The 2012 Formula One season has started. And how! The results may show familiar faces – Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton – in the top three places but the evidence from Australia is that the old order has been, if not turned on its head, then grabbed by the throat and given a really good shake.
Here’s a summary: Red Bull are no longer dominant; McLaren have backed up productive winter testing with a fast and reliable car; Mercedes has taken a step forward while Ferrari has, at best, stood still; Toro Rosso has two sparkling newcomers at the wheel of a good car; Kimi Raikkonen, despite a costly mistake in qualifying, has lost none of his old flair; and then there are the unfamiliar names in unexpected places.
Having been written off (by me, among others), Romain Grosjean made an extraordinary comeback to qualify third but ultimately retire when hit by the fast but ridiculously impetuous Pastor Maldonado. It would be easy to say that Grosjean’s Lotus (formerly Renault) is quick but I’ll hold judgement on that until next weekend in Malaysia thanks to Renault having been fast in Melbourne during the past two years, only to drop off the edge of the performance cliff.
Speaking of comebacks, Nico Hulkenberg proved a match for the much-fancied Paul di Resta even if Hulkenberg’s race ended in the usual tangle of wheels at the first corner. Indeed, the first corner would be the catalyst for one of the best drives of the afternoon when Daniel Ricciardo, after qualifying an impressive 10th, limped into the Toro Rosso pit for a new nose and then faced 57 more laps with the car pulling to the left.
The Australian pushed on, his progress helped by a Safety Car with 20 laps to go. Ricciardo, 12th going into the last lap, came out of it in ninth place after an opportunist move or two as those ahead became bunched up behind Nico Rosberg’s slowing Mercedes.
But if we’re going to talk about "good drives" then there are not enough superlatives to describe Button’s faultless and perfectly controlled race. Vettel, pleased to have finished second after a difficult weekend, said the Englishman was in a class of his own, a sentiment Hamilton clearly did not wish to hear as he sat glumly in the post-race press conference.
Having started from pole (a typically brilliant lap), Hamilton had no answers for why he was beaten off the line and how he somehow failed to match his team-mate’s pace. Hamilton is supposed to be reinventing himself after a troubled season in 2011. But not on the evidence of the pathetic body language seen late on Sunday afternoon.
If Hamilton thinks he has problems, then he ought to have a chat with Fernando Alonso. As ever, the Spaniard drove the wheels off his Ferrari, which accounts for fifth place. But it is clear the red car is not on the pace – and neither, come to that, is Felipe Massa. Bets are on for who will replace him before the end of what looks like being a classic season.
1 Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes) – 25
2 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault) – 18
3 Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) – 15
4 Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault) – 12
5 Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) – 10
6 Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber-Ferrari) – 8
7 Kimi Räikkönen (Lotus-Renault ) – 6
8 Sergio Perez (Sauber-Ferrari) – 4
9 Daniel Ricciardo (STR-Ferrari) – 2
10 Paul di Resta (Force India-Mercedes) – 1
11 Jean-Eric Vergne (STR-Ferrari) – 0
12 Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 0
13 Pastor Maldonado (Williams-Renault) – 0
14 Timo Glock (Marussia-Cosworth ) – 0
15 Charles Pic (Marussia-Cosworth ) – 0
16 Bruno Senna (Williams-Renault) – 0
17 Felipe Massa (Ferrari) – 0
18 Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham-Renault) – 0
19 Vitaly Petrov (Caterham-Renault) – 0
20 Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) – 0
21 Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault) – 0
22 Nico Hulkenberg (Force India-Mercedes) – 0
23 Pedro de la Rosa (HRT-Cosworth) – 0
24 Narain Karthikeyan (HRT-Cosworth) – 0
1 McLaren-Mercedes – 40
2 Red Bull Racing-Renault – 30
3 Sauber-Ferrari – 12
4 Ferrari – 10
5 Lotus-Renault – 6
6 STR-Ferrari – 2
7 Force India-Mercedes – 1
8 Mercedes – 0
9 Williams-Renault – 0
10 Marussia-Cosworth – 0
11 Caterham-Renault – 0
12 HRT-Cosworth – 0