Thoughts on F1: 2010 Australian GP

Thoughts on F1: 2010 Australian GP

Well that was better wasn’t it! A wet or drying track always spices up the racing no matter what the rules are.

The race started with every driver on intermediate tyres and we saw some great racing as the drivers struggled with the lower grip conditions. The Safety Car interruption was only brief and was early enough not to really have any effect on the gaps between cars and it was only a short while after that Button pitted for dry tyres. It seemed most thought he’d struggle including many of the BBC TV team and they were briefly proven right with a slide on his out lap, yet he responded with the fastest lap in the race. This triggered tyre stops from everyone else in the field, the Red Bulls staying out a further lap longer for Vettel and two for Webber. Webber’s was a touch too late.

That seemed to set most drivers up for the rest of the race with talk that the softer Bridgestone, for which everyone had opted, being able to last the distance. Not so for some, Hamilton and a couple of others were in again for a new set of softs.

The pitters emerged 30 seconds further back than they had been, but were now able to run 1 to 2 seconds per lap faster – could they make up the time loss? This is what we’ve waited the winter to find out under the new rules – can a driver on brand new softs catch and pass a driver who stays out nursing worn tyres?

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As it turns out they couldn’t, at least Hamilton and Webber couldn’t, the gap was too much. Lewis and Mark ran together as they closed down the train of Kubica, Massa and Alonso who had not stopped and were running 2nd, 3rd and 4th – they caught Alonso but could not penetrate his staunch defence. How much of that was the problem of running in dirty air, how much was down to Hamilton and Webber using up the tyres to catch the trio, and how much was down to Alonso himself? I don’t think we’ll ever know but I think it was a combination of the three and perhaps Alonso deserves a credit for driving a wide car – not to mention his recovery from the back after his turn one spin.

Hamilton didn’t like the call but you can see what McLaren were doing – splitting the strategy in case Button’s staying the distance didn’t work if his tyres went off at the end. It was the right call because at the time nobody had any idea whether the soft tyres would actually make it – what if they’d got so bad with 8 laps to go that the top four who stayed out all had to pit? That would’ve put Hamilton in the lead with Webber half a second behind and Rosberg nearby. We just didn’t know. Perhaps at another circuit or with less of a gap it would’ve worked.

The other point to make is all the credit went to Button for staying out so long, but let’s not forget Kubica, Massa and Alonso went nearly as far. They drove just as well.

Further down the field you saw some passing as the pitters passed the non-pitters, the passers included Barrichello and Schumacher. For them, it worked.

On the whole it was a good run from Button, it was the right call to pit early. It was a good drive from Vettel too until he crashed out with an apparent mechanical failure. The only other notable drive was Webber’s – he drove a fast but scrappy race, clashes with other drivers kept delaying him (some his fault, some not) until he ultimately ruined his own day by spearing Hamilton into the gravel, luckily both continued.

A quick nod to Jaime Alguersuari and Lucas di Grassi for not getting fazed at all by racing wheel to wheel with Michael Schumacher! It was good to see they weren’t willing to back down and didn’t jump out of the way of his reputation arriving a second before the man himself. Nice to see Chandhok make the finish too, albeit 4 laps down.

In General

What is interesting is that we haven’t yet had a true representation of a fuel-ban race in dry conditions. In Bahrain the teams were taking it easy, learning the rules and learning what the tyres would do – plus there was the effect of the temperature which meant they’d take it easy anyway so as not to stress the car parts.

In Australia the first third of the race was on a damp but drying track, meaning the two-compound rule did not apply. The rest of the race played out the way I’d imagine a fuel-ban race would run on a dry track with no restriction on tyre choice, it was fascinating watching the cars on new rubber chase those on old. Unfortunately we have this rule where both hard and soft tyres must be run in a dry race, which could mitigate against good racing.

Malaysia looks certain to be rain-affected as well so perhaps we go to China for the first true race under the new rules, and that race is a yawn-a-thon in normal circumstances – I’m dreading the goldfish telling us how the new rules have suddenly made that race dull, when in reality it usually is anyway. The same goes for Catalunya, and Monaco is always unique. Turkey and Montreal could be the pairing where we get a decent read on how these races really pan out, unfortunately I fear that by then we’ll have had some knee-jerk rule changes.

Speaking of Malaysia, we’re into that weekend already. It still rains at 5pm every day and while that may not affect qualifying, it looks set to interrupt the race again – hopefully it won’t be quite as heavy as last year and the race can be completed.

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