 (-0.704)
2 Jenson Button McLaren 1’26.832 1’25.663 (-1.169) 1’25.074 (-0.589)
3 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1’26.498 1’25.845 (-0.653) 1’25.302 (-0.543)
4 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1’26.586 1’25.571 (-1.015) 1’25.336 (-0.235)
5 Mark Webber Red Bull 1’27.117 1’26.297 (-0.820) 1’25.651 (-0.646)
6 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1’26.773 1’25.982 (-0.791) 1’25.668 (-0.314)
7 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’26.763 1’25.469 (-1.294) 1’25.686 (+0.217)
8 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1’26.803 1’26.206 (-0.597) 1’25.908 (-0.298)
9 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1’27.464 1’26.314 (-1.150) 1’26.451 (+0.137)
10 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1’27.024 1’26.319 (-0.705)
11 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1’26.493 1’26.429 (-0.064)
12 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’26.688 1’26.494 (-0.194)
13 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1’26.182 1’26.590 (+0.408)
14 Bruno Senna Williams 1’27.004 1’26.663 (-0.341)
15 Paul di Resta Force India 1’27.469 1’27.086 (-0.383)
16 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1’27.633 1’27.497 (-0.136)
17 Sergio Perez Sauber 1’26.596
18 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1’27.758
19 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1’28.679
20 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1’29.018
21 Timo Glock Marussia 1’30.923
22 Charles Pic Marussia 1’31.670
23 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1’33.495
24 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1’33.643

Looking at the grid it’s not hard to spot a few drivers ‘out of position’.

Kimi Raikkonen is the first who jumps to attention – he’s 17th (after Sergio Perez’s penalty) in a car that’s good enough for at least third.

According to Raikkonen: “There?s no issue with the car. I made a mistake and there was a communication issue so the timing wasn?t right to get another lap.” That suggests he should be in a position to make up places in the race.

So should Fernando Alonso from 12th following his spin. But how much progress he will be able to make in the evil-handling Ferrari F2012 remains to be seen.

He could quickly end up with Raikkonen on his tail, which is a prospect to relish.

Then there’s Nico Rosberg. Qualifying was his forte last year, but that lock-up on his only new-tyre run in Q3 cost him dearly.

Merely repeating his lap from Q2 would have been good enough to put him fifth – row two was certainly possible. He should be able to make progress in the race, aided by the controversial Mercedes F-duct-style system.

Both Saubers should also expect to make progress. Sergio Perez, is set to start from the back of the grid after his gearbox trouble.

And Kamui Kobayashi clearly had the pace to reach Q3 – he Q1 lap would have been good enough to make the cut.

Straight-line speeds

Pos Driver Car Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Sergio Perez Sauber 316.7 (196.8)
2 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 314.0 (195.1) -2.7
3 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 313.4 (194.7) -3.3
4 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 313.2 (194.6) -3.5
5 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 312.5 (194.2) -4.2
6 Jenson Button McLaren 310.7 (193.1) -6.0
7 Romain Grosjean Lotus 310.2 (192.7) -6.5
8 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 310.2 (192.7) -6.5
9 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 309.2 (192.1) -7.5
10 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 308.6 (191.8) -8.1
11 Pastor Maldonado Williams 308.1 (191.4) -8.6
12 Paul di Resta Force India 308.1 (191.4) -8.6
13 Bruno Senna Williams 308.0 (191.4) -8.7
14 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 308.0 (191.4) -8.7
15 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 307.3 (190.9) -9.4
16 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 307.1 (190.8) -9.6
17 Felipe Massa Ferrari 305.5 (189.8) -11.2
18 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 305.0 (189.5) -11.7
19 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 303.7 (188.7) -13.0
20 Mark Webber Red Bull 302.6 (188.0) -14.1
21 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 302.4 (187.9) -14.3
22 Charles Pic Marussia 301.0 (187.0) -15.7
23 Timo Glock Marussia 300.7 (186.8) -16.0
24 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 297.7 (185.0) -19.0

Last year Red Bull dominated races with a car that was all about having a high average speed throughout a lap – they were among the slowest on the straight, but always the quickest in the corners.

