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.

Strategy

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

http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/charts/2012drivercolours.csv

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

  1. MattB (@mattb) said on 17th March 2012, 19:28

    Whilst I’m a Macca fan, I’ve just put a £5 each way bet on Schumacher. Just feel with his top speed, experience & skill he’s got a chance to at least gain a podium.

    Still hoping for a Ham/But 1/2 (in either order)

    • JamieFranklinF1 (@jamiefranklinf1) said on 17th March 2012, 19:34

      @mattb – This seems like a good opportunity to ask what the ‘each way’ part means in a bet?

      I’m gutted that I never put money on McLaren for this season. I had a feeling that they’d be very quick, and would make a great challenge for the Constructor’s this year, but never got around to it. Then they get a 1-2 in qualifying and make me ecstatic and annoyed at the same time!

      • MattB (@mattb) said on 17th March 2012, 19:41

        @jamiefranklinf1 A “£5 each way” bet is essentially two bets, each for £5. The first is for him to win. My odds for this were 16/1 (ie, if I were to win, I get 16 times the amount I put on the bet, plus my original money). The second bet is for him to come in the top 3, but at much lower odds (5/1). If he wins, I win both bets and get 16 x £5, plus 5 x £5, plus the original £10 I put on.

        I’d like to add that I don’t know what @keithcollantine ‘s thoughts are on betting, and certainly don’t want to encourage it here. I always bet on the first race of the season, plus the British GP and no others. Otherwise, it could be even more expensive than my subscription to Sky…

    • blackmamba said on 17th March 2012, 21:51

      Lewis’s top speed in Q3 was faster than the Mercs’ so no worries there.

  2. Tenerifeman (@tenerifeman) said on 17th March 2012, 19:40

    I’m not so sure about Merc’s race pace, they can put in a great qualifying lap due to the free use of DRS, in the race they will only be able to use it if they hit the right criteria in the right place.

  3. Legomanshair said on 17th March 2012, 19:48

    Keith you seem to have forgot what for many of us is THE MOST exciting possibility namely that of Schumi getting a podium or maybe perhaps fingers crossed challenging for victory!

    • Journeyer (@journeyer) said on 17th March 2012, 20:53

      I think a win is a bridge too far at this point – in the dry, at least. McLaren is just too good and I think Vettel will be keeping Schumacher very busy on defense. But I do still think Schumacher will finish 3rd.

      But if it rains, the form book goes out of the window.

    • Lee1 said on 17th March 2012, 22:00

      I have a feeiling the Mercs will not be in contention for the race as much of their speed comes from their decreased drag during DRS. As the DRS is limited for races they will loose a lot of advantage. However I do not think the red bulls are quick enough to challenge the Mercs so I predict the result will be Ham, Button Grosjean as they will all break free quite early. I do think Rosberg will take the Redbulls though as he has a much higher top speed.

  4. Fixy (@fixy) said on 17th March 2012, 20:11

    Remarkable performances by Grosjean, Schumacher, Maldonado and, to an extent, Hulkenberg.

    • The Last Pope (@the-last-pope) said on 17th March 2012, 20:43

      Yes and didn’t Maldonado mess up the 2nd to last corner on his fastest lap. I think without that mistake he would have been ahead of Webber!
      This year’s Williams does look a lot better. Now Maldonado needs to show he can race and maintain his grid position maybe even move forward instead of always going backward like last year.

  5. Dan_the_McLaren_fan (@dan_the_mclaren_fan) said on 17th March 2012, 20:12

    I started watching F1 in 1999, and since then I’ve been supporting McLaren. I’ve enjoyed seeing them win races and two driver’s championships. But never I’ve seen them win a constructor’s championship. I really hope that this year is the one I’ve been expecting for 13 years! McLaren has been the next best team for too long : it’s time my favourite team becomes champion once again, and today I felt McLaren could do it.

    I’m really excited for tomorrow’s race. I believe Button or Hamilton have a very strong chance to win it. There are still many unknown parameters (what are the race paces of Red Bull, Mercedes, Lotus? Are the Enstone cars still capable of great starts? Will there be safety cars? ), but overall, I still think McLaren have the best chances to win tomorrow’s GP. It won’t be easy, because the gap over the other teams is small, but that’s what makes it exciting!

  6. Maican Ionut (@ionutf1fanatic) said on 17th March 2012, 20:22

    Looks like it wil be an exiciting season.I can’t wait untill the race anymore,the teams are so close in terms of performance but I think McLaren just got it right with the nose and they’ll have a step forward.Red Bull struggling and Vettel don’t find the grip that’s a bit strange.But anyway Lotus-Renault have also a good car and Grosjean just made an impressive qualifing lap.Kimi will be back in race I am sure about it.Ferrari dissapointed me with the results I think the staff should think really on doing something very rapidly,otherwise is another season lost for Ferrari.Know somebody the weather forecast for race?

    • Lee1 said on 17th March 2012, 22:06

      The lack of grip for the red bulls may well be to do with the new exhausts causing flow issues. There have been reports that the rear end of the red bull is overheating as the exhaust flow is not going fully where they want it too. It was after all a late addition and they also then lost a days testing with it. The Ferarris look dangerous! They look like they are driving constantly in the wet so imagine what will happen if it does get wet! The car seems to want to leave the circuit at ever moment…

  7. Kevin Campos (@kcampos12) said on 17th March 2012, 21:08

    Lets go Williams!

  8. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 17th March 2012, 21:13

    Well about the only thing that looks familiar is the speed trap data. Sauber and Mercedes running high which gives you an idea that their philosophy hasn’t changed much.

    Mercedes clearly have gone for a more aggressive aero route. I hope it does pay off for them, I really do.

