A new F1 season but another pole position and another win for Sebastian Vettel suggests Red Bull Racing have got right back on the horse. Behind Seb - quite a long way behind actually - there was the return of KERS, a new overtaking system and all the usual hoopla that surrounds F1, which made it an Australian Grand Prix to remember.
As is befitting a world champion, Seb began his week with a spot of sheep shearing down on a farm in the Melbourne suburbs.
“I think it usually takes about three minutes; it took me half an hour, so obviously I need the practice.”
Meanwhile, reserve driver Daniel Ricciardo was preparing for life as a Friday driver with Toro Rosso. Instead of a low-key introduction in Bahrain, he got to take his first turn in front of a home crowd screaming him on.
“It’s going to be a little more exciting isn’t it? It would have been nice to get something under my belt before coming here, but this is how it worked out, and Melbourne first time out is pretty special. I’ll certainly be giving it the herbs.”
Technical issues dominated discussions before racing began: tyres, KERS and the all-new Drag Reduction System, aka DRS, aka the moveable rear wing, were the hot topics. One worry for the drivers was the prospect of operating lots of extra buttons and switches for DRS and KERS while driving at 200mph.
“It’s like answering three Blackberry messages while frying eggs and doing up your shoelaces”
Vitaly Petrov – Renault
“At home, I have my first F1 steering wheel, it had one button for the radio. The current one has 26; it’s a big difference! Pressing the button isn’t the problem, but maybe taking your eyes off the road is.”
Rubens Barrichello – Williams
Lewis Hamilton began hostilities by referring to Red Bull as ‘Just a drinks company’.
“We are just a drinks company but in the end we had a pretty good season last year so hopefully we can build on that. We have some sensational rivals. Renault and Mercedes are not hanging around and there’s no reason why they couldn’t challenge for the title along with McLaren and Ferrari. There are phenomenal teams, phenomenal history and that’s what gives us great rewards when we can come out and compete against those guys.“
“Ah… I don’t know in what context Lewis said that, but for just a drinks company, we’ve beaten an engineering company with the resources McLaren have for the last couple of years, so I’m not sure what context he said it in, but we’re much more than just a drinks company.”
The new tyres were making most teams think they would be busier in the pit lane than in previous seasons.
“It’s going to keep the pit wall strategy guys on it, so it’s more of a team sport. Unlike last year when the call had to be made potentially once, it’s going to be two, three maybe even four times during a race this year. You’re going to see more pit stops, more interaction with the pit wall. It’s going to be fascinating to watch.”
The Q1 session saw the reintroduced 107 per cent rule used straight away, with the Hispania racing team not making the grade.
“Everybody did an amazing job. We faced a lot of difficulties getting here and the effort put in by the whole team this week has been huge, but the rules are the rules. Now we’re focused on the next race. I am positive and am sure that everything will go well in Malaysia.”
Tonio Liuzzi – Hispania
In the Q3 shootout, Sebastian took pole position with 1:23.529: the fastest ever lap of Albert Park. A committed run from Lewis Hamilton took second, pushing Webber into third. Button was fourth and Alonso fifth. Vettel, though, was nearly eight-tenths clear of the field.
“I think it was a pleasure today, quite fast, and I am very happy with the result but if you look at the points we have zero points just like everybody else so we will have to see tomorrow.”
“I’m absolutely thrilled to be up here today. The guys back at the factory have done an unbelievable job. Really a massive step this weekend. The car is feeling fantastic. Of course, we still have a lot of work to do but I think we have really got ourselves on the right track and a great foundation for us to build upon.”
“I couldn’t do the times today. I was disappointed, obviously, with my performance and I’m mystified with the gap to Seb, to be honest. I will have to go through it and have a look at where I can improve and go from there.”
Curiously, it was noted that Vettel’s mighty pole lap hadn’t featured any use of KERS. In fact neither Red Bull had used the hybrid.
“Not fully charged,”
Sebastian Vettel (laughing)
“Everything we do, we do for a reason,”
“If he didn’t use KERS, that is another half-a-second - so that's 1.3 seconds [ahead of the field]. That’s not normal.”
Vettel got away strongly from pole. Webber got alongside Hamilton but couldn’t make it stick and had to settle for third in the early exchanges.
“The start was crucial and being on the clean side I had a very good getaway but I did not know it was enough until I saw that Lewis and Mark were battling for position - so I was clear. And then for the first stint I more or less tried to hold the gap. We saw how quickly you reach the wall and the tyres start to see some more degradation. Lewis caught up, we came in, I think it was the right timing just. I could not really have done more laps.”
Mark Webber was the first driver to feel his rear tyres starting to lose performance and pitted on L11. He swapped from soft to hard tyres and dropped him back to seventh, though he regained third when everything shook out. He made a second stop on L26 to go back to the softs and a third on L41. Different strategies allowed Vitaly Petrov and Fernando Alonso to jump ahead and Mark finished fifth.
“It was good that Seb got the most out of it and did a good job. It was a tough afternoon for me and I need to improve on this in the future. Today's race slipped away from me from lap three, I just couldn't keep up. I was in a different race than Sebastian today, so we had to do different things. I was in trouble with the tyres much sooner, so we need to find out why – but I’m looking forward to the Malaysian Grand Prix now, and I wish it was tomorrow.”
Vettel made his first of two stops on L14. He briefly dropped to third but regained the lead by L17 and stayed there for the rest of the race. Leading Lewis Hamilton across the line by a comfortable margin with Vitaly Petrov third.
“This is the first time I’ve finished the Australian Grand Prix, so I’m really, really happy. We scored a lot of points, which is important, but we enjoyed ourselves, which is even more important. If we can keep doing those two things then we have a really good chance this year.”
Joyous as Vettel was, he couldn’t compete with the joy of Petrov, making his first visit to the podium
“To be honest I am very happy to be here, with these guys. Today the team did everything perfectly and we must be proud about out place today.”
The DRS system seemed to have an effect, but the drivers were not entirely convinced
“Even after the first race it’s difficult to say whether or not it works, I think the DRS and KERS together work quite well, but as for the DRS on its own, I’m not sure yet. The state of your tyres was a big complication in judging it - when they were completely gone it was difficult to do anything.”
Again, Red Bull Racing didn’t use KERS. Christian Horner explained afterwards the team had removed the system after Friday practice because of reliability niggles.
“It explains a lot. I wish I’d known before the race because I was pushing the button and nothing was happening.”
And so on we go to Malaysia, where the heat and possibly the rain will present a very different challenge. The long straights are different from the slippery Albert Park, and everyone will get a better idea of their 2011 potential. Australia has answered some questions, but it has also posed a whole lot more…