As Vettel often showed, that worked brilliantly as long as you were starting from pole position. But as Mark Webber often showed, it worked less well when starting in the pack.

Row three of the grid is not where they wanted to find themselves. In a straight line, they’re slower than anything else in the race bar the two Marussias.

They could be sitting ducks through the consecutive DRS zones and powerless to pass in the braking zones. Red Bull’s reliably canny strategy calls and super-quick pit crew will be invaluable if they are to move forwards.

Remember also Vettel’s scorching first-lap pace in 2011, which could serve him well here.


This chart shows the longest stints by each driver in final practice with their lap times in seconds:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Sebastian Vettel 87.668 93.103 89.95 91.478 86.735
Mark Webber 88.214 93.348 87.031 86.996 94.592 86.926
Jenson Button 87.802 86.801 93.671 86.897
Lewis Hamilton 85.836 97.762 97.499 99.473 85.681
Fernando Alonso 88.146 97.131 94.532 87.985
Felipe Massa 89.381 95.62 91.236 89.46
Michael Schumacher 93.108 92.387 92.67
Nico Rosberg 94.532 93.519 93.381 94.143 94.038 93.47 93.71
Kimi Raikkonen 89.751 93.236 92.005 94.556 86.737 88.274
Romain Grosjean 86.831 89.046 86.897 89.666 86.973
Paul di Resta 94.452 93.558 93.926 93.218 94.654 94.15 93.196 93.39
Nico Hulkenberg 95.458 94.571 93.769 94.044 96.878 93.719 93.724 93.91
Kamui Kobayashi 87.914 91.892 91.898 87.448 96.957 87.138
Sergio Perez 93.31 92.784 93.603 96.439 94.678 92.032 92.304 92.016
Daniel Ricciardo 89.034 87.815 96.45 88.875
Jean-Eric Vergne 89.561 89.501 88.182 87.645
Pastor Maldonado 88.206 97.51 87.783 108.543 87.187
Bruno Senna 91.135 87.375 95.708 87.773 87.612
Heikki Kovalainen 94.111 88.833 96.879 90.799 90.972
Vitaly Petrov 93.151 90.559 98.131 92.61 89.697
Pedro de la Rosa 95.784 98.942 95.43
Narain Karthikeyan 98.331 93.261
Timo Glock 92.508 97.559 96.673 92.032
Charles Pic 92.974 108.09 92.337

Unsurprisingly, all the drivers in the top ten who set times chose to run on the soft tyres, which means they will start the race on those tyres.

Those further back have a free choice of tyre, and the ‘out-of-position’ drivers are most likely to make a start on the harder rubber and potentially make an early switch during a safety car period. Melbourne is a track where the possibility of a safety car appearance is more than likely.

Poor conditions in practice meant the teams have not been able to test the tyres as extensively as they would have liked.

Of the short stints they ran in final practice, Red Bull’s look most promising. They seemed to find more more time as the fuel load dropped – though of course we don’t know what those initial fuel levels were.

The question of strategy is especially interesting when it comes to the two McLaren drivers. Last year Button was often able to make his tyres last longer than Hamilton – and potentially make one fewer pit stop.

Pirelli have brought softer tyres this year and reduced the size of the performance gap between them in a bid to create more varied strategies. This race will be the first sign whether that has worked.

Your thoughts on the race

Who do you think will win the Australian Grand Prix?

Will Red Bull bounce back from their qualifying disappointment? Where will Alonso and Raikkonen finish after starting outside the top ten?

Have your say in the comments.

2012 Australian Grand Prix

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85 comments on An exciting start to the season in prospect in Melbourne

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  1. Nigel said on 17th March 2012, 18:23

    At least one (and probably both) of the Red Bulls should run a two stop race, with a set of primes for a long middle stint. Might just get them up into the mix for a podium, depending on race pace. Otherwise, with their low top speed, they’ll be nowhere.

