Saturday, March 24, 2012

Button Pushed to Win at Australian GP; 2012 F1 Season Opener

Photo Credit: Sauber F1

After just under four months of inaction on the grand prix circuit, Formula 1 teams were far from stagnant through the off-season. Creating brand new cars conforming to 2012 rules, several teams arrived for the first Formula 1 race of the season with a stepped or "duck bill" nose racing machine in Australia. Having worked on the winning formula for succeeding in Formula 1, the 2012 Australian Grand Prix on the Albert Park 5.303-kilometer track would hold the initial showcase for whether the winter labouring of engineers and car builders would deliver on promises.

Known as a fast circuit consisting of heavy-braking corners, Albert Park has been hosting the only race on the only FIA-sanctioned Formula 1 race on the Australian continent since 1985. On 13 occasions, the year's winner of the Australian Grand Prix was declared the Formula 1 World Drivers Champion at the end of the season. Jenson Button in 2009 and Sebastian Vettel in 2011 are recent victors in Australia to claim the series' top honour.

One of the few teams not accepting the popular stepped nose design, McLaren-Mercedes cars posted team speed in qualifying for the 2012 Grand Prix of Australia. Lewis Hamilton bested teammate Jenson Button for the pole position as the 22-car grid for the Australian Grand Prix assembled Sunday. When the overhead starting lights cycled and eventually darkened, the 2012 Formula 1 season was inaugurated with the V-8 powered open wheel race cars buzzing into turn 1. Immediately, the McLaren MP4-27 Formula 1 cars battled with Button triumphing in beating Hamilton for lead in the Australian Grand Prix.

As the McLaren-Mercedes vehicles storm forward with their top starting spots, third place race qualifier Romain Grosjean mistimed the Australian Grand Prix's start in his Lotus-Renault. Competing just one lap in the race, Grosjean's Lotus-Renault car suffered race-ending wheel/tire damage with contact between Pastor Maldonado's Williams F1 car. While Romain Grosjean saw his promising grand prix end with a 20th place finish, Maldonado continued to circulate around the Albert Park circuit and eventually became a big story as the 2012 Australian Grand Prix endured.

Similar to Grosjean's fortunes, the highly-decorated veteran Michael Schumacher was also confronted with an early exit from th 2012 grand prix in Australia. Having started in 4th place, Schumacher and the Mercedes GP team saw a chance of a good race turn bad. On lap 11, Michael Schumacher shot off track while in third position on the race track. Slowing on track, Schumacher lost pace and promptly retired just two laps later. Mercedes GP team pride surrounded the remaining race car of Nico Rosberg who held onto a top-5 position through much of the event. Unfortunately, a tire puncture through the latter stage of the Australian Grand Prix robbed Rosberg of a points-scoring day with a 12th place finish.

Photo Credit: Mercedes GP

While the first qualifying session of 2012 resulted in a twisted ordeal for major Formula 1 race teams such as Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Ferrari were buried deeper than the grid than accustomed to after 2011. Starting on the third row of the Australian Grand Prix, the Red Bull-Renaults of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber both improved on their grid positions over the course of the 58-lap race. In the case of the reigning Formula 1 world champion Vettel, his #1 Red Bull Racing car climbed from 6th to 2nd place after leap-frogging the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton through the course of the Australian event. Mark Webber had Chased down Hamilton's McLaren-Mercedes in the final laps of the Australian Grand Prix but was under to formulate a pass for the final podium finish.

The two-car team of Ferrari did not enjoy the same improvements that allowed the Red Bull Racing squad to show a promising event in Australia but still came away with some progress. Struggling with handling of the new 2012 team car, drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa were initially able to better than their dismal qualifying efforts. While Alonso surged to within the Formula 1 points, Massa's race ended late following a lap 47 collision with Williams-Renault of Bruno Senna that damaged the suspension on the Brazilian driver's Ferrari.

Photo Credit: Infiniti/Red Bull

Slowing the Australian Grand Prix, the Caterham-Renault driven by Vitaly Petrov broke down on the frontstretch on lap 36. As the Mercedes-Benz SLS safety car was deployed, race leader's Jenson Button's lead was erased. However, Button provided an anti-climatic note to any drumming from challengers as the McLaren-Mercedes keep a steady gap on Sebastian Vettel when the race resumed on lap 42.

Leading final 16 laps of the Australian Grand Prix, Jenson Button and the McLaren F1 team won the first event of the 2012 Formula 1 tour. The British driver's third victory at the Albert Park race circuit's grand prix, Button started his Formula 1 career in the Australian competition with Williams in 2000.

Finishing 2.1 seconds behind Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel revealed that he is eyeing a third straight Formula 1 series title by splitting the McLaren-Mercedes cars. Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso picked up top-five finishes in the debut race for the 2012 Formula 1 season.

Pastor Maldonado had a chance of a top-5 finish at the Australian Grand Prix. Thrilling spectators in the late laps of the Australian Grand Prix as he drove the sole-remaining Williams-Renault vehicle well inside the points, Maldonado's race performance came undone 2 laps to go when his Pirelli slick tires clipped the Albert Park grass. Shooting the Williams hard into a retaining wall, Pastor Maldonado left the car unhurt but listed as a did not finish in the grand prix.

As Maldonado fell out of the points late, the latter half of the top-10 in the Australian Grand Prix featured a mix of fresh driving talent and experienced Formula 1 drivers. In 7th place by improving 10 spots through the Australian race, 2007 Formula 1 champion Kimi Raikkonen returned to the open wheel series with Lotus-Renault. Splitting Raikkonen, the Ferrari-powered Saubers finished strong with Kamui Kobayashi in 6th and Sergio Perez winding up 8th. In 9th place, Daniel Ricciardo brought the Scuderia Toro Rosso car across the start-finish line in his first race for the team. Also Ricciardo`s first Formula 1 points, the feat came at his home grand prix. Paul di Resta claimed the 10th and final points-paying position for Force India.   
With the first race completed in the 2012 Formula 1 season, teams and fans will only have to wait one week for the next grand prix in Malaysia.

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