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2010 Australian Grand Prix (Melbourne, Round 2, March 26th-28th)

March 28, 2010

Although the Australian Grand Prix only became part of the Formula 1 World Championship in 1985, it actually stands as one of the oldest races on the calendar with its inception at Phillip Island in 1928 for the “100 mile Road Race”. Since then, it has taken in many venues, such as Bathurst’s Mount Panorama circuit, Warwick Farm, Sandown Park, Lakeside Raceway and Calder Park before settling on the streets of Adelaide and inclusion in the World Championship.

For eleven years, Adelaide finished the season, before the Grand Prix venue moved to its current location of Albert Park in 1996 and it has been the season opener for a majority of the years since that time. Of course, 1996 was not the first year the Grand Prix cars ran at Albert Park – Formula 1 cars débuted at the circuit on November 23rd 1953 for a non-Championship race won by Doug Whiteford in Talbot-Lago car, while Sterling Moss won the second Melbourne event in 1956, before a break of 40 years saw various Grand Prix machinery compete elsewhere in the country. For the most part, Melbourne has produced some excellent Grand Prix and following the slightly doddery start to the 2010 season in Sakhir, Melbourne restored the faith by producing some stellar action.

Before the weekend even got going, contentions were in full swing as it transpired that the new Virgin team may have designed a fuel tank that is too small to complete a race distance at a fat track, thereby necessitating a redesigned tank (and potentially other elements); while McLaren, Mercedes and two other squads have had to slightly close the gap around their starter motor and rear diffuser. Meanwhile eyebrows (and questions) were raised about Red Bull’s “adjustable” ride height system – as yet unproven, of course.
On track, Force India’s reserve driver, Paul di Resta ran in Adrian Sutil’s car in free practice 1 to get some laps and experience; however the seat was relinquished for the later sessions – di Resta will occasionally swap seats with the two regular drivers throughout the season. Of the nine rookies that are in Melbourne, only Bruno Senna has previously competed at the circuit as the young Brazilian raced Formula 3 machinery on the Australian tarmac in 2006.
During the opening session itself, Kamui Kobayashi had a silly accident through the fast turn 11/12 chicane; as he took the entry too tight and fast and forcefully removed sections of his front wing and caused a red flag to emerge. It was not long before the session gets going again and when the young Japanese driver went back out, his front wing collapsed after only a few corners bringing out another red flag of the session. A poor practice session for Sauber got worse as Pedro de la Rosa stopped on circuit with mechanical problems. There were spins from Vitaly Petrov and the two Lotus cars, while Heikki Kovalainen pulled off track at the very end of the session with mechanical problems. At the top end of the results, fast laps from Robert Kubica (Renault), Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) and Jenson Button (McLaren) saw them take First Practice honours at the end of the first ninety minutes.

As the second session commenced, light rain began to fall on the Melbourne track prompting most of the cars to go on circuit and get some times on the board – especially the two McLaren’s who spend the early part of the session swapping fastest laps as the rain fizzles out. Unfortunately the HRT driver Karun Chandhok suffered a driveshaft failure only meters after exiting the pitlane, ending his session early on – it would not be all bad for the Indian driver as he picked up many more miles during the weekend. Following a period of heavy running, the rain begins to come down heavily again, but this time the track clears as most of the drivers head back to the pits. Once again, the moisture softens and a few cars go out on track, but are significantly slower that the times already posted. Adrian Sutil returned to his car after di Resta’s morning run. The track was somewhat drier by the end of the session, as a few drivers put in faster times – by the end of Friday practice, the lists were topped by Lewis Hamilton and Button (McLaren), with Mark Webber (Red Bull, Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) not far behind. Following the Friday evening sessions, Hamilton was pulled over by police for “over-exuberant” driving in his Mercedes sports car; to say that it was quite silly would be an understatement – whether it harms his attitude over the weekend remains to be seen.

