Yes, everybody was saying after this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix that it was an exciting race – and yes, it was at times – but my question a day later is this:
If the drivers were able to pass pretty much with abandon during the first 38 laps of the race, how come hardly anybody could pass in the last 20 laps?
For the first two-thirds of the race – it was wet for the start but then it dried up – guys were literally passing each other left, right and centre. It was tremendously exciting and great fun to watch.
But then, from lap 38 on, when eventual winner Jenson Button was so far ahead in his McLaren that he was out of sight and the second-place through sixth cars (Robert Kubica - Renault, Felipe Massa - Ferrari, Fernando Alonso - Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton - McLaren and Mark Webber - Red Bull) were running nose-to-tail, nobody appeared able to do anything.
Lap after lap, you expected somebody to have a go but they didn’t and the announcers kept talking about "turbulence" being a problem and I kept thinking to myself, "Wasn’t there turbulence earlier? How come it’s a problem now when it wasn’t then?"
What made this parade even more curious was that Alonso had only made one stop and was running late in the race on worn tires while Hamilton and Webber had both stopped twice and were racing on relatively better rubber.
You would think Alonso would have been a sitting duck for Hamilton and Webber but they just couldn’t get the job done for whatever reason.
With two laps to go and Hamilton alongside Alonso (he’d either been alongside, or just about alongside, several times previously), Webber forgot that he was going to have to brake for somebody going into Turn 13 and when Hamilton backed off he hit him and knocked them both off the circuit.
The race ended with Button on the top step of the podium, with Kubica second and Massa and Alonso third and fourth. Nico Rosberg finished fifth in his Mercedes and Hamilton recovered for sixth.
Antonio Luizzi was seventh in a Force India, Rubens Barrichello was eighth in a Williams, Webber limped home ninth (teammate Sebastien Vettel was winning the Grand Prix – again – in his Red Bull when he went off course because of a mechanical problem) and Michael Schumacher was tenth in his Mercedes.
Here is the Australian Grand Prix as seen through jottings in my notebook.
– As my colleague Gerald Donaldson (don’t forget our pre-race podcasts at wheels.ca before every Grand Prix) said in our Aussie GP preview (you can listen to it here), Albert Park in Melbourne is much like the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal in that it’s green and right near the centre of the city.
As a result, they attracted the biggest crowd to the race in five years – 120,000 people – and they even had to build an extra grandstand. Let’s see if Canada can beat that this year!
– It was raining and the field started on intermediate wet tires. At the first corner, eventual winner Button ran into Alonso and spun him right around, with Alonso’s Ferrari collecting Schumacher’s Mercedes in the process. Alonso’s drive from dead last to fourth was one of the highlights of the race.
Now, when analyzing the replay, BBC commentator Martin Brundle said that Button had "zero responsibility" for hitting Alonso. I don’t know about that.
You can’t be involved in a collision, regardless of the circumstances, without having some responsibility. At a certain point, race drivers going from a standing start to the first corner know that only three or four cars are going to be able to negotiate that turn at the same time (primarily because there isn’t room for any more) and somebody is either going to have to back off to avoid crunching somebody or getting crunched themselves.
Button was behind Alonso going into the corner, so when the Ferrari driver turned in the collision took place. Zero responsibility? I’d say half his fault, wouldn’t you?
– Just so people don’t think I take every opportunity I can to slag Jenson Button, that was his only mistake the whole race (and, again, he was only half responsible for that coming-together). His decision to pit for slicks was brilliant (he stopped two laps before about everybody else) and this gave him the jump he needed to walk away with the race. He did everything right from then on and managed the race with the skill of the world champion he is. Good for him.
– Question: Is it better to be a losing, uncompetitive driver in Formula One or to be fighting for race victories and possibly the championship one level down? I’m thinking here of Bruno Senna, who’s Hispania Racing team is hopeless. He finished second in the GP2 series last year, winning two races and three poles. Is he helping his career by doing what he’s doing? Or hurting it?
– Question: Is it better for Formula One, as a series, to have 24 cars on the grid – six of which are uncompetitive – or to have only 18 cars but all of them capable of winning? Just wondering . . .
– By Lap 20, Alonso had gone from 24th to seventh. Question: Is he that good a driver, and the Ferrari that good a car, or is the rest of the field so bad?
– Martin Brundle said Mark Webber calls Nico Rosberg "Britney Spears." What is that about?
– Lewis Hamilton, in the thick of his battle with Alonso, started complaining to his team over the pits-to-car radio about the wisdom of the second stop for tires. It turned out later that Robert Kubica had been ordered in for tires and had refused. He, of course, finished second.
Question: Instead of blaming the team, why didn’t Hamilton stay out?
– We only have a week until the Grand Prix of Malaysia. As next Friday is Good Friday, I will record the Malaysia Grand Prix preview podcast with Gerald Donaldson earlier than usual and it will be posted on wheels.ca by noon on Thursday. Don’t forget to listen, as "Gerry" has some wonderful insights.
Rain, rain go away
The other two major races of the weekend – the NASCAR race at Martinsville and the IZOD IndyCar Series race at St. Petersburg, Fla. – were rained out and will be run today.
The Indy car race, which – like F1 – is capable of racing in the rain, was postponed primarily because of thunder and lightning storms. The circuit was flooded and the lightning was sufficiently frequent that it was too dangerous for the drivers to race.
The only open-wheel race of consequence was the Indy Lights feature in St. Pete. It was won by rookie J.K. Vernay. James Hinchcliffe of Oakville won the pole but was taken out at the first corner by fellow Canadian Philip Major of Ottawa who admitted to the mistake.
"I outbraked myself going into (turn) 1 and I’m sorry it turned out the way it did," Major said.