  9. Snafu (@snafu) said on 17th March 2012, 21:15

    looks like we’re all set for a close season!

    I just hate to see people (and mostly Mclaren fans) calling Vettle untalented only because he doesn’t have a fast car for pole anymore. Hamilton had the same situation on 2009 but no one called him untalented,kid with broken toy, etc. VET is definitely of the most precise drivers on grid and he didn’t get two WDC just because of Newey!

    BTW, I’m a Mclaren fan myself.

    • I havnt seen anyone say Vettel is bad just because he dosnt have pole, but it is overtly obvious he/his car is suffering without having a car thats on rails, and it is going to be very interesting to see how he deals with having alot of quick cars around him tomorow.

    • Lee1 said on 17th March 2012, 22:12

      Hamilton has proved again and again that he has huge amounts of talent, he consistently ends up near the top of the table for the number of overtakes.

      Vettel seems to be very quick when it comes to simply driving the circuit but we will now finally get to see just how good or bad he really is at fighting for positions as there are many cars around him that are either quicker or close to the same speed. It may be telling that the moment the car is not perfect Webber out qualifies him, or perhaps it is just one of those days.

  10. Hollis Graham (@) said on 17th March 2012, 21:35

    Sure Vettel is talented and I’m sure he is in the top 5 along with HAM, BUT, ALO and WEB imo. (no particular order)
    But you can’t say he got two world championships because he is the best driver. Personally I think against one of the others (On form) in the same car the title would be a lot closer and Newey is defiantly more the reason than Vettel.

    • Eric Morman (@lethalnz) said on 17th March 2012, 22:28

      very true statement,
      you can not compare drivers in different cars,
      one car for all, same track so many laps, and you would find they are not more than .100 of a sec apart, which proves they are all great drivers.
      it is the reason we keep watching the sport, hopping our driver has a great car this season. we all thing our driver is better but in reality he is only as good as the car he drives.

  11. Eric Morman (@lethalnz) said on 17th March 2012, 21:59

    McLaren were 6/10ths of a second slower than last year and Lotus 1/10th slower, Red Bull were 2 seconds slower while Mercedes were a tenth faster!

  12. Andre (@) said on 17th March 2012, 22:00

    Did anyone hear anything else about lotus protesting Mercedes?

    • Lee1 said on 17th March 2012, 22:15

      It seems they have not yet lodged an official protest, but they along with Red bull are not happy.

      In red bulls case it is a bit of Pot Kettle Black….

      • Andre (@) said on 17th March 2012, 23:09

        I hate mid season protests. Once a car is deemed legal nothing should change that. But like everything else in life it needs drama. Drama keeps us talking about it. The more we hate something the more we can love something else.

  13. Carl Craven said on 17th March 2012, 23:08

    How many incidents was Hamilton involved in his short time in that race? It was more than one?

    How many times last year did Lewis crash trying to over take someone? Quite a lot . How many laps was Lewis stuck behind MS at Monza? About 20 if I recall, how many was Jenson? None I think. Of course MS was being a bit naughty.

    Lewis is pretty immense in the wet. I think Button is better when the track is just greasy. I’ve seen Button excel on that kind of track on slicks when everyone else is on inters.

    And let’s not forget Nurburing 2008. Button over took almost the entire field in the wet in ONE lap. And Canada 2011, he came back from last to win that race. As for the incident between Lewis and Button, Lewis fans will always see it their way and Button’s fans their way, but ultimately it was an impartial Stewards decision that decided the outcome of that one.

    Lewis made a lot of mistakes last year. Button didn’t. Lewis has always out qualified Lewis on the whole but Button has always performed better in the race.

    Button has a great chance of a win tomorrow, but obviously Lewis is in the best position to control the race.

    Let’s see how the tyres fare. Lewis has a habit of being harder on them.

    • Andre (@) said on 17th March 2012, 23:11

      Im not a Hamilton fan. But when you drive that fast people better get out of your way. The only issue he had was to think any of it was his fault. 10 years ago it would all have been racing incidents.

    • cduk_mugello (@cduk_mugello) said on 17th March 2012, 23:22

      Mate there wasn’t a race at the Nurburgring in 2008.. which race is it you’re thinking of?

      • Carl Craven said on 17th March 2012, 23:35

        Germany, probably hockenheim. The Honda was as effective as a toiltet brush and the awful rain over the first part of the race enabled Button to dance by everyone.

        He did however hit a big ‘puddle’ and aquaplaned off. If I recall, even Lewis lost it that race and received a push back into the race.

        • bad_whippet (@bad_whippet) said on 18th March 2012, 1:23

          Surely Hamilton’s finest wet-weather drive of 2008 was Silverstone?! He beat 2nd place to the flag by just over a minute.

          And there’s no way you can mention 2008, Lewis Hamilton and wet-weather and not think of Spa…!

    • tharris19 said on 18th March 2012, 2:49

      Sounds like a bit of wishful thinking. Button is going to have to beat him straight up this year. Tires, smoothness, strategy, luck, stewards won’t protect him from a Lewis in a proper frame of mine and a good car.
      If he – Lewis – can get good support from his team and keep Whitmarsh’s mouth shut he will be alright this race and for the rest of the season.

  14. Chris (@tophercheese21) said on 17th March 2012, 23:12

    I’d love to see Hamilton get the win! (and the championship) with button in second, I also hope that Kimi can get at least in the top 7 despite the qualifying error.

  15. Kingshark (@kingshark) said on 18th March 2012, 0:15

    Personally, I think that Mercedes are number one at the moment, had they had the tires in Q3, you could almost be sure they would have challenged for pole, Mclaren are very close in 2nd. Lotus is surprisingly strong and had the 3rd best car today. Red Bull are actually quite weak, I was expecting much more from them. Ferrari are just horrendous.

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