    If Hamilton gets a clean start, he ought to win fairly comfortably.

    • mole (@mole) said on 17th March 2012, 18:50

      It’ll have to be Vettel if he goes for the 2 stopper.

      On the other hand, Gary Anderson (?, the new BBC tech guy), suggested that a 4 stopper would be marginally quicker than a 2 – which I’m sure Webber would love if he gets to be super aggressive throughout the race

  2. raymondu999 (@raymondu999) said on 17th March 2012, 18:26

    With rubbish straight line speed – the real hope for the Red Bulls is really a counter strategy

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 17th March 2012, 22:25

      Yeah, but stopping more often would work pretty bad for them, I guess, as that normally relies on passing quite some cars on track. Not something you would want to be doing with a car that is going slow on the straights.

  3. Pato Milan said on 17th March 2012, 18:29

    Pitty about Kobayashi, he showed that he can be the fastest of the midfield just behind the Red Bulls and Rosberg. It’s nice to see such a tightly packed midfield!
    No doubt tomorrow will be exciting, Perez; Koba and Kimi starting at the back with Toro Rosso, Ferrari, Williams and Force India infront of them with lower straightline speed promises lots of overtaking. As pointed out it will also be interesting to see how the Red Bulls will be able to defend themselves.
    I can’t wait for tomorrow!!!

    • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 17th March 2012, 22:22

      Yeah I don’t think we’ve seen the full potential of the Sauber yet. Peter Windsor commented on twitter that he’d like to see what Vettel or Alonso could do in that car, implying that it might be as fast or faster than cars they’re in… which in the case of the Ferrari at least might not be a stretch!

  4. verstappen (@verstappen) said on 17th March 2012, 18:31

    I wonder how Hamilton and Massa are going to meet up in the race, maybe when Felipe gets lapped?

  5. Hacky (@hacky) said on 17th March 2012, 18:32

    I hope the Mercs start just like last season… very strong. Schumacher could jump Grosjean and Rosberg maybe Vettel (ehh i dont really think so)… Nice Information Keith, the Topspeed chart is very interesting. I really wish Schumacher gets his first podium since his comeback. Hats off to Grosjean, great lap. I think Button will win befoer Hamilton…. But furthermore.. i hope i hear my alarm at 6:30 am XD

  6. very difficult to guess…. maclaren & mercedes shows good performance in quali but will it shows the same during the race? but my bet is button – rosberg – vettel and if he maintains a cool head, hamilton will be in the top 3.

  7. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 17th March 2012, 18:36

    Rosberg really blew it in Qualy. He was mighty out there and had he lined up behind the maccas, he could’ve well been a serious contender for the win, in my view.

    Sad he starts 7th. I bet Grosjean specially it’s going to make it harder for him to reach Button and Hamilton if he manages to get through the Red Bulls and his team mate.

  8. JamieFranklinF1 (@jamiefranklinf1) said on 17th March 2012, 18:48

    I really can’t wait for tomorrow. It should be a very interesting race, with lots of battles up and down the field.

    I think Button might just have the edge on Hamilton when it comes to strategy, especially if there are changing conditions. I think that the Mercs will be very strong as well. Their ‘super DRS’ as Crofty was referring to it, should really help in moving forward, and Rosberg might just be able to get in front of the Red Bulls, and we might just see one on the podium.

    Although, that wouldn’t do me any favours in the predicition Championship, as I have Vettel and Webber in 3rd and 5th respectively, with Rosberg in 4th.

    • MylesW (@mpw1985) said on 17th March 2012, 19:28

      I’m sick of the myth that Button is better than Hamilton in “changing conditions”. Hamilton is an incredible wet weather driver (it doesn’t take a fool to realize how much more confidence he has in wet weather than other drivers- just look at him pressure Vettel off the road in Hungary, or his blistering pace in Canada until Button crashed into him). The only races (bar Japan last year) that Button has won have been because his teammate wasn’t there to win them for him (because of dubious strategy calls by both he and his team).

