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Thursday, 20 June 2013

Formula 1 2013 - Australian Grand Prix Catch-Up

Not pictured: Vettel leading
Welcome to the first of my F1 2013 catch-up posts. I've been watching them on TV, but if you haven't been or you missed one, then fear not! A summary followed by a blow-by-blow report of each and every race this year will appear over the season. With a three-week break between an excellent Canadian GP and the good old British GP, now's as good a time as any to fill in my coverage gaps. Enjoy!

So once again, the Formula One circus rolled into the city of Melbourne, Australia for another new season of speed, controversy, bravery, strategy and crashes. With the cars mostly evolutions of last year's entries, you'd expect the results to be pretty similar, right? Well, as it turns out, no. As a qualifying session so wet it was delayed until Sunday showed, McLaren's bold switch to pullrod front suspension resulted in the same drop in competitiveness that Ferrari had when they did the same last year, which disappointed a lot of people after they'd arguably had the fastest car on the grid in 2012. What's more, the Mercedes team, who started well but were languishing in the middle of nowhere at the end of last season, surprised everyone when newly recruited Lewis Hamilton put his car third on the grid, with his best buddy and new team mate Nico Rosberg posting the fastest times of all up until Q3, at which point the usual suspects muscled their way into their party. Massa also showed that his return to form late in 2012 was set to continue by out-qualifying team mate Fernando Alonso in a much better-looking and faster Ferrari than last year.

The race itself saw much less crashing than Qualifying. Mark Webber got off to a dismal start, losing five places in one lap to find himself seventh (as it turned out this was because of an ECU glitch, for which supplier McLaren later apologised). A couple of early battles for position broke out as the two Ferraris got off to a flyer with an overtaken Hamilton keeping them in cheque, but the Super Soft tyres were proving to have a shorter life than a mayfly in a battlefield, so we saw pit stops as early as lap 4. Happily though, we didn't see Sebastian Vettel running away from the grid, as Red Bull like to set their car up for qualifying, which makes the RB9 quite tyre-hungry. Instead, it was Kimi Räikkönen's Lotus that was quicker on Sunday, as he kept the pressure on the front runners. Adrian Sutil - returning to Force India after a year off for being a naughty boy - started the race on Prime tyres, which proved advantageous as those in front of him slowly pitted in and he didn't. By lap 17 he was leading the race having started twelfth - well, eleventh, as Nico Hülkenberg had had a fuel problem before the race and Sauber decided not to race the car for safety reasons - and held onto his lead on merit until lap 21 when he was passed in the first corner(s) by Fernando Alonso, who had taken the lead in the pits, and later by Vettel and Massa (who later found that his pit strategy was wrong and rightly complained). On lap 25, Pastor Maldonado made a schoolboy error and braked for the first corner with a wheel or two on the grass. This put him in the gravel, and DRS was disabled until the marshals had removed him. Not long later, Nico Rosberg was forced to retire to the side of the road at turn 4 due to an electronics problem, a shame for the potentially high-scoring German.

Sutil returned to the lead by lap 40, after the second round of pit stops saw him cruise past the front runners again on his second set of Prime tyres. By this point, the ever-threatening rain had appeared in sector 3, but was light enough to deal with on dry-weather tyres, so nobody dived into the pits for Intermediates. Still, Sutil had only used one type of tyre thus far in the race, and the rules state that in a dry race you must use both compounds at least once. This meant that a second pit stop to use the super-soft Options was only a matter of time, something the would-be leaders (Vettel, Alonso, Räikkönen and maybe Hamilton) could keep in mind as he legitimately kept the lead of the race, even pulling away from them at one point. Alas, his reign was ended by fan favourite Kimi Räikkönen. Some way ahead of a much faster Alonso in 3rd, the Finn passed Sutil to take the race lead on lap 43, up the inside at the pair of right-handers in the final sector. Sutil's race engineer had already told him not to fight against Kimi, as they were on different strategies (yeah, get used to that sort of thing...). Unfortunately the Force India driver wouldn't stay on the podium, and after stretching his tyres out until lap 46, in which Alonso passed him in turn 3, he came in for a new set of Options, went well and then dropped right back as they started graining (when the surface ripples and creates "marbles" of rubber that flick off) and wearing out after just five laps. Hamilton and Webber passed him on lap 51 with relative ease, and in the end he held on to finish the 58-lap race in seventh place. Cue complaints from teams that the 2013 revision of Pirelli's tyres are too soft...

So the battle for the lead towards the end was between Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen. Lap 47 saw the Spanish double world champion 7.7 seconds behind Kimi and on a charge. In a situation not unlike Alonso's 2012 season, he had to keep charging without making any mistakes to beat him. Traffic and occasional drizzle played their parts, but the mistake came on lap 55, when he locked his brakes and nearly hit a Caterham in the final chicane, which opened the gap back out from 6 to around 8 seconds. Räikkönen promptly set the fastest lap of the race and kept his lead to win the opening race of the season. The podium was the 2012 World Driver's Championship top three in reverse order, proving that you can't just have the fastest car if you want to win Grands Prix, you also have to be one of the fastest drivers. Kimi is now tied with Mika Häkkinen as the most successful Finnish F1 driver in terms of wins, although Häkkinen won a second World Championship.

Lap-By-Lap

This has been typed in shorthand, so here's a quick key:

RAI - Driver's surname as displayed on the TV graphics (RAIkkonen, for instance). Always the first three letters, except for Giedo Van Der Garde.

(O -> P) = Driver changed from Option to Prime tyres (Option = softer of the two compounds, Prime = harder)
Wing+ means the pit crew increased the front wing angle during a pit stop.

T12 = Turn 12.

P1 = Position 1.

HAM 1:31.543 = Lewis Hamilton set the Fastest Lap (thus far) of 1:31.543.

DRS = Drag Reduction System (opening rear wing). Sometimes typed as "DR Sys" to avoid it looking like a driver's name.

KERS = Kinetic Energy Recovery System (on-demand temporary electronic power boost).

The Grid:
VET
WEB
HAM
MAS
ALO
ROS
RAI
GRO
DIR
BUT
HUL <-- Did Not Start (fuel issue)
SUT
VER
RIC
PER
BOT
MAL
GUT
BIA
CHI
VDG
Pic

The Tyres: O = Super Soft, P = Medium

THE RACE:

Lap 1/58: Ferraris quick off the line, WEB falls far back as usual, no crash in T1. HAM challenging Ferraris. ALO gets alongside MAS, RAI tries to pass HAM (who locks up) in T13, no overtakes, both pairs go side-by-side.

VET MAS ALO HAM RAI ROS WEB DIR BUT SUT GRO PER BOT VER MAL GUT BIA CHI VDG RIC Pic

Lap 2: RAI apparently faster than HAM. Passes around outside in T13. MAS 1:32.853

L3: VET not running away with it.

L4: BUT pits (O -> P).

L5: WEB pits (O -> P). Slow stop. So does GUT. PER passes GRO with DRS.

L7: VET pits (O->P). RAI still fast.

L8: MAS pits (O->P). Exits just behind VET. Oh, and MAL.

L9: RAI chasing ALO, who's driving hard. Chases him into the pits. Both O->P. Exit in same order. ALO's stop faster. MAL ran wide at T1, so both get past.

L10: Top three currently HAM ROS SUT. Mercs going long on Option tyres, SUT started on Primes.

L11: VET (T3) and MAS (T13) pass PER. RAI 1:31.9xx.

L12: ALO passes PER with DRS.  RAI passes PER in T11/12.

L13: HAM pits (O->P).

L14: ROS pits (O->P, Wing+). SUT takes the lead of the race. Exits in front of BUT, who challenges while being challenged by WEB. ROS starts to pull away. "Look after these tyres but keep Jenson behind you."

L16: PER pits (P->O).

L17: Leaders (VET, MAS, ALO, RAI, HAM) back in position, except that Sutil is still in P1.

L18: WEB pits (P -> P).

