The Formula 1 season finally got under way at Melbourne, Australia on Sunday 27th March. Qualifying on Saturday was a mixed bag and had a few surprises. Red Bull's Vettel got pole position with lap time of 1min23.529 but his team didn't dominate the front row. McLaren's Lewis Hamilton had a late charge and clinched the 2nd place on the grid. The second Red Bull car driven by Webber was 3rd, Button (McLaren) 4th, Alonso (Ferrari) 5th, Petrov (Lotus-Renault) 6th, Rosberg (Mercedes) 7th, Massa (Ferrari) 8th, Kobayashi (Sauber) 9th and Buemi (Toro-Rosso) making up the Top 10 qualifiers.
Noticeable omissions were both drivers of Hispania Racing who were victims of the new 107% rule i.e. they were not within 107% of the fastest qualifying time.
After observing a minute's silence in remembrance of those affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the 58-lap race began with the 22 drivers who made it through qualifying.
Vettel had a good start, Hamilton and Alonso didn't but although the McLaren driver managed to retain his 2nd place position, Alonso wasn't so lucky - dropping back from 5th.
Biggest gain by the 3rd corner was Renault's Vitaly Petrov who had moved from 6th to 4th behind Webber. Button got 'stuck' behind Massa and tried to pass him several times, in fact being the first driver to deploy the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) and the new Drag Reduction System (DRS) or Adjustable Rear Wing, but the overtake manoeuvre was unsuccessful. Button was later penalised with a drive through penalty for cutting a corner while battling with Massa and Alonso.
Mercedes GP didn't have a good day, with both cars failing to finish the race. Rosberg was hit by William's Barrichello during an 'amateurish' overtake move by the Brazilian. He too was to serve a drive-through penalty for causing this collision.
Webber was the 1st of the front runners to pit for fresh tyres on lap 12. Petrov was now 3rd behind Vettel and Hamilton, and Webber fed back into 7th place. Vettel pitted in lap 15 returning onto the track behind Button who was unable to 'hold the RedBull driver' behind him. Hamilton pitted a lap later and regained his starting position behind Vettel.
Hamilton's car sustained damage 0n lap 32 in its under-tray after an excursion off the track but his lap times were generally unaffected.
1) VET, 2) HAM, 3) PET, 4) ALO, 5) WEB, 6) BUT, 7) PER, 8) KOB, 9) MAS, 10) BUE.
Sergio Perez, new Sauber driver, stunned the everyone by his excellent tyre management and required just 1 pit-stop (i.e. only used the mandatory minimum tyre allocation of two).
Battle of the 'outsiders'
There are no brand new teams on the track this year but the battle of the new teams (Lotus, Virgin, Hispania Racing) last year was considered to have been 'won' by Team Lotus based on race finishes and highest position.
At the Australian Grand Prix, Hispania never made it onto the track on race day, and 1 driver from both Lotus and Virgin didn't finish the race, meaning Trulli (Lotus) and d'Ambrosio (Virgin) were the only 'outsiders' to complete the first race of the season.
1) Red Bull later admitted that they didn't have KERS installed on their cars, due to problems discovered when they ran it during practice on Friday. However no-one could have guessed this from their pace and the misleading 'full battery' KERS graphic on the screens.
2) Sauber were disqualified from the race due to a technical infringement on their rear-wing. Therefore Perez's 7th and Kobayashi's 8th place finish were inherited by Massa and Buemi. This also promoted both Force India's drivers from 11th and 12th to point scoring positions, earning 2011 rookie di Resta his first F1 Championship point.
Revised results: 1) VET, 2) HAM, 3) PET, 4) ALO, 5) WEB, 6) BUT, 7) MAS, 8) BUE, 9) SUT, 10) DIR.
Paul di Resta - a point on his debut race after Sauber's disqualification
Vitaly Petrov - 1st Russian on F1 podium
Sergio Perez - Single tyre change
Williams and Mercedes GP - Did Not Finish (DNF)
Hispania Racing - Did Not Start (DNS)
Photo from Sutton Images (c)