      • sato113 (@sato113) said on 17th March 2012, 19:45

        dont forget that HAM aborted his final lap, thus saving a lap’s worth of degradation. BUT did one more lap.

      • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 17th March 2012, 19:49

        @mpw1985 You seem to be saying ‘Hamilton’s as good a Button in the wet, except when it comes to choosing his tyres’.

        I agree Hamilton is extremely good at driving an F1 car in the wet. But he clearly doesn’t always get his tyre choices right (China 2007, Hungary 2011) and I don’t think you can ignore that as being a vital part of an F1 driver’s craft – especially those we call ‘wet weather aces’ like Ayrton Senna.

        Would Hamilton have got that tyre call right at Donington in 1993 as Senna did? I’m not sure – I think he might just have done whatever the team told him to.

        Would I trust Button more than Hamilton to get that kind of call right in those kinds of conditions? Absolutely.

        And as for “Button crashed into him” in Canada, that’s a highly selective reading of events. Attempting to pass a driver between their car and a wall the racing line takes them towards is risky enough to begin with. Doing it in wet conditions when visibility is hampered by spray only amplifies the risk Hamilton chose to take – and paid the price for.

        • James (@goodyear92) said on 17th March 2012, 20:28

          On the crash in canada, bear in mind Button knew he got a bad exit, but chose early on the straight to stop looking in his mirrors. Surely he should have known Hamilton would be behind and about to have a go. It wasn’t a case of he couldn’t see him, he just didn’t look for very long. Racing incident, but 60-40 to Button. Could have been avoided had he paid abit more attention and you can’t blame a driver who’s just had a setback and is trying to make up ground on his, at the time, much slower team mate.

        • MylesW (@mpw1985) said on 17th March 2012, 20:40

          @Keith Collantine
          Perhaps I came across too strongly in my defence of Hamilton, but I just hate to see F1 “talking points” get thrown around like this. It’s like a broken record- some pundit or commentator makes a point (e.g. Button is the smoothest driver, Vettel struggles at overtaking), the F1 masses pick up on it, and it comes to define the driver (and how he’s perceived). That just really annoys me. I liked to see intelligent, ardent fans pick up on the nuances of strategy and racing themselves, and not have their viewpoints simply be recycled.

          I will agree, additionally, that Button has been better at choosing his tires in mixed conditions than Hamilton has, but I feel like it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” type situation for Hamilton. Button has the confidence of knowing he’s made the right call in the past, whereas Hamilton really just can’t catch a break. While a praise Button for ability to make the correct call, I think it’s unfair to blame Hamilton for making the “wrong” call, as it’s really just a 50/50 gamble. I think Hamilton’s problem has been that he just trusts his team too much, and, having done that in the past, is kind of stuck with that decision. He certainly doesn’t want to disobey or go against the team’s weather/tire predictions and then be incorrect (a luxury that Button has, having successfully done it in the past), because then he’d look like a REAL idiot. I think Hamilton has just enough intuition to make the same calls as Button, but he just assumes his team know better than he does with all of their information (wrongly), and this has come to undermine some of his results.

          The point I was trying to make, however, was that I think any true observer can see just how much quicker Hamilton is in “changing conditions” than Button. Hungary 11, Britain 11, Canada 11, and China 10 all come to mind as evidence.

          And finally, I don’t totally agree with your last point. While it’s true that I would say it was a racing incident, more of the blame lays with Button than Hamilton. I think everyone was very quick to draw conclusions when they saw Hamilton coming into contact with another car, but again, it wasn’t quite that simple. Most of the BBC team (especially Jordan), agreed that Button was overly aggressive and could totally see Hamilton (he didn’t move off the racing line for fun), and that, if anything, it was a racing incident with Button mostly at fault.

        • Bernard (@bernard) said on 17th March 2012, 22:49

          Button knew that Hamilton was all over him for the entire lap leading up to the crash, he was clearly struggling, losing positions prior as a result. The only reason he even got back past Hamilton was because of Schumacher. Watch the footage. It was inevitable that Hamilton was going to overtake as he was quicker and more comfortable at that stage on those tyres and in those conditions. A poor exit from the last corner was the only invite Hamilton needed. Button should have yielded – or at the very least left room – however he did neither.

