A long winter of rule changes and testing finally gave way to the all action racing that fans across the world had been waiting for, all keen to see how the 2011 cars and drivers would match up against each other.
Reigning champion Sebastian Vettel was in formidable form as he sped from pole to the chequered flag in first place. Lewis Hamilton, Vitaly Petrov, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber completed the top five with Felipe Massa finishing seventh. Only a brilliant drive from Petrov and a difficult start denied Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso a podium place.
The Spaniard drove superbly to come within sniffing distance of third after finding himself boxed out going into the first turn, by, amongst others, Petrov. It meant a long fight back by arguably the most determined driver of his generation. Fernando picked them off one by one, to finish fourth, ahead of local hero Webber in the Red Bull. The sight of the 2005 and 2006 World Champion scything through the field, setting a series of fastest laps was pure poetry in motion, and it is easy to see why the other drivers on the grid overwhelmingly voted him ‘best driver on the grid’ last year.
Felipe Massa eventually finished seventh behind Jenson Button, the two drivers taking part in a fierce duel during the opening laps, which had Melbourne’s capacity crowd on its feet. It wasn’t an easy race for Felipe, but having set the overall fastest lap of the race the signs were there that there is a lot to come from the Brazilian this season to reward his efforts in the Ferrari cock pit.
So, what conclusions can we draw from the season opener? First, the new rules didn’t really create the all action overtaking that some people thought they would, but they deserve another shot. Melbourne’s cool weather was hardly representative of what we can expect for the balance of the season, a key factor for that will impact on the new Pirelli’s tyre performance.
Second, the Albert Park circuit has shortish straights, meaning neither DRS or KERS really got into their respective strides this weekend. Technical experts predict the devices will come into their own in Malaysia, China and beyond.
Sebastian Vettel has picked up where he left off at the end of last season, but a courageous fourth place for Fernando Alonso in rather unfavourable circumstances clearly means the Ferrari’s will be very competitive, and in races to come will enjoy their share of the spoils. With the Malaysian GP and its monsoons only 2 weeks away, it’s all to look forward to.