Let’s talk about the 2011 Australian GP already

Man, four days since it happened and I haven’t written about it yet?  Crazy.

Remember last year, when the Formula One season started out with an utterly dismal Bahrain GP?  Well invert that sonofabitch; the 2011 season opener was fucking amazing. Perhaps not in terms of sheer quantity of passing, which is how everyone seems to think fans judge motor races, but if I wanted to see a bunch of cars going past another bunch of cars and getting passed by a third bunch of cars… I’d watch Indy Car or restrictor-plate NASCAR races.  Basketball is a much higher-scoring sport than hockey, but if you’d like to claim that it’s a proportionally much more exciting sport we can’t be friends.

So what made this year’s trip around the Albert Park street circuit so exciting?  Storylines, man; storylines!

Red Bull: Dominant

Okay, not necessarily “Red Bull: Dominant” — more like “Sebastian Vettel and his RB7: Dominant”.  Holy fuck does that kid have pace.  He qualified almost three quarters of a second ahead of P2 Lewis Hamilton, which is simply ridiculous.  He nailed the start and took a better than two-second lead to the end of the first lap… without KERS, which Red Bull had disabled on their cars due to reliability issues.  He led every pit stop-neutral lap of the race.

Mark Webber, on the other hand… he was quick, but he struggled with the start, never had the pace of the McLarens, and couldn’t quite pass Alonso.  He surely hasn’t managed to extract himself from the shadow of his teammate over the winter.  Briefly: the RB7 is fast in Vettel’s hands, but not (apparently) in Webber’s.  Shades of Abu Dhabi?

Renault: Petrov is for real

Last year, Renault were recovering from a cataclysmic 2009 season to occasionally challenge Mercedes and hoist themselves decisively above other mid-field teams like Williams and Sauber.  Most of this was done by a Polish gentleman named Kubica, who crashed a rally car earlier this year — crashed it hard — and is likely to be out for the season.  His understudy last year was a Russian rookie named Petrov, who made a bunch of mistakes and invited speculation that he was employed for the sponsorship he brought to the team rather than for his abilities behind the wheel.  He surprised a number of people — including your humble author — by keeping Alonso behind him for forty-some damn laps, on old tires at the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP, a feat which may have given Vettel his WDC.

He finished third in Melbourne.  Alonso finished fourth.  Webber finished fifth.  Plus ça change….

Petrov got off to a great start, beating Webber to the first corner, and held his own quite handily against Ferraris and McLarens and Red Bulls.  As you might’ve heard, Renault went a bit nuts with their car development over the off-season, and hot damn did it pay off.

McLaren: It’s crazy, but it works

For the past couple years, McLaren’s been starting out the season with dismally uncompetitive cars (that is, uncompetitive against the front-runners) and ending up with a lot of points anyway.  Much of this comes down to Lewis Hamilton, who can consistently outdrive his car but rather less consistently outdrive Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel.  Anyway, as has become typical, McLaren made some batshit insane design decisions on their 2011 car and were well off the pace in winter testing.  But somehow they pulled it together for the first race of the season — rather than, say, the ninth or tenth — and gave Ferrari, Red Bull, and Renault a run for their money.  (It still seems strange to include Renault as a front-runner.)

Look for Hamilton — who apparently figured he needed a challenge and shredded his car’s floor around mid-race, but quite handily held onto second regardless — to keep Vettel honest for the first three or four races while the rest of the pack figures out how to challenge the Red Bulls.  L-shaped sidepods.  What the fuck, man.

Ferrari and Mercedes: What happened?

Ferrari have shown plenty of pace in winter testing, and kept with their usual philosophy of evolutionary rather than revolutionary development.  It’s worked out quite well for them so far, but not at Melbourne this year.  Alonso was convincingly quicker than his teammate — and Button — but didn’t really have the oompf to challenge for the podium.  The Ferraris were no quicker than Webber despite the latter’s lack of KERS; what was going on?

Similarly, Mercedes have gone from a new set of drivers (one of whom was a bit rusty) and a car they couldn’t afford to develop the previous season to a shit-ton of money and crushing expectations.  And, well… okay, Rosberg got taken out by Barrichello (wtf?), but neither car was on pace regardless.  Will they be able to claw their way up?

DRS: The dog that didn’t bark

We were all apprehensive about the rear-wing fiddle-fuckery making passing “too easy”.  It, er, didn’t turn out that way.  A lot of that came down to the layout of the DRS segment at Albert Park — the last corner isn’t exactly quick and T1 isn’t exactly a prime opportunity — but by a number of accounts DRS down the front straight permitted drivers to set up passes in T3-T4-T5, which is pretty damn cool.  While I still think the adjustable rear wing is ultimately a pile of candy-assed bullshit, I’m willing to refrain from judgement after the first race and just go ahead and assume that the FIA knows what the fuck they’re doing this time around.


There are many more things to be said about Melbourne — Tires?  Williams?  Sauber?  Toro Rosso?  HRT? — but those will no doubt come out later in the season as well, and I’m nearly at a thousand words.  Suffice to say that I’m glad F1 is back on, and I’ll close with the observation that Brundle and Coultard call a pretty mean race.


1 Response to “Let’s talk about the 2011 Australian GP already”

  1. April 11, 2011 at 11:32

    Post Malaysia:

    What has RB done for Vettel that it hasn’t done for Webber? It think KERS will probably be the most important technology of the year, and was the key for Vettel’s fast start. And Webber’s slow start. (I mean, it looked like he was dog-paddling while all around were breast stroking.)

    Hope for MacLaren? Yeah. Who wasn’t watching lap times? Waiting for rain? Hoping for a pit problem? Driving on untested tires?

    It’s early times, but the ease with which Vettel out-performed every other driver on the track stands out. What did he have, a five-second lead with laps running out? You can save a lot of tire when you can keep them in the performance zone without having to worry about closing rates.

    China this week. Hamilton’s work in final laps is, in my mind, comparable to Tiger’s return in the final round of the Master’s. Did you really think Tiger could win? Did you really think Hamilton could make it past Vettel?

    But didn’t you hope?

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