A much cooler Saturday greeted the field for Saturday morning practice as Webber took the fastest time in his Red Bull Racing machine. Vettel also ran fast on circuit, as did Schumacher, Hamilton and Alonso – the five drivers swapped fastest laps throughout the session. For the two-time world Champion, Alonso struggled with heavy traffic – at one point baulked by the HRT of Bruno Senna. Unfortunately for the Brazilian driver, his engine cut out shortly afterward and his car ground to a halt on the exit of turn two. It went from bad to worse for the Spanish squad as Senna’s team mate Karun Chandhok, retired quietly in the pits – his car motionless with a hydraulic problem.
As the afternoon drifted onward, the opening qualifying session saw much traffic with all twenty-four cars on circuit – something noted on team radio by Williams driver Rubens Barrichello. Unsurprisingly, all six new cars were knocked out and were joined by Petrov; however the session saw a big improvement for HRT as Senna and Chandhok lined up less than six seconds slower than the leading drivers and well within 107% of the fastest time. In the second part of the session, Lewis Hamilton was a surprise drop-out as he placed his car 11th on the grid – it appears the McLaren pilot was struggling badly with a poor balance and probably poor concentration too – while the much fancied Nico Hulkenberg qualified a disappointing 15th. Both of their team mates made it into the final part of qualifying.
The final session of qualifying saw Red Bull cars grab the front row, as Sebastien Vettel that took pole over Australian native Mark Webber. Button secured 4th place inbetween the two Ferrari’s and just ahead of the Mercedes duo of Rosberg and Schumacher.

If you though the Bahrain Grand Prix was a little dull, then the Australian Grand Prix could not have been more different. From the second the lights went out until the moment the chequered flag dropped, the second race of 2010 was all action. As expected, the weather played its part for a very short period as the rain teemed down only minutes prior to the formation lap, necessitating intermediate wet tyres for all the drivers, except for the Lotus of Jarno Trulli – the Italian did not even make it to the grid as a hydraulic failure ended his race before it even started.
When the Grand Prix did start, Vettel romped into the lead, but a feisty looking Robert Kubica jumped ahead some of the frontrunners and into fourth place – partially because of an excellent start, but also because Button, Schumacher and Alonso clashed at turn 1 leaving the the Ferrari driver at the back of the field and Schumacher needing a new front wing. The damage inflicted on the 7-time world champion was nothing compared to the destruction inflicted by Kobayashi on Hulkenberg and Buemi at turn 3 – the Sauber driver lost his front wing entering turn 6 and ploughed into the side of his two hapless victims. Not even half a lap had been completed and the safety car was already touring the circuit. As the Mercedes sportscar pulled in, four laps were in the books and the track had began to dry out significantly – it was not long before the McLaren’s were struggling on their inters changed to the soft tyres on the seventh and eighth laps respectively. Hamilton had gotten by Button prior to his stop, but it was the current Champion that emerged ahead of the two from the pitlane and instantly began to set fastest laps – within one tour, the rest of the field begins to change rubber as well. Australian native, Mark Webber was the last stopper and it dropped him a few spots behind race leader Vettel; however he didn’t lose quite as many places as Petrov – the Russian driver lost traction in his Renault entering turn 3 and buried his machine in the gravel to retire from his second Grand Prix.
By this stage Button had progressed to second place – behind Vettel, but ahead of Kubica, Rosberg and Massa; however an under pressure Massa went wide at the first turn and dropped places to both Hamilton and Webber, but reclaimed his those two spots at turn 3 as the McLaren and Red Bull drivers tangle in the middle of the corner – the Red Bull coming off the worse of the two. This opened the door for the second Ferrari, as a hard charging Alonso had already moved up to eighth position by lap 15 and was setting fastest times. He reeled in the battling threesome with aplomb and now his attention turned to his 2007 team mate. It was clear at this point that the rear tyres on Massa’s and Rosberg’s respective sets were graining badly and this enabled Hamilton to get by the Brazilian into turn 1 – a brave move perfectly executed, but not quite as sublime as his move around Rosberg. Hamilton made quick work of the German to power around the outside of him through the fast turn 11/12 chicane.

