Familiar foe may soon erode McLaren's advantage

World champion Vettel in hot pursuit as Red Bulls belie their poor qualifying performance

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."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent