Familiar foe may soon erode McLaren's advantage
World champion Vettel in hot pursuit as Red Bulls belie their poor qualifying performance
Monday 19 March 2012
The Australian Grand Prix finally answered several questions which have been a hangover from pre-season testing, in which it is notoriously impossible to assess with complete accuracy just how fast each team's car is because key factors such as fuel loads cannot be determined.
Clearly, the McLarens were the fastest cars in Albert Park, with Lewis Hamilton taking a comfortable pole position and Jenson Button dominating the race. But the Red Bulls were not as bad in the race as their qualifying performance had suggested, and nor were the Ferraris, which had seemed all at sea on Saturday. The Mercedes, however, flattered in qualifying only to deceive when it mattered, and Lotus were unlucky to lose Romain Grosjean early on and for Kimi Raikkonen to be mired in the midfield.
Williams' performance was a revelation, with Pastor Maldonado setting the sixth fastest lap and only losing sixth place when he crashed on the penultimate lap while harrying Fernando Alonso for fifth.
The Toro Rossos were also very quick, in the hands of Daniel Ricciardo and rookie Jean-Eric Vergne. Sebastian Vettel's best lap was only three tenths of a second slower than Button's fastest, and he was only 2.1sec adrift of the McLaren driver by the finish, but he agrees that the silver cars are the current favourites and that the two teams are not yet neck-and-neck.
"I think they were stronger this weekend," he stressed. "Look at the result yesterday, look at the result today. Jenson deserved to win; he was out of reach for us. I'm very happy with second, especially after the difficult day we might have had yesterday but nevertheless, this was race one. I think it was good to finally get back to racing and stop all the talk, to see some results.
"We always said in winter testing that McLaren look very strong. They had a very solid winter, no issues with the car. They did a lot of laps every day, so we expected them to be strong. Yesterday they did surprise everyone a little bit with their pace in qualifying. Today in the race I think it was looking a bit better for us, but nevertheless, they are the ones to beat.
"We will see what we get next weekend in Malaysia. If I remember last year, we were pretty dominant here and then qualifying there was just a couple of hundredths between Lewis and myself."
At Ferrari, meanwhile, the alarm bells are ringing. Team principal Stefano Domenicali said, before flying back to Maranello to persuade factory workers to push harder than ever to bring forward planned improvements: "Clearly we cannot be happy with a fifth place but, given how things went, Fernando's result is a positive one, but the result mainly of yet another super performance from the Spaniard."
At Mercedes, team principal Ross Brawn said: "With the development of the circuit and the track temperatures, we fell out of the working window, and struggled with tyre degradation. However, we remain positive as both here and over the winter tests we have demonstrated that we have a fundamentally quick car and we have a lot to build on. So we need to look at what happened today, unravel the problem, and work out where we need to improve."
Within McLaren the air of quiet optimism and resolve has been fanned by Button's success.
"We never underestimate our opposition, and undoubtedly there's a long, hard road ahead of us between now and the end of the season," team boss Martin Whitmarsh said. "But we've started well and in a few days' time we'll roll into Sepang, Malaysia, hungry to score a repeat victory.
"We are confident that we have a very good car, and now we will start developing it."
elephant appealThe first 23 lots have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
comedy'Fresh Meat' star sees off stiff competition from Alan Carr, David Mitchell, Graham Norton, Lee Mack and Sarah Millican to win top prize
Beatles rush out 'bootleg' album to defy EU copyright law
healthJames Bond's alcohol consumption puts him at 'high risk' of cirrhosis, tremors... and impotence
musicPolice chief rejects rappers' claims that his work is as dangerous as law enforcement or military service
tvSpoiler alert: Find out the result of a heated final show
Harvey Weinstein reveals his secret weapon on-set
Now that an oil trader's drinking has got him sacked, will we all have to make do with an afternoon latte?
Chiwetel Ejiofor and Idris Elba get nods for Best Actor, which no black Brit has ever won
Geoffrey Macnab reviews The Desolation of Smaug - the meat in Peter Jackson's Hobbit sandwich
peopleWhat advice would David Cameron give to his younger self?
World Cup 2014: Football Manager developers predict the team of the tournament - but which England player makes it into the XI?
Transfer news: Manchester United step up chase for Internazionale midfielder Fredy Guarin - reports
Ashes 2013/14 third Test: Is Waca on the way out?
Manchester City should have known rules in Bayern Munich match, says Rafa Benitez
Champions League last 16 draw 2013: Who could Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United meet?
- 1 French café starts charging extra to rude customers
- 2 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 3 Australia incest case: Severely deformed children found in remote farming community after generations of inbreeding
- 4 Physicists discover 'clearest evidence yet' that the Universe is a hologram
- 5 Fox News presenter tells viewers it is a 'fact' that both Jesus and Santa Claus are white