          Suggesting the collision was Hamiltons fault is conveniently disingenuous.

          Also, tyre choice and timing in changeable conditions is down to blind luck, it’s simply delusional to imply drivers somehow have a sixth sense at their disposal in addition to any actual demonstrable talent.

          All drivers/teams make good and bad tyre calls – yes even the legendary JB.

          • MylesW (@mpw1985) said on 17th March 2012, 23:42


          • HoHum (@hohum) said on 18th March 2012, 4:43

            You say Button was struggling but maybe he was just being cautious, as Ron Dennis was reputed to say ” to finish first, first you have to be Finnish” or something like that. :<)

      • Baron said on 18th March 2012, 8:00

        So Myles, who managed tyres better this time?

  9. Girts (@girts) said on 17th March 2012, 18:51

    The most important question is: How will I be able to sleep this night?

    I think Hamilton is gonna win this race (he better do that as I have F1F predictions championship points to gather) and I expect Schumacher to be on the podium, too. I believe Raikkonen and Ferrari are gonna struggle tomorrow as well. It will be particularly interesting to watch Vettel, he hasn’t been starting that far behind the PP for some time.

  10. mole (@mole) said on 17th March 2012, 18:52

    The difference in straight line between Hamilton and Button is pretty interesting, surely the extra wing will help keep the tyres alive.

    I suspect Hamilton was running less wing for a faster qualy pace,he probably couldve gone faster on the second go, but didnt and aborted his last run to save tyre deg.

    Gonna be a good one!

  11. ME4ME (@me4me) said on 17th March 2012, 18:56

    At first thought maybe the Merc’s could threaten Mclaren. But then i remembered their tier degradation of pre-testing. I think Redbull is more likely to put pressure on Mclaren.

    What has impressed me the most is Grosjean really. Simply outperformed Raikkonen all weekend. Ferrari i think will again be in trouble. Massa probably crashing out, and Alonso outside the top 10. Can’t wait for tomorrow :)

  12. Gridlock (@gridlock) said on 17th March 2012, 18:57

    It’s really too early to call as we haven’t seen what tyre degradation is like between the various cars.

    Schadenfreude: feeling good about the first red bull-free first row since Monza 2010… We’re all there, unless RB pays our salary :D

  13. Cyclops_PL (@cyclops_pl) said on 17th March 2012, 19:01

    As Keith pointed out, Red Bull will have hard times defending and without their superior cornering speed they might not have what it takes to run away from DRS range of 1 s. Therefore I think Red Bull are out of the equation for podium, possibly can even get kicked out of the top 10 when the race progresses.

    Whereas the head of the field goes, I think Button will edge Hamilton using strategy rather racing brawn. Lewis will be susceptible to errors, especially when pushed by Schumacher and Button. Grosjean is an absolute mystery for me and I don’t have a slightest idea about how he may fare. Also I don’t expect much from Alonso. Yes, he is one of the few who can drive faster than their car allows, but I think it’s not the case when he will have to fight the car for survival on track. Then again, Kimi might get as high as 6th (if both Red Bulls drop out). That’s basically my idea for the race.

  14. S.J.M (@sjm) said on 17th March 2012, 19:19

    Grosjean is the wildcard here. Hes youthfull and enthusiastic as GP2 promotees usually are and that makes him unpredictable. He might get the perfect get away and harass the leaders (or lead), or make a Trulli-less-Train giving the leader breathing space. He might also muckup his start and gift some places to those behind. I really believe that the result of the race will to some large extent rest on what he does over the first few laps.

  15. Dimitris 1395 (@) said on 17th March 2012, 19:22

    I strongly consider Hamilton as the premium contender to win tomorrow. Also, I can foresee a battle between Button and Schumi for 2nd. Behind them, everything can happen… Everything

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