The 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship thundered into life on the streets of Melbourne in spectacular style this weekend.
Mark Webber closed out the weekend in fourth place, and young Aussie Daniel Ricciardo clawed his way to ninth position for Red Bull's Toro Rosso offshoot.
Practice and Qualifying
Friday's running was severely compromised by unpredictable weather, with the track starting wet in both sessions and then drying rapidly as the clouds blew away and the breeze cleared the water from the track.
Qualifying was very tight at the front and confirmed what every F1 fan hopes for - it's going to be a very competitive season.
Hamilton's pole lap in bright sunshine was faultless. Jenson Button admitted he had no answer for his teammate's pace.
Ferrari's qualifying was almost embarrassing, with Massa (P16) and Alonso (P11) throwing the car into the gravel at turn one in the second part of qualifying. His frustration was evident, refusing to hand his steering wheel to a well-meaning marshal.
Mark Webber's KERS broke down in Q3, robbing him of a vital few tenths. Despite mechanical woes, Webber still outqualified his out-of-sorts teammate, Sebastian Vettel (6th).
The second Aussie in the field, Toro Rosso's young-and-upcoming Daniel Ricciardo, had a brilliant session, making Q1 and qualifying tenth - the fastest Ferrari-engined car on the grid.
HRT's horrendous performance was not rewarded by the stewards. The under-prepared team's request to race despite qualifying outside of the 107% limit was struck down.
The race started under sunny skies and immediately both Button and Vettel mugged their teammates, Vettel gaining three spots and Button the lead.
Webber and Ricciardo were in trouble. Webber's now-traditional poor start got him mixed up with Nico Hulkenberg's Force India, Hulkenberg solidly sideswiping the Red Bull.
"I didn't want the race to be over," Webber said afterwards. "I was able to keep going... when I got the primes [tyres], the race came alive for me."
The story of the weekend, Romain Grosjean, was cleaned up by Pastor Maldonado on lap two. The Lotus driver was upbeat however.
"I really wanted to make the chequered flag and even the podium, but on the positive side the car is performing very well. I was keeping pace with the guys in front of me and everything was looking good."
Ricciardo got walloped in Bruno Senna's first corner disaster, losing his front wing in the process. He was gifted back much of the lost time however when the safety car came out to recover Petrov's stricken Caterham.
Button had stretched a comfortable lead of ten seconds when the safety car hit the track. Vettel vaulted past Rosberg on lap two, then benefited from Schumacher's gearbox failure on lap ten, running a comfortable third behind Hamilton.
Williams had a tough day after a promising start. Pastor Maldonado had an entertaining battle with Alonso after the safety car but chucked it into the wall at turn six on the final lap, giving up a probable sixth place.
Bruno Senna came completely undone when he tried a move that really wasn't on around the outside of Felipe Massa's Ferrari at turn four. Both cars were badly damaged, mercifully ending their horror weekends.
The final phase of the race was a nail-biting battle for the first four places, with Webber mounting repeated attacks on Hamilton.
The challenges continued all down the field with the Sauber pair of Kobayashi and Perez making up for a poor qualifying effort, including Perez's demotion for a gearbox change.
Perez and Ricciardo passed Vergne on the final lap, giving the Australian points in his first race for Toro Rosso (and first Melbourne race start) and completing a great fightback for Sauber, with Kobayashi coming home sixth.
Kimi Raikkonen, after a two-year break and a self-confessed mistake in qualifying, finished in seventh place from 17th on the grid.
“It feels like I’ve never been away. Yesterday we made some mistakes which cost us quite badly so it could easily have been better in the race," Raikkonen said.
Button controlled the entire race and looked completely unflappable as he flawlessly took his McLaren to victory. Hamilton was as disconsolate as Vettel was relieved. A glum Hamilton said, "I didn't generally have great pace."
Button claims he was never sure of the win, saying, "Every lap, it felt a little bit in doubt."
In reality, he didn't put a foot wrong the entire weekend and McLaren's performance sets up a great battle with the Red Bull Racing juggernaut.
Formula 1 returns next weekend at Sepang for the Malaysian Grand Prix.
- Peter Anderson
- Jenson Button - Britain - McLaren-Mercedes 58 laps 1hr 34m 09.565s
- Sebastian Vettel - Germany Red Bull-Renault +00m 02.1s
- Lewis Hamilton - Britain - McLaren-Mercedes +00m 04.0s
- Mark Webber - Australia Red Bull-Renault +00m 04.5s
- Fernando Alonso - Spain - Ferrari-Ferrari - +00m 21.5s
- Kamui Kobayashi - Japan - Sauber-Ferrari - +00m 36.7s
- Kimi Raikkonen - Finland - Lotus-Renault - +00m 38.0s
- Sergio Perez - Mexico - Sauber-Ferrari - +00m 39.4s
- Daniel Ricciardo - Australia Toro Rosso-Ferrari +00m 39.5s
- Paul di Resta - Britain - Force India-Mercedes +00m 39.7s
- Jean-Eric Vergne - France - Toro Rosso-Ferrari +00m 39.8s
- Nico Rosberg - Germany Mercedes-Mercedes +00m 57.6s
- Pastor Maldonado - Venezuela Williams-Renault +1 lap
- Timo Glock - Germany Marussia-Cosworth +1 lap
- Charles Pic - France - Marussia-Cosworth +5 laps
- Bruno Senna - Brazil - Williams-Renault +6 laps
Rtd. Felipe Massa - Brazil - Ferrari-Ferrari - 46 laps completed
Rtd. Heikki Kovalainen - Finland - Caterham-Renault 38 laps completed
Rtd. Vitaly Petrov - Russia - Caterham-Renault 34 laps completed
Rtd. Michael Schumacher Germany Mercedes-Mercedes 10 laps completed
Rtd. Romain Grosjean - France - Lotus-Renault - 1 lap completed
Rtd. Nico Hulkenberg - Germany Force India-Mercedes 0 laps compelted
DNS. Pedro de la Rosa - Spain - HRT-Cosworth - Did not qualify
DNS. Narain Karthikeyan India - HRT-Cosworth - Did not qualify
Jenson Button - Britain - McLaren-Mercedes 1m 29.187s lap 56