On lap 26 and down at turn 13, the dust became airborne, the gravel shook violently and a backward drifting car grasped the attention of the grandstand and television viewers – Sebastian Vettel was out – break failure. For the second consecutive race, a Red Bull failure would hand the race to someone else – on this occasion, the lead was gifted to Jenson Button. Kubica slotted up to second place and was busy absorbing pressure from Hamilton; however behind the McLaren driver, others began to pit and Hamilton’s team react by bringing the Englishman in on lap 34 – a move that would eventually stifle his race. Both Webber and Rosberg changed tyres also, but Hamilton had the jump on both – unfortunately they rejoined the race some over 35 seconds behind Button with only 20 laps remaining; although whereas it was unlikely for Button to get caught, the Renault of Robert Kubica and both Ferrari’s were within catching distance on their old tyres.
Soon the laps fell away like the rubber from the leading four and Hamilton and Webber closed on the Kubica / Massa / Alonso battle by over 1 second per lap. With less than ten laps left on the counter, Button possessed a 17 second lead on Kubica with Massa not far behind the Pole – Alonso still in fourth had both Hamilton and Webber in his mirrors; however a stalemate ensued as Hamilton with scuffed rubber entered Alonso’s dirty air. The 2008 World Champion tried a number of moves on his former team mate – unsuccessfully – but when an attempt in turn turn 13 on lap 56 doesn’t quite come together, the McLaren pilot is rammed from the back by Webber. Both kept going, but Lewis lost a spot while Webber pitted for a new wing and dropped to ninth.
With nothing left, Button cruised to his second consecutive Australian Grand Prix victory and the eight of his Formula 1 career. A marvellous race that was the antithesis of the procession around Sakhir from two weeks ago and easily one of the stand out races from the last few seasons – fantastic stuff. A note of congratulations to for the HRT team, as their driver Karun Chandhok made it to the end of the race, albeit 5 laps adrift of the winner, but everyone has to start somewhere.
Come Thursday, the teams will be in Sepang for the twelfth Malaysian Grand Prix and the third race of 2010, but will it live up to this?
Race Rating: 4.5 out of 5

——–

Melbourne, Australian Grand Prix (Round 2, March 28th)
1 BUTTON McLaren

2 KUBICA Renault +12.0s
3 MASSA Ferrari +14.4s
4 ALONSO Ferrari +16.3s
5 ROSBERG Mercedes +16.6s
6 HAMILTON McLaren +29.8s
7 LIUZZI Force India +59.8s
8 BARRICHELLO Williams +60.5s
9 WEBBER Red Bull +67.3s
10 SCHUMACHER Mercedes +69.3s
11 ALGUERSUARI Toro Rosso +71.3s
12 DE LA ROSA Sauber +74.0s
13 KOVALAINEN Lotus +2 laps
14 CHANDHOK HRT +5 laps
R. GLOCK Virgin +17 laps
R. DI GRASSI Virgin +32 laps
R. VETTEL Red Bull +33 laps
R. SUTIL Force India +49 laps
R. PETROV Renault +49 laps
R. SENNA HRT +54 laps
R. BUEMI Toro Rosso +58 laps
R. HULKENBERG Williams +58 laps
R. KOBAYASHI Sauber +58 laps
R. TRULLI Lotus +58 laps