L19: GRO pits onto Options. SUT is starting to pull away from VET... on original tyres!

L20: ALO pits (P -> P). HAM 1:31.543.

L21: SUT pits (P -> P). VET pits (P -> P). ALO passes SUT around T1/2.

L22: MAS told to show us what he can do after complaining about pit strategy. VET chasing SUT.

L23: VET dives down the inside, passes SUT in T3. WEB passes PER in T13 for P10. MAS pit (P -> P). Exits behind SUT. Right to complain. RAI leading by some way, still quick.

L25: VET chasing ALO. SUT 1:31.334. RAIN EXPECTED in ~8mins. MAL puts two wheels on the grass, spins into gravel at T1, can't move. DRS disabled until he's removed.

L27: ROS breaks down at T3/4. Electronic problem. DRS re-enabled.

L28: MAS challenging SUT. RAI leading by 17s, going for a two-stop strategy. Rain begins to start at T13/4.

L29: MAS tries to pass SUT down outside of T3, rain has started. "Short light shower." Not enough to need Intermediates.

L31: ALO pressuring HAM, needs to pass for a shot to win. Tries outside of T11 but doesn't, gets good run out of T12, HAM locks up in T13, so ALO waits and undercuts him to pass into T14. HAM pits (P -> P). Exits in P7. Tries to go long..

L33: RIC 1:31.330. ALO 1:30.836.

L34: RAI pits (P -> P). Exits behind MAS. ALO 1:30.375.

L35: HAM says his tyres won't last until the end of the race.

L36: MAS pits (P -> P). SUT P3.

L37: VET pits (P->P). BUT and GRO pit (P->P).

L38: SUT told "do not waste time with Räikkönen". i.e. he's not racing him. RIC has a cracked exhaust.

L39: ALO pits (P->P). Rain still light and localised to S3.

L40: VET passes HAM with DRS. SUT retakes lead, but has to pit to Options at some point. MAS looks at outside of HAM in T11, overtakes around outside of T13 instead. HAM basically let him through. WEB 1:30.053.

L41: RIC retires from P10. ALO 1:29.725, much faster than RAI, who's ahead by some way.

L42: WEB pressuring DiR, passes hard around outside into T9. RAI 1:30.3xx. HAM pits (P->P).

L43: ALO 6.3s behind RAI, drops to 6s by S2. RAI passes SUT inside T13/4 for lead.

L44: ALO 4.5 seconds behind leader, sets FL of 1:29.649. Still pushing.

L45: ALO still behind SUT, 4.0s behind RAI. SUT would finish P5 if he pitted late enough. ALO right behind him. SUT getting blue-flagged unnecessarily.

L46: ALO challenges SUT into T1, but passes around outside in T3. SUT pits (P->O).

L47: CHI tries to pass VDG, VDG defends, ALO passes CHI. Traffic put him 7s behind RAI.

L48: Gap between P1&2 now 7.7s. VET 5s behind ALO.

L49: Rain, which had stopped, picks up again.

L50: Gap staying about level, SUT P5 but being chased by HAM on better tyres. VER 1:29.498.

L51: HAM challenging SUT, goes around outside in T3, wasn't enough. WEB closes in on them. HAM passes SUT in T9. WEB tries to pass in T11, but drops back and passes in T13/4 instead. SUT's tyres are going off already.

L52: DiR could chase down his team mate and take P7.

L53: Gap between RAI and ALO now 6.0s. VET falling behind.

L55: ALO nearly hits a Caterham in T15 when locking his brakes. Gap widens to ~8s.

L56: RAI sets FL of 1:29.274. Checkmate.

L57: GRO passes PER with DRS.

L58/58: Gap now 12.3 seconds. Podium is reverse of 2012 WDC top three. "I'm so pleased that the car is good." - RAI.

Top 10:           RAI ALO VET MAS HAM WEB SUT DIR BUT GRO
Out of Points:  PER VER GUT BOT PIC CHI VDG
DNF:              RIC ROS MAL
DNS:              HUL

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