Melbourne, Qualifying (March 27th)
3rd Session
1 VETTEL Red Bull 1m23.919s

2 WEBBER Red Bull 1m24.035s

3 ALONSO Ferrari 1m24.111s

4 BUTTON McLaren 1m24.675s

5 MASSA Ferrari 1m24.837s
6 ROSBERG Mercedes 1m24.884s

7 SCHUMACHER Mercedes 1m24.927s

8 BARRICHELLO Williams 1m25.217s

9 KUBICA Renault 1m25.372s

10 SUTIL Force India 1m26.036s

2nd Session

11 HAMILTON McLaren 1m25.184s

12 BUEMI Toro Rosso 1m25.638s

13 LIUZZI Force India 1m25.743s

14 DE LA ROSA Sauber 1m25.747s

15 HULKENBERG Williams 1m25.748s

16 KOBAYASHI Sauber 1m25.777s

17 ALGUERSUARI Toro Rosso 1m26.089s
1st Session
18 PETROV Renault 1m26.471s

19 KOVALAINEN Lotus 1m28.797s

20 TRULLI Lotus 1m29.111s

21 GLOCK Virgin 1m29.592s

22 DI GRASSI Virgin 1m30.185s

23 SENNA HRT 1m30.526s

24 CHANDHOK HRT 1m30.613s

Melbourne, 3rd Free Practice (March 27th)
1 WEBBER Red Bull 1m24.719s
2 ALONSO Ferrari 1m24.929s
3 SCHUMACHER Mercedes 1m24.963s
4 VETTEL Red Bull 1m25.122s
5 ROSBERG Mercedes 1m25.366s
6 BUTTON McLaren 1m25.399s
7 HAMILTON McLaren 1m25.505s
8 SUTIL Force India 1m25.525s
9 MASSA Ferrari 1m25.549s
10 LIUZZI Force India 1m25.782s
11 BARRICHELLO Williams 1m25.852s
12 BUEMI Toro Rosso 1m26.104s
13 KUBICA Renault 1m26.184s
14 KOBAYASHI Sauber 1m26.275s
15 ALGUERSUARI Toro Rosso 1m26.368s
16 PETROV Renault 1m26.661s
17 HULKENBERG Williams 1m26.804s
18 DE LA ROSA Sauber 1m26.818s
19 KOVALAINEN Lotus 1m29.539s
20 TRULLI Lotus 1m29.800s
21 DI GRASSI Virgin 1m30.800s
22 GLOCK Virgin 1m31.114s
23 CHANDHOK HRT 1m34.334s
24 SENNA HRT 1m36.649s

Melbourne, 2nd Free Practice (March 26th)

1 HAMILTON McLaren 1m25.801s

2 BUTTON McLaren 1m26.076s

3 WEBBER Red Bull 1m26.248s

4 SCHUMACHER Mercedes 1m26.511s

5 PETROV Renault 1m26.732s

6 BUEMI Toro Rosso 1m26.832s

7 SUTIL Force India 1m26.834s

8 LIUZZI Force India 1m26.835s

9 BARRICHELLO Williams 1m26.904s

10 ROSBERG Mercedes 1m26.956s

11 KUBICA Renault 1m27.108s

12 DE LA ROSA Sauber 1m27.108s

13 KOBAYASHI Sauber 1m27.455s

14 HULKENBERG Williams 1m27.545s

15 ALONSO Ferrari 1m29.025s

16 VETTEL Red Bull 1m29.134s

17 MASSA Ferrari 1m29.591s

18 KOVALAINEN Lotus 1m29.860s

19 ALGUERSUARI Toro Rosso 1m30.510s

20 TRULLI Lotus 1m30.695s

21 GLOCK Virgin 1m32.117s

22 DI GRASSI Virgin no time

23 CHANDHOK HRT no time
24 SENNA HRT no time

Melbourne, 1st Free Practice (March 26th)
1 KUBICA Renault 1m26.927s
2 ROSBERG Mercedes 1m27.126s
3 BUTTON McLaren 1m27.482s
4 MASSA Ferrari 1m27.511s
5 VETTEL Red Bull 1m27.686s
6 ALONSO Ferrari 1m27.747s
7 HAMILTON McLaren 1m27.793s
8 BUEMI Toro Rosso 1m28.014s
9 PETROV Renault 1m28.114s
10 LIUZZI Force India 1m28.192s
11 DI RESTA Force India 1m28.537s
12 SCHUMACHER Mercedes 1m28.550s
13 ALGUERSUARI Toro Rosso 1m28.572s
14 WEBBER Red Bull 1m28.683s
15 DE LA ROSA Sauber 1m29.465s
16 BARRICHELLO Williams 1m29.712s
17 HULKENBERG Williams 1m30.249s
18 KOBAYASHI Sauber 1m31.588s
19 TRULLI Lotus 1m31.652s
20 KOVALAINEN Lotus 1m31.654s
21 DI GRASSI Virgin 1m32.831s
22 SENNA HRT 1m33.401s
23 CHANDHOK HRT 1m34.251s
24 GLOCK Virgin 1m34.925s

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